Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy
Witches, Ghosts and Fairy Tales
music for voice and piano
Elaine Valby, mezzo | Paul Sperry, tenor | Jocelyn Dueck, piano
On a Nineteenth Century Color Lithograph of Red Riding Hood by the Artist J.H. — Tom Cipullo (Gray)
Mr. Sperry; Ms. Dueck
Ghost Chapter: A Cold Cold Kiss
O Death, Rock Me Asleep — traditional, England (Boleyn)
Mercy #62 — Paula M. Kimper (Gardinier)
Jimmy Whelan — traditional, Newfoundland
In Memoriam: Helen Coates — Leonard Bernstein
Seven Times — Gilda Lyons (Sexton)
Mona's Prayer — Daron Hagen (Muldoon)
Ms. Valby; Ms. Dueck
Phantoms and Visitations* — Gilda Lyons
- Ghostly Phenomena
- The Phantom Rat
- Apparitions at the Moment of Passing
- The Queen and the Countess
- In County Wicklow
Mr. Sperry; Ms. Dueck
The Witch's Lullaby — Conrad Susa (Sexton)
Song to the Witch of the Cloisters — John Corigliano (Hoffman)
Susannah Fry — Theodore Chanler (de la Mare)
Ms. Valby; Ms. Dueck
Tommy Kane — Daron Hagen (Newspaper Article)
Der Erlkönig — Franz Schubert (Goethe)
Mr. Sperry; Ms. Dueck
* = world premiere
Paul Sperry Performer's note:
A word about Tom Cipullo's Red Riding song: Alice Wirth Gray is a childhood friend of mine. When her first book of poetry was published by the Cleveland State University Press she asked me if I knew a composer who might want to set any of her poems. I thought that her quirky sense of humor would appeal to Tom Cipullo and I was right. The lithograph in question, which used to hang over her bed, now graces her dining room. I saw it recently and will have it very much in my mind as we perform the piece.
As this will be the first time I perform "Phantoms and Visitations" I won't venture to comment on it other than to say that I have greatly enjoyed learning it and hope to be able to sing it many more times.
"Tommy Kane" is the next to last song in Daron Hagen's wonderful "Songs of Madness and Sorrow." The cycle is a continuous piece and ideally shouldn't be excerpted, but it was so appropriate to this program that he gave permission.
I think Schubert's "Erlkönig" speaks eloquently for itself. — Paul Sperry
On a Nineteenth Century Color Lithograph of Red Riding Hood by the Artist J.H.
The wolf makes a funny face not to be taken seriously as evil, but as if there's something wrong with his eyes. He's old and getting cataracts or he's trying to start a conversation by winking at Riding Hood, where she stands by a cheery spread of amanita phalloides, wondering how to get back to her basket of goodies which she left on the other side of the clearing while gathering flowers, and now of course the wolf blocks her way. Some people have a crucifix over the bed: I have a wolf.
The NIGHT POLICE Interrogate Riding Hood: Nice try, kid, but daisies don't grow in that woods. Look at those trees, their trunks acid-green with moss. There's not enough light in there for an impatiens or cineraria. And that basket with the bottle of Bordeaux sticking out. Explain that. This is a German forest if ever one was: grim Grimm, blacker than Black. Don't you tell us about Perrault: for you all stories with fear in them will always be German. Your mom is sending you through these woods by yourself with a bottle of imported wine? You expect us to buy that? Save us all time. You knew that wolf. You've been encouraging him. I've always loved that picture because there's Riding Hood far left and the wolf far right and the center absolutely empty. So much space between girl and wolf that is so much more interesting than either of them. You can see into and into the woods until it's so dark you can't. You can see such a long way into the story.
What RIDING HOOD Told the Cops: Of course I talked to him, it's what the books say to do: try to keep them talking. Reason with them. Look, Mr. Wolf, sit down. We'll drink the bottle. Then we'll go on to Grandma's and redden our teeth on her. They sent me here. They must have known the way the world is.
Myself, I would like to get past all that little-girl-and-the-wolf thing into the dark beyond them both.
Honestly, I thought it must be a rite of passage. That the solution might be hidden in the basket under the white cloth. When I peeked, I found she'd sent me off in the dark without so much as a flashlight.
The Report of the NIGHT POLICE continues: We picked the girl up in the woods. Rather, what we mean to say is that's where we took her into custody. She looks like an angel, but you just can't tell. What was in the basket, we wanted to know. Was she trying to get rid of something? We asked her to explain herself, and she says her mother hung the lithograph of a wolf over her bed. A likely story. What woman would do a thing like that? There may be enough evidence to run her folks in, too.
The WOLF: For God's sake. I was lost. Can't you tell? She seemed to mistake me for someone she knew. I didn't want to frighten her. You're not going to try to hang this one on me, are you? I'd never have gone there alone. That's why we always travel in packs. I mean it's dark in there. Dangerous.
Testimony of the HUNTER: So I heard all this yelling from the old lady's cottage a female in distress I sez and I don't think twice but bust down the door gun at the ready and that kid and the wolf (that's him over there, yer honor) well, you wouldn't believe it, the amount of blood and that kid does she have a mouth on her it embarrasses me when girls talk so foul like that if she was my daughter I'd beat her till she was civil and I'd crack all the teeth in her dirty mouth and I'd take away her clothes and lock her up to sit in her own filth until she'd learned a little respect. What's that, sir? You want me to stand down? Well, sure, if you say so.
MOTHER: Of course I hung the lithograph over her bed. It's a work of art. You think something like that is going to scare that child? Anyway, I had to put it somewhere, it was a gift. And let me tell you, there was a perfectly safe path around those woods, through a public park, and well patrolled. But not her. You couldn't keep her from looking for trouble, and able to find it where there is none. My husband was no help at all: what do you expect a mother to do? Oh if only we'd been rich enough to buy her a car.
It was all so complicated: who was this Riding Hood? I never liked the grandmother. Sometimes the wolf wasn't so bad: he could have eaten the girl there in the forest but he put off a present treat to eat a stringy old lady in the future. That's not the reasoning of a beast. Then, never did I doubt he liked Riding Hood more than the others did. What do you mean? What do I see in the picture? Is this some kind of Rorschach? I want to talk to my attorney. It was my mother who hung the picture over my bed. Those dark woods, beckoning, a challenge. A place to go to from the place you are. — Alice Wirth Gray
Ghost Chapter Performer's note:
It's hard to know if the dead have relationships with the living, but it seems clear enough that the living continue to develop their relationships with the dead. "A Cold, Cold Kiss" is 25 minutes of music about experiences of crossing the gulf between those in life and those in death.
First, Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London awaits execution she's about to become a ghost herself. Tradition says she wrote the words of this 16th century English ballad while imprisoned "which nothing disproves, so far as I know," according to Arnold Dolmetsch who transcribed this version in 1912.
In Suzanne Gardinier's one hundred Mercy poems (1996), the poet is visited by the ghost of her grandmother shortly after the older woman's death, and the two of them begin to develop new ways to communicate. “Mercy #62” is from Paula M. Kimper's 1999 song cycle which sets six of the grandmother poems.
"Jimmy Whelan" is a ghost story, a confrontation between a drowned sailor and the lover he left behind. The words and tune were transcribed by Kenneth Peacock in 1960, from Mrs. Mary Ann Galpin in the Newfoundland outport town of Codroy. This piano version is based on a guitar arrangement by Paula M. Kimper and largely improvised by Jocelyn Dueck.
Over the course of decades Leonard Bernstein wrote a series of occasional short piano pieces he called "anniversaries." "In Memoriam: Helen Coates" was composed in July 1970 and published in “13 Anniversaries” (1989).
"I died seven times," announces Anne Sexton in The Death Notebooks (1974), in a poem I sometimes think is about the ghost of someone who has never been born. Gilda Lyons set three Sexton poems in her 2002 song cycle, "A Small Handful."
"To die is to awaken," sings Mona in Bandanna, the 1998 operatic retelling of the Othello story. She too, like Anne Boleyn, is awaiting her imminent death at the will and hands of her lover. She listens to the songs of the dead as she sings her own way across the gulf with music written by Daron Hagen. — Elaine Valby