The W. of Babylon (or The Triumph of Love over Moral Depravity)
- 3Sop,Alto,2Ten,Bar,Bass,Female Speaking Voice soli,2(picc)2(eh)2(bcl)2(cbsn) 2221 P(3),pf,hp,str
by Charles Wuorinen, music
R.C. Bruce, libretto
The setting of this opera is the small chateau, La Forêt, in the département of Gers, in southern France, owned by the Marquise of Babylon. The events unfold between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, in the summer of an indeterminate year around 1685 A.D., that is, during the reign of the Emperor K'ang Hsi.
ELEANOR DE MONGUILHEM, MARQUISE DE BABYLON - A woman of some beauty, much charm, and great intelligence: in her middle forties.
COUNT ROBERTO ANTONIO DONNELLO - A man of no beauty, great charm, and some intelligence, her cousin; in his middle forties.
PRINCESS WU TSE TIEN - A young woman of great beauty, some charm, and not much intel¬ligence; about eighteen.
BARON JEAN DELAGE DU BOIS - A young man of great beauty, not much charm, and some intelligence; in his early twenties.
CLAUDINE -The Marquise's majordomo, in his middle thirties.
AGAMEMNA-The Marquise's personal maid: in her middle thirties.
ALBERTINE - The Marquise's footman; in his early twenties.
SUCRETTE -The Marquise's downstairs maid; about eighteen.
THE SPIRIT OF MORAL SENSIBILITY- An agent provacateur.
Act I The Marquise begins by presenting the audience with the opera's several characters, first the servants and then the principals. Next she notices the growing affection between the Baron (her current object of interest) and the Chinese Princess. The scene now changes to the garden outside her window, and we see the Baron and Princess together. After a few routine protestations of eternal love, the two disappear behind a hedge. We return to the Marquise in her salon, clenching the draperies and vowing revenge for the betrayal (she imagines) of her affections by the Baron. The Count is now presented, scraping about in the garden, spying on the Baron and Princess from behind a plastic bush he carries. (He is infatuated with, though rejected by, the Princess.) His jolly self-description to the audience is interrupted by the sight of the clothes of Baron and Princess tossed up from behind the hedge, and he concludes his scene with an eager description of their activities -which he witnesses from a ladder he has put up to look over the hedge. As the scene concludes, he falls from the ladder and rushes off to tell his cousin what has happened, discovering her in the midst of a pretentious arietta of self-pity. After various philosophical exchanges, the Marquise hits on a scheme of revenge, which will now replace her earlier decision to get rid of the Princess by poisoning. (She had sent up her maid Sucrette with a goblet of poison wine for the Princess, and herself supplemented it with another draught, just in case.) She will talk the young people into coupling with "new partners" who will disorient them and make them vulnerable to the advances of their seniors. But before activating her engine of revenge, she and the Count determine to try once more to talk their respective targets into cooperation. Both are re-rejected in following scenes. The Marquise now invests the sexual imposters with their commissions: Agamemna will be disguised as the son of the Bishop of Leeds (to whom the Princess journeys in hopes of restoring her Mandarin father's political fortunes in China), and the butler Claudine will dress up as a female cousin of Louis XI V, during whose reign the opera takes place. Act I concludes with two scenes in which, respectively, the Count convinces the Baron to advance his ambitions for Versailles by bedding the disguised Claudine, and the Marquise similarly talks the Princess into an encounter with the formidable Agamemna.
Act II The Act opens with the presentation of Baron and Princess to their new partners. After a scene in which the Count and Marquise describe their activities through peepholes, the young people emerge to be confronted with the truth of their recent pleasures. Moved by these beyond their previous interest only in each other, they now accept the invitation of the two older people and full of confidence offer to sweep them away "beyond their power to reciprocate." As the young people leave, the Marquise permits herself some doubts about whether it's really worth the trouble to have won them over.
The Marquise and Count now also leave, and onto the stage creep the deserted former lovers of Agamemna (Sucrette) and Claudine (Albertine). They console each other in their despair and decide to go straight. Ready to hand for their betrothal toast are the two poison-goblets prepared in Act l. Warned off from the first by Sucrette, Albertine grabs the second (of which Sucrette is ignorant); they link arms and drink, falling dead-or rather, buzzing offstage-¬after a duet of lamentation.
The principals sweep back onstage, and Congress Music is heard after their retirement to their respective bedrooms. When they emerge, it is the young people who are exhausted, and the old who are deeply disappointed. Not only this, but the young people now clutch at the older, wanting them as parents as well as lovers. It goes without saying that Count and Marquise are greatly distressed and spend two scenes rejecting their young lovers. But the young people manage to answer every objection thrown up by the older and leave them no choice but to marry them. This occasions a moment of serious, not to say despairing, reflection on her hollowness by the Marquise, but she quickly consoles herself with the thought that her cousin will be nearby, and with him she may enjoy what the defects of the Baron cannot supply. Likewise the Count with her. All four principals are gathering for a final ensemble when a creaking chain is heard, and the Spirit of Moral Sensibility is lowered from the roof in her half-shell. She denounces everyone in sight, not for their lasciviousness, but for their frauds: Agamemna and Sucrette are actually man and woman, as are Albertine and Claudine. The Baron is a chorus boy, the Chinese Princess a lady of the evening from the neighborhood, the Marquise a frigid spinster, the Count impotent. After these pleasantries she is hoisted up out of view. The Marquise now steps forward to recommend that each a return to their pretend identities within, as she puts it, a "scheme of stretched sanity." The opera closes with an ensemble of agreement, and the assertion, not accepted by all authorities, that "what we will alone is true."
Eight Solo voices: 3Sop, Alto, 2 Ten, Bar, Bass, Female Speaking Voice
Orchestra: 2-2-2-2; 2-2-2-1, perc(3), pf, harp strings