The Aspern Papers
Dominick Argento|Sung in English with English supertitles|April 12, 14, 17, 20, 28
New production celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Dallas Opera world premiere commission
A stranger appears at a once-grand home on Lake Como, seeking a room to rent. Although suspicious of his motives, a long-retired opera star and her niece agree to take the man in. The lodger, obsessed with a composer who died suddenly and tragically, is convinced his final masterpiece is somewhere in this home belonging to this retired opera star. A game of cat-and-mouse ensues over possession of the Aspern Papers. Stars mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as Tina in her long-anticipated Dallas Opera debut, with soprano Alexandra Deshorties as a famous diva, and baritone Nathan Gunn as an obsessed music lover.
Starring Susan Graham, Alexandra Deshorties, Nathan Gunn, Joseph Kaiser
Conductor Graeme Jenkins|Stage director Tim Albery
Season ticket packages on sale now!
Single tickets on sale November 14, 2012
World Premiere: The Dallas Opera, November 19, 1988
It is the year 1885 in a crumbling villa on the northern shores of Lake Como, Italy. Juliana Bordereau, a renowned prima donna in her youth, now lives in seclusion, attended by her niece, Tina. The elderly Juliana reminisces about her long-dead lover, an impresario by the name of Barelli who advanced her career and settled her in the villa. It was Barelli, too, who recognized the untapped genius of the composer, Aspern, and brought them together to collaborate on a new opera, in which Juliana was to star. Some fifty years ago, as Aspern was writing the opera, he and Juliana became lovers. The trio had become a romantic quartet, as Barelli turned his attentions to a talented young singer named Sonia, installed in a villa all her own across the lake. Finally, Juliana reveals that Aspern not only lived and worked by the lake that summer; it was here that he drowned.
Scene One: THE LODGER. 1885.
Tina is talking with a stranger, who is looking for rooms to rent. He claims to be a writer, seeking the inspiration of a garden for his work, but Tina hesitates. Her elderly aunt Juliana is even more suspicious of this mysterious gentleman. She demands an exorbitant price for the rented rooms and the lodger agrees to return with the money the next day. Alone with Tina, the lodger persuades her to tell him about her aunt’s former life as a celebrated soprano. He broaches the subject of Aspern, but Tina claims to know very little about the man that Juliana described as “a god.” “Has she a portrait?” asks the stranger, prompting Tina to question his purpose. When the lodger admits to seeking new material for a book about Aspern, Tina is horrified.
Scene Two: MIDSUMMER. 1835.
The composer, Aspern, is posing for a portrait as Barelli watches. Juliana is practicing one of Medea’s arias from Aspern’s new opera of the same name. Aspern suggests to Barelli that he may add a new aria for Sonia, who is to play Creusa, Medea’s rival for Jason’s love. Aspern agrees to take care of Sonia while Barelli is away on business in Paris. Juliana, tired of rehearsing and ready to play, interrupts the two men. Barelli has never seen Juliana or Aspern so happy.
Scene Three: THE PORTRAIT. 1885.
The lodger has spent two months at the villa, he hasn’t seen Juliana even once, and his efforts to court Tina’s favor by sending her copious amounts of flowers from the garden, that he has had cultivated, have also failed miserably. In his frustration he has recently ordered the gardener to stop delivering the flowers. The two women appear out of the blue; they have come to thank him for the flowers. Juliana encourages the lodger to take Tina for an evening trip across the lake to the nearest town. She also seeks his opinion about an unidentified portrait, which the lodger immediately knows is of Aspern. He shows tremendous interest, confirming the old woman’s suspicions that he is really there to learn more about the long-dead composer. When her aunt departs, Tina assures the lodger that Juliana wants him to stay. The lodger reveals he has his own reasons for remaining. He fears that Juliana, sensing her imminent death, might destroy priceless Aspern manuscripts. Will Tina help him prevent such a disaster?
Scene Four: LATE SUMMER. 1835.
Aspern accompanies Sonia in a duet from Medea as Juliana offers her encouragement and advice. When Juliana goes to fetch coffee, Aspern attempts to embrace Sonia. They have become lovers and although Sonia feels guilt over her betrayal of Juliana, he assures her that she is now his only love. However, the composer contends they must conceal their passion for each other until after the premiere of Medea in order to ensure Barelli and Juliana’s cooperation. Aspern promises to rendezvous with Sonia that night, quietly crossing the lake in his boat and returning before morning. He does not realize that Juliana has overheard him as she returns with the coffee.
Scene Five: THE MUSIC-ROOM. 1885.
It is midnight. Tina and the lodger return from their evening out. She carries a bouquet of roses and appears radiantly happy. Tina admits she had forgotten “what an attractive thing the world is”, when they are interrupted by the maid. Juliana has fallen ill earlier that evening. While Tina goes to tend to her aunt, the lodger wonders at how easy it has been to make her so happy with a simple evening out, and suspects she might do almost anything to please him. Tina returns to tell him her aunt is very disturbed and that she has removed the Aspern papers from their usual hiding place; Tina seems to imply that if he wanted to look for them she would not object. After she leaves, the lodger is caught in the act of searching for the score by Juliana, who collapses to the floor in a state of fury.
Prologue II: THE LOST MEDEA
Appalled at his own behavior in searching for Juliana’s hidden papers, the lodger has decided to leave the villa for a few weeks of travel and research. He remembers how Barelli, in his memoirs, gives an outline of Aspern’s lost Medea. He speculates whether Juliana might not have hidden the manuscript from the world out of jealousy, just as Medea destroys her children. Barelli goes on to describe returning from Paris, to find that Aspern has died and the Medea manuscript disappeared; burned by the composer, according to Juliana, just hours before he accidentally drowned. Was she lying, the Lodger wonders, and is the manuscript still in her possession?
Scene One: THE END OF SUMMER. 1835.
Aspern has finished Medea and shares his excitement with Juliana. He rapturously insists that this new opera celebrating their love will last a thousand years; she allows herself to be caught up in his happiness. She suggests they share a bottle of champagne. Not tonight, says Aspern; he claims he wants to go over the score one more time with a clear head. Juliana, having overheard his promise to take the boat over to visit Sonia at night, is distraught. As Aspern returns to his work, Juliana seizes the moment to untie the boat and push it away from the shore to prevent Aspern from using it to keep his assignation. Once she has gone to bed, Aspern prepares to leave. When he finds that the boat seems to have “drifted away,” he decides with typical joie-de-vivre to swim across the lake to Sonia.
Scene Two: THE PROPOSAL. 1885.
The summer now over, the lodger returns to the villa. The gardener greets him with the news that the old lady has died. Tina is pleased to see the lodger return and tells him that she has found some of the composer’s long-lost papers and a manuscript. However, she refuses to share them with him. As a consolation, Tina offers the lodger the portrait of Aspern that belonged to her aunt and he accepts it. Tina explains that her aunt wouldn’t want anything else shown to strangers; however, she then goes on to suggest that perhaps Juliana might not mind, so long as the Aspern papers were kept in the family. Tina implies a willingness to marry the lodger in order to give him access to what he’s been trying so hard to obtain. The lodger, however, cannot hide his horror at her suggestion. “It wouldn’t do,” he replies, and Tina tearfully withdraws. The Lodger decides to leave the next day.
Scene Three: EARLY FALL. 1835.
Barelli comes to visit Juliana. She shows him the urn with Aspern’s ashes. The impresario is stunned that Aspern has drowned while, supposedly, taking his boat out on the lake, and is doubly hit by Juliana’s decision to retire from the stage. Barelli will take Sonia back to Milan. With the manuscript for Medea lost — evidently destroyed by the composer in a state of despair before his fatal “accident” — there’s no reason to stay. After he has left, Juliana reveals the Medea score and kisses it.
Scene Four: THE SCORE. 1885.
As the Lodger is leaving, he hears Tina at the piano. He realizes the music she is playing must have been composed by Aspern. Tina looks radiant and the lodger reconsiders his rejection of her proposal. But he is too late. She tells him that she has spent much of the previous night destroying the Aspern papers. Horrified at losing everything, the lodger hurries away.
By TDO’s Suzanne Calvin and stage director Tim Albery