The Story of the Opera

Posted 20 December 2010 by

Act I

It is just prior to daybreak on the last day that the stranded Ark will be occupied by Noah and his family. Mother Noah is talking to one of the pair of cats she is about to release. She expresses her relief that the ordeal is over, but confesses to considerable confusion about what this devastating Flood was all about. “The plan…All of this according to The Plan…No plan revealed to me. Yet I was to be part of it all…”

In the quiet of this early morning a clandestine rendezvous is taking place between one of Noah’s sons, Japheth, and Noema, the wife of Hamm, another of Noah’s sons. The two are interrupted by the shouts of Japheth’s brothers, Shem and Hamm. From the Ark’s top deck, they begin dropping bundles to be unloaded from the vessel.

A jealous rivalry begins to surface as the three brothers dicker about which animals they shall take with them to start their new lives. Their arguing awakens Noah who is displeased with his sons’ behavior and begins to doubt that the Flood has cleansed the Earth of human foibles.

As Noah moves on to begin a bout of drinking, Mother Noah and the three wives appear intent on a party, a celebration of their final morning together. As the singing and dancing gets underway it is announced by Hamm that Noah is lying drunk and naked on the deck of the Ark. By ancient belief this chance encounter between Hamm and his naked, drunken father causes a curse to be placed upon Hamm.

As though this disquieting development were not enough, a covering to be placed over Noah’s nakedness is called for. From Shem’s bundle of belongings a large fur is retrieved. It is obviously a new skin from the fresh kill of one of the animals aboard the Ark. The accusations arising from this discovery set the stage for future controversy.

Mother noah insists that the dawning of this day shall find them, not arguing, but celebrating, singing and dancing in gratitude for what the future may hold for them all. The first Act ends with the refrain: “Oh greet the sun with shouts of joy!…Rejoice in this your day!”

Act II

Several years later the enlarged family is gathering at the home of Noah and Mother Noah. Noah is dying, and the family has assembled from their remote locations. Only Hamm and his family have not yet arrived. A weakened Noah struggles to stay alive until Hamm arrives. There is urgency to Noah’s insistence that he speak with Hamm, but to no avail. Noah dies as Hamm is running to his bedside.

The burden of Hamm’s curse only adds to his grief, of which he sings in anguish. “nothing did I do to bring vengeance!” The unfairness of the curse gives rise to a dispute between the three sons, with particular focus on the animal fur used to cover the naked Noah. Hamm demands that Shem confess to the killing of the animal. That, indeed, his action has condemned that species of animal to extinction. “It was in defiance of Noah, and The Plan”, Hamm sings.

Hamm insists that the skin be brought forth and used as a cover for Noah’s body. Hamm takes charge of the preparations for the burial, and the family begins their solemn march, bearing Noah’s body to his grave as Act II ends.

Act III

Some length of time has passed and the families are again in Mother Noah’s home. The women are trying to piece together an orderly account of all that has taken place since the ordeal of the Flood. They sing a jumble of dates and times which only become more confused as they seek to set them down. Their amusing frustrations are interrupted by an agitated Shem who bursts onto the scene, ordering his wife, Ada, to gather their children quickly and depart. “I am being pursued by madmen..my brothers!”

The impending clash between the three brothers prompts Mother Noah to attempt to take charge of the situation. When Hamm and Japheth come raging into the house, armed with weapons and intent of doing battle, Mother Noah places herself and her grandchildren in the midst of the violent brothers.

The situation grows more ominous when Shem reveals that Japheth and Hamm’s wife, Noema, were having an affair at the time the Ark was deserted. The murderous outburst of Hamm causes Japheth to take one of the grandchildren hostage for his own protection. A violent and bloody battle is about to erupt within the family.

Mother Noah, in a selfless act of great courage and personal jeopardy, takes command. She disarms each of the sons, removing each grandchild from harm’s way. Then in a concluding aria, she sings of The Plan; The Plan revealed to Noah at the time of the Flood, The Plan that they are betraying.

She draws her grandchildren about her, reminding them that a Promise was part of The Plan: a Promise made to them and to all future generations. “Never again shall such destruction rain down on the earth. The rainbow’s brilliant arc shall forever be the sign of that Promise.”

Mother Noah then orders the grandchildren to “Bring a pot, grab a pan…put smiles on those faces, a song in your heart. A great celebration, my precious ones, we’re going to start!” With these words Mother Noah draws first the children, then the wives, and finally the husbands into the song and dancing as before: “O greet the sun with shouts of joy!…Rejoice, this is our day!”

The opera ends with these words of longing and hope, these words that echo the Promise, sung defiantly by Mother Noah who leads all of her children in this affirming celebration. The concluding chords of music reflect the enduring hope of the human family, played out despite a persisent undercurrent of violence and debasement.

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