The Watermelon Cargo

Libretto by Jeffrey Sichel

Characters:
Rip Van Winkle (RVW) (soprano)
Woman (W) (mezzosoprano)
Photographer (P) (tenor)
Man (M) (bass)
Chorus (SATB, 8 or 12 voices)

Distribution of lines is by the composer, Kyle Gann.

Act I: The Awakening of Rip Van Winkle

P: A scaled cross-section of a watermelon suspended in a river of flowing gauzelike fabric.

P: The sound of water lapping gently on a shore, amplified and hypnotic, like a whisper.

RVW: Light rises softly inside the watermelon, huge and womblike. The lovers... naked, suspended in the flesh of the fruit, making love.

Ch: They fall asleep in each other's arms.

P: Slowly the entire cross-section of the fruit transforms into a boat-like apparition. A dark cream-colored sail emerges from the center as the couple disappear from our view.

RVW: A light wind captures the sail and it billows "romantically" as images of American Indian history emerge around the inner perimeter of the boat with giant carved oars and begin to row... rhythmically.

W: The wind becomes more intense as the sail is captured and rises to the sky. Lights fade as it falls back to the ground and the rest of the scene dissolves away.

Ch: Rip Van Winkle is asleep under a gauzy white canopy like a weeping willow tree.

M: A chant in the darkness.

Ch: Rip Van Winkle is waking up.

P: Silence.

M: The sound of a single breath repeated.

W: The sound of water lapping on a riverside.

Ch: Rip Van Winkle is waking up.

M: The lovers appear outside of the weeping willow canopy. They are wearing yellow raincoats over their naked bodies and carrying umbrellas.

W: Moving pictures again.

Ch: Do you remember the river?
P: Do you remember the river?

Ch: Do you remember it before?
P: Do you remember it before?

Ch: Do you remember my name?
P: Do you remember my name?

Ch: Do you remember the river?
P: Do you remember the river?

Ch: Do you remember me?
P: Do you remember me?

W: Rip Van Winkle is talking.

RVW: I see dreams as a vital link to our biological and spiritual destiny in space. Deprived of this air line we will die. The way to kill a man or a nation is to cut off his dreams, the way the whites are taking care of the indians: killing their dreams, their magic, their familiar spirits.

M,W: From the Place of Dead Roads.

P: The Couple in their raincpats drop their umbrellas and remain frozen. The sound of a city street corner... downtown financial disctrict sound on the waterfront. A Dutchman and an Indian stand facing each other. There is an offering of a watermelon.

W: Won't you sing me a song?

P: The sailboat... train carrying a cargo of watermelon... guided by history.

RVW: Every moment starts with a wedding and then moves from there.

M: I am hiding in shame.

Ch: In the story of Rip Van Winkle a man walks out on his life.

W: He walks out on his life and everything changes around him.

M: The one story is The Watermelon Cargo.

Ch: On a boat full of history, sailing up the river... myth, love, and truth.

RVW: What we're carrying is love.

M: In the closing moments.

P: Inside the watermelon they journey... together up the river.

Ch: Rip Van Winkle is waking up.

W: We paint the watermelon still life.

M: In progress.

P: Coming back to it.

RVW: There are no magic slippers.

Ch: Image one:

P: Slicing a watermelon with a knife.

Ch: Image two:

P: Water lapping on the shore of a river.

W: The lovers kiss.

M: Painting a watermelon.

W: Making love in red.

M: The slice of the watermelon.

RVW: The river cycling around.

Act II: Dreaming of the Iroquois Nation

P: A large rectangular box floating on a stage, painted floor to ceiling inclusive with a giant abstract map of the Hudson Valley.

M: The time frame of the imagery ranges from the Iriquois Confederacy to the present.

W: There are latitude and longitude lines as well as abstract symbols and numbers.

RVW: A moment of would-be lovers cutting a watermelon together. A moment of would-be lover married in the end with eyes looking past the future.

W,M: Rip Van Winkle will always wander off into the mountains. He will always drink the magic wine. He will always disappear into a dream. A moment again in the story of the would-be love and the pure love.

Ch: The couple wanders off and falls asleep and they come back together in a dream.

RVW: And they are in love.

P: And this is some very pure love in a particular story line.

RVW: A dream involving painters and watermelons.

W: In a particularly limited world.

M: The lights go dark.

P: A love letter in the left-hand distance.

W: An inability to motion and a movie dealing with similar issues.

W,M: Rip Van Winkle will always wander off into the mountains. He will always drink the magic wine. He will always disappear into a dream. A moment again in the story of the would-be love and the pure love.

Ch: The couple wanders off and falls asleep and they come back together in a dream.

RVW: And they are in love.

P: The sailboat train is like a time machine.

M: The lights go dark.

RVW: I'm thinking of the demise of the Iriquois nation.

W: And a machine named Spuyt and Duyvil.

Ch: Spit of the Devil

M: The lights go dark.

P: The first thing I hear is the sound of water flowing.

RVW: A moment of would-be lovers, married in the end with eyes looking past the future.

W,M: Rip Van Winkle will always wander off into the mountains. He will always drink the magic wine. He will always disappear into a dream. A moment again in the story of the would-be love and the pure love...

Ch: and the couple wanders off and falls asleep and they come back together in a dream.

RVW: And they are in love and they are married.

M: Scene break.

W: An inability to motion... paralysis and a movie dealing with similar issues.

M: The Rip Van Winkle bowling match.

RVW: Setting the sky on fire.

Ch: Cosmic nine-pin thunder.

P: The sailboat train is like a time machine that moves.

W: Not at all like a fixed object.

RVW: Created by fabrics and the elements.

M: In motion.

Ch: Pins and balls.

P: Buying Manhattan away from the Indians for a song and a marriage ceremony with watermelons and it is all a dream in a thunderous bowling game with Rip Van Winkle filmically fading in and out on a canoe... Hudson River sailboat map train up the river.

W: An Indian myth.

Ch: The Dutch and the Indians.

W: Rip Van Winkle once again fading and blending in a soft lens.

RVW: A canoe and the discovery of the new world and the selling of the city for a song.

W: Spuyt and Duyvil.

Ch: Spit of the Devil.

RVW: Red Hook rituals.

M: A marriage ceremony.

W: An Indian dance into a wedding into a birth... day.

P: Rip Van Winkle is the entrance into the dream and the exit from it.

Ch: The lost time in the hidden amphitheater with the elves or Hendrik Hudson or whoever it is and the thunder crashes and the game of nine-pin continues in Borough's place of dead roads.

P: That is the lovers and their story in an empty theatre the first thing I hear is the sound of water flowing.

Act III: The Guy with the Camera

P: An art school in a box in the late afternoon. Lazy sunshine pouring through an old-style wooden glass window.

W: Still life of the watermelon in process.

M: A teacher wanders.

W: Primping brushstrokes.

W+M: Motion and time pass until the two of them are alone.

W: The camera is an artificial presence.

M: We see details through the eye of the camera and then we disintegrate.

W: Why is the guy with the camera here?

M: Recording.

P: In the studio the sound of footsteps.

RVW: Seeing yourself so many years later.

RVW: Krapp... A Last Tape.

P: Hearing yourself talking.

RVW: And breathing.

M: So many years apart.

W: Time was yesterday.

M: What were you feeling?

W: In motion out of the past.

M: Much more profound than a picture.

W: An old movie snapshot.

Act IV: In the Watermelon Cargo

P: In the gauzy white canopy.

W: In a bed reading the newspaper. Studio night.

M: Waking without a destination.

R: I'm waking up.

Ch: Rip Van Winkle under the white weeping willow canopy sail.

RVW: A watermelon birth.

W: An overdose. Seeds.

RVW: I expect that at a minimum there will be happiness.

M: A door slams.

RVW: I want to go back to the watermelon cargo where at least I love. We start again like before. The premise. The pictures of waking up into a lifetime of awareness and blind motion. I choose life.

W,M: We saw the flowers and twigs decorating the sky above us.

P: An imaginary summer scene.

Ch: Glowing.

W,M: We slept warm in each other's arms.

RVW: It's impossible not to talk about it.

Ch: It's impossible not to talk about it.

P: On a hillside, a photograph of a prince painting an idyllic landscape.

RVW: Imagine that place smelling the trees and the air and feeling free in the world. Breathing in nature.

Ch: A fairy tale.

RVW: I try to draw a picture of the love I want in my life. I sit on a soft wooden floor. I fill my hands with colored pencils. In a corner I watch the sun set through an open window, I fill in a section of the city paper crossword with all the colors. I speak the words to myself in silence. I am alone.

W: I'm trying to focus on a more refined image of love. A blob of paint on the floor. I spread it with my fingers... with my hands. I roll around in it. I want to paint a watermelon for you. Like Kahlo and Rivera, I want to share something so primal and basic about love.

M: Don Quixote's voice propels me on explaining that after all was said and done and he was proved wrong - he just recreated his world and the monsters he was battling were just pretending to be windmills.

P: The giants had transformed.

RVW: We have this unerring ability to not see things for what they are.

W: We build up imaginary worlds to avoid sight and expectations.

M: Whole structures with ends that want nothing.

P: I picture a watermelon being carved into the shape of a windmill.

Ch: The life contained inside.

W: Searching for something living?

RVW, P: A man and woman beginning their last pieces of art... and they know... and they know that this is the end... and they're a couple who have been together forever... and they know... and they know that this is the end... and their paintings happen simultaneously... and they know... like matching monologues... They know that this is the end.

P: The watermelon like a brain or a heart or a head or a body.

M: A magic fish, beached and set free. We are blessed now.

RVW: The night before the wedding all spread out at the great banquet table.

Ch: The order of procession. Enough watermelon to last the rest of their lives together.

All: The Watermelon Cargo is something home... something about a truthful thing moving in and out with documents of filmic truth.

In the Watermelon Cargo we carry or are carried to a destination by the wind in the sails in the trees or on the water.

We lie under weeping willows and search for poetry. We grasp at purity and truth.

Ch: In the Watermelon Cargo we wake up and fall asleep against ourselves... we lapse in and out of conscious life. We are drug induced and naturally ablaze. No one is pure.

EPILOGUE

At the heart of the disappearance... a dream.

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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