Cinderella's Bad Magic

Libretto by Jeffrey Sichel

Rip Van Winkle (R) (soprano)
Cinderella 1 (1) (soprano)
Cinderella 2 (2) (baritone)
Mother (M) (mezzosoprano)
Father (F) (bass)

Jeffrey Sichel's collage-like, stream-of-consciousness libretto for Cinderella's Bad Magic is full of literary references and even quotations. The following sources will be helpful: "The Ash-Maiden" (the Cinderella story) by the Brothers Grimm; Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving; A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams; the movie Forbidden Games; Euripides' Medea; Southern Mail by Antoine Saint-Exupery; "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe; poems of Robert Frost such as "Birches" and "The Road not Taken." The action is imagined as taking place along Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan in the area around 103rd to 110th Streets, and in West Riverside Park.

Scene divisions and titles are by the composer, Kyle Gann, along with redistribution and echoing of a few lines.

Scene 1: Cinderella's Departure

M+F: Wake up!

R: Cinderella, stuck up in the air poking through the clouds. High, blue, yellow, awfully happy, smiling down on me, twistable flashing, streaming upwards and downwards free from the gravity world.

1+2: Heading for home doesn't work. Exclude me the sign says.

M: The sun doesn't penetrate it doesn't shine here in the shadow world... the other world. It doesn't touch our...

F: Shush. Watching. Staring. Void.

1+2: Immersed in I don't understand the expectation of why and wherefore and there but go I for the grace of something that I can't touch no matter how hard I try.

1: Leaves change color, slowly, imperceptible, one day they're not green anymore. They're something else autumn. Something else color. Something else strange.

F: Subconscious not conscious.... Silence!...

M: Shush. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

F: Glass houses. You are not Laura. You don't even come close.

M: Most of the time I delude myself with love. Poetry. And dirt can look clean and that's OK. But it doesn't always work. I can see through everything and it's so fucking hollow and empty and I don't like knowing plastic.

2: Everything seems unreal. Slow motion separation and observation... looking out from behind the window. Rolling moving pictures... emotionally, physically moving up on the high-wire especially at night. I want to see the sky....

All: Leaves. Birds.

R+1+2+M: Raindrops suit sorrow.

R+2+F: Rain.

1+M: Paper rain.

2: Not a parade.

1: Trampled dreams and horse shit.

M+F: Cinderella is dragging her duffel bag over the cement heading somewhere away from here.

1+2: I wake out of a dream.

M+F: As if perhaps there is a destination....

1+2: Shush, Rip Van Winkle is talking.

Scene 2: The "Red Death" Aria

R: One day I went to sleep and woke up and found that I had wasted my life and didn't have much time left.

1+2: Gaps in consciousness.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: Continuities got broken.

1+2: Left to make sense of the empty periods with no record of....

R: Changes I never realized happened.

All: People. Alone. Glass slippers. Magic Princes.

R+M+F: Cinderella.

M: "There is a fire and motion of the soul which will not dwell in its own narrow being. It aspires beyond the fitting medium of desire."

R: "The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and its zeal. The redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains and sudden dizziness and then profuse bleeding from the pores with dissolution."

Scene 3: The "Zero Gravity" Debate

M+F: Dream of a clown melting in zero gravity.

M: The clown itself alone existing in a circus world.

M+F: Sad clown you'll never go to the ball.

1: Zero gravity is where I float freely, completely. Inverse world... place... circus tent. I jump like a child in a giant clear plastic room. I jump up and down. I jump against the walls.

M+F: Is it a game?

F: Gravity persists. It doesn't go away.... it just stays around and won't let go. An obsession. An obsession. Are you trying to keep in touch with reality? Are you defining reality by the apple drop? Do you need a ruler snapping on your wrist? Pay attention! Very direct first image. World which says we are earthbound... the contradiction. Can we believe it. Can you prove your earthboundedness in a personal way?

1: In the first case the a priori image is and always has been of gravity. The apple does drop. Newton discovers the apple and the world becomes clearer.

F: There are powers far greater than your own personal imagination. Natural law is a profound reality. You can not break the laws of gravity when you are earth... bound.

1: Snap! I need pain as an affirmation of my conscience. I want guarantees that I'm not dreaming. Alive in some way. I could be wrong.

1+2: All wrong... on this thin eggshell, walking, waking, below and above, in and out of infinity... suspended in motion, in between where I exist and someplace else.

M+F: Decorum dresses up the inadequacy of dreams.

Scene 4: The Lost Hour / Painting Bad Dreams

R: Cinderella. Moving parts. Cinderella chasing multiple windmills.

M+F: Calder-style mobiles.

R: I journey through a place and it releases certain... a... chemicals and it allows me to wander... a... wonder.

M: When I was young I would see pictures and that was the size of the world.

F: I let my mind wonder. I realize I don't feel anything.

M: What's beautiful is crisp not cold.

R+M+F: The leaves are changing color.

R: Machines do nothing practical but express everything about impractical creation and invention and meaninglessness.

2: The process of getting there.

R: Devoting lives to the true value of pie.

F: I have created a machine that has no function.

2: I am not Frankenstein.

1: I am a machine.

2: Human hands, five moving parts.

1: I don't like this. The time has changed and it's like his long night for no particular reason.

2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: I hear your voice. It's like reading...

M+F: A letter.

R: I wrote to myself so I'd remember.

1: Life takes place during the lost hour when light saving time ends. In a nonexistent hour the clock turns backwards.

R+2+M+F: The leaves are changing color.

2: I'm scared of being alone.

R+M+F: Are you scared of being alone?

2: It's a very insular world.

R+M+F: Lost in silence.

1+2: I can't survive at this level.

1: I may not feel I feel but I feel the same thing here and now.

R: Obsession.

1: Salvation.

R: None for you.

1: Frustration. No frustration.

R: None for you.

F: Are you coming or going?

1: I don't remember.

M: Cinderella, I'm not a ghost.

1: Alone along the avenue we found a bus and the bus went slow.

R: Betty Boop came spiritually closer.

M: Acting Medea.

F: Cinderella goes pale.

M: Giant Medea painting bad dreams and unsettled sleep.

2: Locked in a gas chamber I feel the air slip away. I don't know what to do.

M+F: Wake up.

R+1: A strange clown show on a hill side... airplanes come flying overhead dropping bombs.

M: You better run.

R+1: I do. I hide behind a tree. I'm captured.

F: You've been shot.

1: The baby is OK.

R+1: And fades out of the dream.

R: I make choices as to who will live and who will die.

1+2: I'm sent to clean my body. A big light blue room with window shades pulled. I smell incense burning. The smoke gets heavier. I lie down as if to sleep.

M+F: It isn't true.

R: Upset. I have more dreams. Trapped.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: I don't remember so well.

1: I need a change in my cage!

R: Cinderella's crisis is more enduring.

M+F: Enduring.

Scene 5: It Never Really Snows

M: Eclipses do affect people, they affect the weather. They are mystical events. The affect the world. They are the gods getting angry giving us warning.

F: Tic-Toc. Are you buying perfection?

R+M+F: Cinderella. Time.

F: Are you a person of great importance?

M: It's not snowing and I enjoy snow when the world rests under a white blanket sliding on ice... softness of the world... the beauty. The trees blending with frost... poetry.

I: An ice cold place. It never really snows... gray not white. Grass doesn't peek through and trees don't bend under the weight. Exhaust pipes are not benign under the white blanket it's still a big world.

R+M+F: Walking along the paths that weren't chosen.

1: I discover my crazy horse.

R+M+F: Generation.

1: No I didn't die. Indian style in the snow. Nothing is masked. Stumbling through the process. Stumbling through blank days... street names on signs register the same number after number.

R+M+F: Loneliness. Terrible thing to avoid. Arranging lives out of fear. Glassed in. Dangerous. Clandestine.

1: I'm a tourist in this place, on display.

2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle keeps talking.

R: Remembering the back roads. Remembering the sites and the sounds and the smells... the younger generation's hanging haunts and Cinderella wasting away behind bars. She didn't escape....

1: I fell in love with my prince.

M: God knows bad magic.

All: Myths decay then melt then crack.

R: Cat years happened. I'm not sure. I hardly wanted to walk out the door. Mixed up time. Nothing ever lasting... ephemeral, keeping count. I can't not count. It's hard to sit days on end feeling useless.

Between Scenes:

2: To believe in something, I don't know what it takes.

R+M+F: No answer.

1: Looking for a beginning.

F: Always a place to start. Never the place to end.

1: It's hot.

R+M+F: The world is hotter.

F: Burning up the clouds.

R: Obsession.

M: It's too late to start again.

1: I spend forever in mythological unreal time.

R+M+F: Are you make believe?

1: Never letting go. Always wanting more... more time... sentenced to death.

Scene 6: Brains Split Sometimes

1+2: Freedom. Nothing. Not possible to feel... not held together by anything. Gravity. Gravity. I can't fly. I don't fly. I don't want to fly. I want to get both feet planted firmly on the ground.

2: That's not the truth... and if I could tell the truth I would but since I can't I can only do something about the truth... and this girl loved me and made my dreams come true. She took care of the hard part. She believed in me. She couldn't believe in herself, but she could believe in me.

R: Something on the outside fated to mediocrity. Mediocre self-loathing existence. Self-centered cruel non-caring awfulness.

1+2: Brains split sometimes and come back together... and I'm getting the feeling that mine never will.

R: On a slow road to a not so nice place.

1+2: Delaying it with crazy horses. Screaming.

M: Can you talk about it?

1+2: No, I just feel like running, running naked.

M+F: You're not Robinson Crusoe.

1+2: Everything just seems like so much artifice and artificial big words that don't capture any sense of what it is to be alive.

M+F: Pornographic lies Cinderella. Black out. Lights Up!

R: They took me out of the zoo. They said I didn't belong. They said my hair had grown too long. They said that my anger was disturbing the other animals. They said that I had no place in their world. I left. I created my own. I created my own world.

1+2: Ambidextrous. Believe me my brain is split.

M+F: No it's not.

1+2: I can't decide left or right. Most of the time I'm coming home or going happy.

M+F: Sitting down too long.

1+2: I pretend. I slow down and pretend that a lot of things are worth nothing and that some things are worth quite a lot but quite a lot of things seem stupid.

M: Isolated no story to tell. Can't remember anyway, depressing.

1: Isolated. Feeling lost. I don't have time to live. Bulbs always burn out. Dim yellow light. The wind like nowhere else in the world.

Scene 7: Dead Dog Diary Girl

R+M+F: Fly away little birdie.

R: The door at night.

R+M+F: Sanctuary.

R: Forbidden games. She survived during the war... a young girl... her parents shot... she runs down the road with her dead dog. Can't admit or understand death.

M+F: Dead dog diary girl.

R: She held on to this dead dog, carried it like a baby. Surreal maybe.

M+F: She buries the damn thing and that's the end.

1: Reality seems daunting. Home... looking... identity... cause... life... mission.

R: Belief can challenge old and current times.

1: I want experiences other than anger at an idea for even thinking that I had space to live. Smaller always smaller.

2+M+F: Another deedle dumb dream on a dog's life.

F: Thankful games.

R: Years surpass dreams and realities slip by the window.

1: Always windows.

R: Dreams move in opposite directions.

M: Slow motion windows moving under ground.

2: Never catching up.

F: We went down to the river to commune with the fisher folks. We stared out over the water and took turns resting in the ordinary, wonderful, smallest places and biggest in life.

1+2: Memories of places.

M: Down by the river we sat watching the fisher folk laughing and singing. They attached bells to the rods. We heard the sound rolling with the waves... subtly.

F: Touch sensations.

R+M: Disorienting.

M: Doing it with beauty.

Scene 8: Something About a Rose

F: Liberated, the senses wander. Up in space... feelings of being in touch, in love, looking up at the sky filled with everything moving and changing. Recognizable and unrecognizable configurations. Walking through some seasons nights staring at the sky... world order and beauty. To see and to love carefully. Love the earth and worship the earth and touch the ritual.

All: Layer upon layer.

1+2: Betrayed. Locked out of the neon-lit garden.

M: Something about a rose that sat for a week and didn't die and thrived and kept changing and growing more beautiful as it opened properly.

R: Once to understand a rose.

2: Nothing. Listen. Silence. I dread the report.

1: Dangling.

2: Time held in place.

1: I'm not a rat. I can't fly.

2: Sky blue, stuck up in the sky.

M: Day light lightens spirits not plunged into darkness.

R: Nothing ever gets done in space.

F: Hunting down every moment a new year seems like so long ago.

R: The man on the moon has lived a lot longer than any of us care to imagine.

1: I can't stop the clocks from ticking. I encourage them.

2: I destroy my chances.

1: I pine for connection... once in awhile.

F: The fisher guy gives up for the day's opium addiction and visions of a god really wanting to feel Cinderella feeling lonely lost and alone.

Scene 9: Are You Waking Up?

M: Are you waking up Cinderella?

1: Damned?

R: Cinderella?

F: Backward memories.

M: He had a beard and then he didn't and then he did again. He died with a beard.

1: Every day the shadow appears.

2: Things aren't always what they seem.

1: Moments are only moments.

R: All I really wanted was to feel. That was the thing with Cinderella. That was what she talked about.

1+2: Boxed out of my mind.

R: Eating flowers. Whole lives as masses of papers. Not enough time to go back... look... piece together a life.

M+F: I won't be happy chants Cinderella.

R: Stunning, outshining everyone at the ball.

2: Crying more.

1+2: I do new things. Losing myself.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: Doggy paddling. Acting as Cinderella breaking down for the umpteenth time. So much time alone.

F: Cinderella ventures out into the real world.

1+2: Walking away incomprehensible. Alienated.

R: Only he understands much deeper because he is God who feels much deeper than everyone.

1+2+M+F: Ticking away moments.

R: Running it into the ground.

1+2: I wish it was easier.

M+F: She was afraid of people.

R: Cinderella, scared of herself and scared of taking a chance at being herself.

M: Simple, beautiful details of something all too ephemeral.

R+M+F: More excuses to avoid destiny.

F: Comfortable with half-assed commitments.

1: Whole hog head first without a safety net or a guide post or a spotter or whatever it is.

F: Just take the fucking plunge god damn it.

1: I thrive on isolation.

2: Multi-colored glass panels... little circles and triangles, chipped, falling, mixing with the green glass light caps and telegraph wires... moving.

1: Coming down the river time and again moving along the rails and watching the wires wave up and down past the windows.

R: Alone on this particular day I've come the wrong way.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: I had to get away. No destination. Goodbye to the night.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: Forgotten memories. Some incomplete part of my life I have to retrieve.

1+2+M+F: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

R: So hard to place and so close I can imagine. I was born here.

1+2: Much too high... vanishing into the air. A vast intersection.

R: The world in front of me, Cinderella behind me.

1+2: Stuck there standing still with the snow falling down.

M: The world is bigger than a picture frame.

1: Bring me somewhere tomorrow.

R+F: Cinderella went crazy.

1: I just had to get away for awhile.

M: She just had to get away for awhile.

2: Coming back I knew I was one of them.

R: Only Cinderella in my bubble. Smelling the roses, independence, my own life, individuality.

1+M+F: Somewhere out the door.

2: Western union in desperate circumstance.

M+F: Raindrops turn away.

R+1+2: Until the end of the world, tantalizing.

F: Creating pictures of a virtual picture.

R: I woke up from a dream, disoriented... and not knowing where I was or who I was... and I'm not me in my dreams.

1+2+M+F: Sleep is time travel. Time actually can pass.

R: I remember. It's all about going to sleep.

R+1: And waking up in another place and time as another person sleeping a life away.

M: Illusions.

R: Memories.

F: Lost at sea.

M: Illusory.

R: Touch.

F: Cinderella.

Copyright ŠJeffrey Sichel 2002

Associate Director of the Bard College Theatre Program, Jeffrey Sichel retains an active career as a stage director in both opera and theatre. Recent productions include Custer and Sitting Bull, a new opera work by Kyle Gann performed at the Kitchen in New York City; The Well Tempered Clavier, a music theatre work based on Bach's Preludes and Fugues commissioned by Art Song Nouveau in New York; the opera Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante by Allesandro Scarlatti performed in Palermo, Italy, at the Teatro Massimo; L'homme Unique, a site-specific theatre work performed in the Chateau of the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, France, commissioned by the Lacoste International School of the Arts; and Schoenberg's opera Die Gluckliche Hand conducted by Leon Botstein for the American Symphony Orchestra. B.A. Skidmore College, MFA Columbia University. Mr. Sichel was the founder and Artistic Director of the Empty Space Theatre Company in New York (1993-1997). He is a "Usual Suspect" at the New Tork Theatre Workshop. Writer, director of over thirty Off and Off-Off Broadway productions over the last ten years, in addition, Sichel worked with Mac Wellman on three Obie-Award-Winning productions, as well as a music theater adaptation of Carmen with Gordon Gano (The Violent Femmes). Sichel has also worked with Julie Taymor. Currently he is adapting Umberto Eco's novel The Island of the Day Before for an operatic production to premiere in the Fall of 2003. He is also working with Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman on a New York City revival of their family opera, Romulus Hunt.

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