Librettist’s Performance Journal: Sunday

Cross-posted from

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Yesterday HOT rehearsed Marie Curie from 10-5 and Lady M from 6-9 with Jessica there to coach. They had most of the props in place and all of the costumes, which I’m told look fantastic. Today rehearsal starts at 2:30 and ends when it ends: the schedule says “release time TBA—the rage aria is epic.” Marie’s rage aria is her excoriation of how the French science community and press treated her after Pierre’s death. Marie describes her professional triumphs after she had not been elected to the French Academy of Science and how her lover’s estranged wife had slandered and libeled her:

[….] so this man
and his cronies
at the papers
built a fire out of
hate and fear and

First they said that
I was Jewish;
we all know how
some French hate the Jews.
Then they called me
a foreigner, said that I was
not French enough.

Finally, they said
A woman cannot
be part of the academy.


I had an affair
with the most loving man
the gentle, kind Paul Langevin.
He was married,
that’s all true,
meat for the hungry press.
His wife helped feed them
with our letters, her wrath.

She nourished the public
with lies and forged letters:
and she told them
she told them
that my Pierre,
my Pierre
had killed himself.


I revised this aria a number of times for clarity and length. I had to make the events in Curie’s life clear to an audience that might not know anything about her without being too wordy or taking the focus away from Marie’s emotions. I needed to explain the history of French antisemitism and xenophobia and the culture of misogyny that surrounded science. I had to present Curie’s affair with Paul Langevin in just a few words and still show how much she loved him; the rhyme between “man” and the last syllable of “Langevin” is one of the very few rhymes in the libretto and is a way of signifying her warmth for him, that “most loving man” is so closely related to his name that they are synonyms. (This is an area I’d expand if Jessica and I ever expand Marie Curie to a full-length opera.) I wanted to make sure that the audience understood that Langevin’s estranged wife manipulated the press against Curie. Finally, I needed to give Marie a triumphal moment that also demonstrated, in keeping with the rest of the opera, how devoted she was to her work:

All that time in my lab’ratory,
I sought to shield myself
from the maws of the press
and isolate radium from ore.
Out of a mountain of pitchblende,
stirred and boiled and dissolved,
it emerged, all alone and a silv’ry-white
that shone like a star.

I received a golden telegram:
in the courier’s hand, it glowed
like my vials of fairy lights,
warm and inviting.
Its message came from Sweden
where science outweighs slander
and on a stage in Stockholm
I accepted my second Nobel Prize.

I have never sought publicity
I wanted neither notoriety
nor celebrity, but I will admit to
a certain pride in my achievement.
This medal was mine—and mine alone,
conferred upon me for my isolations.
The little stars I’d found
had turned me into one.

This is getting long, but I want to end with a link to HOT’s Opera in the 22nd Century blog, which now has posts about composer Jessica Rudman; HICO; and performers Jennifer Sgroe (Trigger); Elizabeth Hayes (Young Marie Curie); Charity Clark (Four Songs for Lady Macbeth); Claudia Rosenthal (Irène Curie); and Mark Womack (Pierre Curie).