Cinderella's Bad Magic
Libretto by Jeffrey Sichel
Music by Kyle Gann
Scene 1: Cinderella's Departure
Scene 2: The "Red Death" Aria
Scene 3: The Zero Gravity Debate
Scene 4: The Lost Hour / Painting Bad Dreams
Scene 5: It Never Really Snows
Scene 6: Brains Split Sometimes
Scene 7: Dead Dog Diary Girl
Scene 8: Something about a Rose
Scene 9: Are You Waking Up?
Cinderella's Bad Magic is the first part of a projected trilogy of interlinked one-act operas called the The Hudson River Sessions, along with Painting Shadows and The Watermelon Cargo. The journey of the trilogy follows a couple's relationship through time as they move physically and emotionally up and down the river. Cinderella's Bad Magic has no plot as such; it is a record of Cinderella's emergence from a dream state, a long gradual awakening from adolescence, from angst into a more realistic sense of life. The opening words are "Wake up!" The main character is that famous sleeper Rip Van Winkle, who sings, "One day I went to sleep and woke up and found that I had wasted my life and didn't have much time left." Rip Van Winkle is a projection, an older manifestation of Cinderella. She describes Cinderella (herself): "Cinderella, scared of herself and scared of taking a chance at being herself." And at last, she sings "The world in front of me, Cinderella behind me." Cinderella's danger is that of imagination run amok. "There are powers far greater," warns the father, "than your own personal imagination." Cinderella 1 and 2 are different aspects of the same person - male and female, right brain and left brain - and also manifest the idea that two people can become one in a relationship.
The through-line emerged originally from a deconstruction of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and the father is drawn from Stanley Kowalski, as Cinderella is modeled on Blanche DuBois. The mother is more reminiscent of Medea in Euripides' play. The collage-like libretto is full of literary references and even quotations. Along with A Streetcar Named Desire and Medea, the following sources will be helpful: "The Ash-Maiden" (the Cinderella story) by the Brothers Grimm; Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving; the 1952 film Forbidden Games by director Renˇ Clem¸nt; 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 on the northern promenade in Riverside Park.
The music is in a pure tuning of extended just intonation, with 30 pitches to the octave. The harmonic structure of the piece follows the journey and the awakening - minor keys are constantly transforming into major keys, only to fall back into minor again. The work opens in an idyllic E-flat major which begins to dissolve in Scene 2: the moment Rip Van Winkle sings "One day I went to sleep and woke up," the music opens up into C major. Cumulative modulations continue through A, C#, A#, contrasting ever more distant keys which come more and more to exhibit quarter-tone relationships, fractures in the musical texture. The anxious awakening in Scene 8 is prelude to a kind of recapitulation in E-flat, but now with a fluid ability to run through all nine major and minor keys. The appearance of C double-sharp minor in the final chords signals that the journey is not over, but has just begun.
Original cast of the first performances:
Rip Van Winkle: Kimberley Kahan
Cinderella 1: Helen Donaldson
Cinderella 2: Michael Callas
Mother: Kate Sullivan
Father: David Garry
Conductor: James Bagwell
Flute: Patricia Spencer
Synthesizers: Heather O'Donnell, Dmitri Riabtsev, Kyle Gann
Bass: Bernard Gann
Premiere: Alernativa festival, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 26, 2002
Beloselski-Belozerski Palace, St. Petersburg, Nov. 1, 2002
Bard College, Feb. 4, 2003 (Carimine Aufiero, Nicole Reisnour, synthesizers)
Read about the tuning structure
Read the libretto
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