|THE SECRET AGENT – An Opera based on Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent”
Music by Curtis Bryant, Libretto by Allen Reichman
“The urgent, initially neoclassical music underscores both declamatory and lyrical vocal dialogue…”
(Mark Gresham – American Music Center, New Music Box)”…it resonates strongly in the post 9/11 age”(James L. Paulk – Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“The thematic material that’s associated with each character is something really distinct and really wonderful… There are things that people will start to recognize, and things people will leave the show humming. That’s what you want.”
(Andrew Alexander quoting Timothy Miller – Creative Loafing)
“A bravo of a performance”
(Wilson Trivino – The Backstage Beat)
THE SECRET AGENT is a newly completed opera based upon the 1907 novel “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad. It features a libretto by New York forensic psychiatrist Allen Reichman and music by Atlanta composer Curtis Bryant. Atlanta’s Capitol City Opera Company will give the world premiere performance of the entire two act opera with chamber orchestra in three performances on March 15-17, 2013 at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Center. Tax deductible contributions toward the world premiere production can be made directly to the Capitol City Opera Company by writing “The Secret Agent” or “World Premiere” on a check. Donors will be acknowledged by personal letter and in the performance program. For updates on the world premiere production and the process of adapting the story to opera, please visit the new page THE SECRET AGENT – Capitol City Opera World Premiere.
Completed in 2007, one hundred years after the publication of Joseph Conrad’s novel, THE SECRET AGENT has taken shape as an opera with the help of many talented individuals. Under the working title “The Anarchist,” selected scenes from THE SECRET AGENT have been presented by Georgia State University School of Music in the Harrower Summer Opera Workshop (June 2005) and on Opera Scenes Recitals (Nov. 2005 and 2006) directed by W. Dwight Coleman, with music direction by Peter Marshall. A further scene was presented in the Harrower workshop in 2008 directed by David Grabarkewitz with Nina Shuman providing musical direction. These presentations by GSU have helped both the composer and the librettist to shape this classic Joseph Conrad story into a modern music drama that hits home in an era fraught with fears of terrorism and political dissent. The New York Times Book Review has described Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel as “the classic novel for the post 9/11 age.” (Tom Reiss, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005). But the story goes much deeper than the public threat of terrorism. The real story underlying THE SECRET AGENT is that of the lead female character, the anarchist’s wife, Winnie Verloc. Having no clue about the subversive activities of her husband Adolf, she becomes the victim of his bungling. Her developmentally disabled younger brother Stevie is recruited by Verloc to plant a bomb by the Greenwich Observatory, but the autistic teen becomes the terrorist plot’s only casualty as he trips on a root while making his way across the park. Stevie’s character is written as a pants role for mezzo-soprano. In keeping with some of the common manifestations of autism, Stevie’s lines are short sentences, usually without the first person pronoun. The tragic role of Winnie is cast for high lyric soprano. Verloc’s part is cast for baritone voice and the mother (of Winnie and Stevie) is cast for mezzo-soprano. Among Verloc’s group of compatriots, the role of Michailis has been rewritten to be a woman, Anna Mikhailis, and the betrayer, Alexander Ossipon has the lead tenor role. Mr. Vladimir, the mastermind behind the terrorist plot, is also written as a tenor part. One hundred years after Joseph Conrad published THE SECRET AGENT, the story is still fresh and resonant. Bryant and Reichman are looking forward to the world premiere full production of THE SECRET AGENT by Atlanta’s Capitol City Opera during the 2013 season.
SYNOPSIS: Setting–London, 20th Century. England was experiencing social turmoil and anarchy. This groundswell of unrest and discontent had done little but embarrass the government. No tangible change in the social order was taking place, which fact had served to impel those involved in attempts at disrupting the status quo to further their efforts. Play a sample from Act II, Scene 2(Katie Baughman, soprano; Kyle Guglielmo, baritone; Peter Marshall, piano) (back to THE SECRET AGENT – Capitol City Opera World Premiere; back to ADAPTING THE SECRET AGENT)
Scene 1 (The lobby of a foreign embassy in London)
Adolf Verloc, on the surface a proprietor of a pornography shop in London, but in reality an agent of a foreign government, involved with anarchism, has been summoned to meet the successor to his former employer at the embassy, Mr. Vladimir. As he waits in the hall, he muses about the turn his life has taken and sings an aria describing his activities, which sometimes involve illegality, but are all done “for the good of the people”. He is finally asked to enter Mr. Vladimir’s office, where he is greeted by the emissary in a rude and hostile manner. He accuses Verloc of doing nothing of value in a long time and presents him with an ultimatum. His assignment is to place an explosive device next to the Greenwich Observatory building, not to kill anyone but to alert the public that their government is vulnerable and ineffective. (Play excerpt from Vladimir’s aria, Wesley Morgan, tenor; Stephen McCool, baritone; Nina Shuman, piano) Verloc agrees reluctantly to accept his new assignment and leaves singing the aria, with more ambivalence than earlier.
A meeting of various members of the anarchist group to which Verloc belongs is taking place. Karl Yundt sings about the change in his tactics brought about by his advancing age, but maintains that force is still the best weapon of the downtrodden against oppression. Anna Mikhailis expresses her ideas about the role of women and the need to change outmoded laws. Alexander Ossipon adds a third, and different view of society’s problems, and it becomes apparent that there is little agreement between any of them. All the while, Stevie, Verloc’s young brother-in-law, who is develop-mentally impaired, has been sitting in the room drawing abstract designs with pencil, ruler and compass. Verloc breaks away from the discussion to encourage the boy, but Ossipon looks at the drawings and calls them degenerate. ( Play excerpt of Scene 2: “Square & Circle,” Dan Altman, baritone; Kaitlyn Costello, mezzo-soprano; Cullen Gandy, tenor; Peter Marshall, piano) This sets off another argument, and Stevie becomes increasingly disturbed by some of the graphic descriptions of violence. He runs offstage, screaming out of control. Winnie, Verloc’s wife, enters and scolds him for allowing Stevie to become so upset. Verloc dismisses the group, but pulls Yundt aside and asks him if he can provide him with some explosives for his new assignment. After they leave, he expresses his chagrin at their divergent views, wondering again if there is any coherent purpose of their activities. After they have left, Winnie urges Verloc to give Stevie some tasks to do, adding that Stevie is devoted to him. He promises to consider this and suggests that Stevie stay with Anna Mikhailis, to relieve Winnie. He will fetch Stevie when he needs him. She agrees with this plan and is happy that he has agreed to spend more time with Stevie and take him with him on business. Winnie and Stevie’s mother, awakened by all the commotion, enters and announces that she has decided to move to a retirement home in order to give the family more space.
Scene 3 (A street in front of charity lodgings in a poor London neighborhood)
Winnie, her mother and Stevie arrive outside the new residence. Winnie tries to discourage her mother from leaving, but she insists that her new lodgings will be better for her, and she will be out of their way. Stevie sings an aria “Good-bye Mum,” declaring that he will come and visit often and bring her his pictures to hang on the wall. This turns into a trio
as the three bid each other farewell. The mother enters her new apartment, and Winnie and Stevie proceed on foot to return home via the bus. Along the way, Stevie notices things that disturb him, such as the many poor people in the area. A chorus of these poor sings about their lot and the fact that no one cares about them. Stevie naively asks Winnie why there are so many poor and what can be done to help them. She tries to explain and lovingly tells him that he is such a caring person. She sings of her love for him and her wish to protect him from harm. Play a sample from Act I, Scene 3, GSU Opera Scenes, November, 2006
Scene 4 (Early morning in Greenwich Park)
Verloc has taken Stevie with him on his mission at the Greenwich Observatory. He tells Stevie that he has an important task for him and if he does it they will be even better friends. Stevie promises to do whatever he is asked to do. Verloc explains that Stevie is to carry a parcel (which contains an explosive device) to the wall of the building, leave it there and meet him across the park. He explains that there are people that know him and he doesn’t want them to see him doing this. He then presses the activating device and gives the package to Stevie. As he sits on a bench, he hopes that this clumsy boy will be able to do this simple task. As he watches, Stevie trips on a tree root and falls, resulting in an explosion, which kills him instantly. Suddenly, in an apparition, Vladimir appears on the bench and berates Verloc for his failure to complete the mission. He adds that he will no longer be employed at the embassy. Verloc expresses disappointment about what has happened but has no remorse about what happened to Stevie. His main concern is what to do about Winnie. He decides to tell her he has not seen Stevie and, when Anna reports he is not there, to say that he must have wandered off and gotten lost.
Scene 1 (Inside a London pub)
Ossipon enters a pub, having seen the newspaper account of someone being blown up in Greenwich
Park. The crowd is abuzz with the news of the terrorist act. He runs into his colleague Karl Yundt, who is a known purveyor of explosive devices, and they get into a conversation about his work. Ossipon tells him about the explosion and asks if he might be the one who sold the device. Yundt replies that recently he did sell a device to Verloc. Ossipon assumes that it is Verloc who has been killed and decides he may pay a call on Winnie, for whom he has harbored tender feelings. Yundt leaves and on the street meets Chief Inspector Heat of Scotland Yard. The two argue about the opposing causes of anarchy and the law, and Yundt asserts that his cause will ultimately prevail. With no evidence to hold against Yundt, they part. In an aria Heat reveals that he has been to the morgue, where the body of the person in the park was unrecognizable. Nevertheless, he has retrieved a significant piece of evidence: a tag from the victim’s coat with an address on it. He says that he plans to go there and thinks it is the address of one of his informants, none other than Mr. Verloc. He also says that there is some information about the explosion that may point to the involvement of Anna Mikhailis. Heat wonders if he might get credit for bringing to justice the mastermind of this crime.
Scene 2 (Verloc’s shop and home)
Verloc enters appearing a bit disheveled and reveals to Winnie that he has had a difficult day and is tired. He also tells her that he has taken all his money out of the bank because he may have to leave the country for a time. As he prepares to go out again, she persuades him to leave the money with her, for safekeeping. She also asks him about Stevie, and he tells her he has not seen him since taking him to Anna’s. He then leaves. Shortly after, Heat enters and asks for Verloc. Winnie tells him he is out. He then begins to question her about the tag and she reveals that it is from her brother’s coat. Verloc returns and Heat asks to speak with him privately. Winnie listens to the conversation on the other side of the door. Verloc all but confesses to his responsibility for the explosion and tells Heat to take him in. Heat replies that he is really looking for the person who ordered the act of terrorism to be done and offers to let Verloc to leave the area if he will reveal his identity. Verloc tells Heat that he will try to keep Winnie from ever finding out about what happened to her brother. On the other side of the door, Winnie is horrified at learning of Stevie’s fate and furious that Verloc is responsible and has been concealing the truth from her. Winnie confronts Verloc with what he has done, including his betrayal of her. Instead of showing remorse and responding to her feelings, he downplays the whole incident. The ultimate insult is telling her that it could have been worse in that he, himself could have been blown up. He tells her he is tired and hungry and she sarcastically replies that she is glad he has not lost his appetite. She leaves and goes upstairs. Verloc muses about getting her to come around in time, and begins to eat. Upstairs, Winnie sings a hymn to her dead brother, begging his forgiveness for her not being able to protect him from the monster who has been her husband for seven years. ( Play Winnie’s Aria with Katie Baughman, soprano and Peter Marshall, piano) She promises to set things right. She spots the compass which Stevie routinely used in his art creations and picks it up, knowingly. She slowly descends the stairs and enters the parlor, where Verloc has fallen asleep on the sofa. She stabs him several times, killing him. She then ponders her fate, reflecting that she does not want to be hanged for killing Adolf – “The drop is fourteen feet!” She decides to try to leave the country herself and hurriedly packs a bag. Just as she is about to leave, the doorbell rings and it is Ossipon. He professes his feelings for her and she, sensing a way out of her situation, tells him that she must get away because terrible things have happened. He mistakenly assumes that she is referring to Verloc being blown up in the park. He speaks about her being widowed and she cannot understand how he knows this, having only recently spilled her husband’s blood. She pretends to return his feelings and asks that he take her to France. He protests that he has no money but she tells him she has all of Verloc’s, whereupon he agrees to take her to the train to Southampton and the boat to St. Malo. Ossipon offers to enter the house and get her bags, which he proceeds to do. Stumbling over Verloc’s body near the sofa, he concludes that Winnie has murdered him and must indeed be mad. He decides to humor her for now, but he must find a means of escape along the way. He returns to Winnie, bags in hand, acting as if all is well.
Scene 3 (On a train to Southampton)
Ossipon and Winnie have boarded the train to Southampton. Believing him to be her rescuer, Winnie has given Ossipon the money to buy the tickets and when he hands her the boat ticket, she allows him to hold onto the cash for safekeeping. As the train begins to move, Winnie, now exhausted falls asleep. Ossipon, seizing the opportunity, leaps off the slow moving train and runs off unscathed. After a brief interval, Winnie is awakened by the conductor, asking for her ticket. She asks him if he has seen her new companion, to which he shrugs a negative. Now realizing that she has been abandoned, her money stolen, her beloved brother killed, and she will soon be wanted for murder, Winnie decides that she has nothing left to live for. She rises from her seat, walks in between the cars of the now speeding train and leaps to her death.
Allen Reichman, librettist