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Property Cover Design



(mezzo soprano voice & chamber orchestra)

- One act chamber opera (Lyric Drama)

Music by: Andrew Thomas
Story & Libretto by:
Howard L. Kessler

Copyright © #PA 1-284-430

Parts & score available through: Get a Business Card

Story Summary:

The time is today. Flora has inherited a large forested property in Vermont. She has a luxurious picnic to celebrate "her land." In one breath, she loves the wilderness and in the next, contemplates its change. A wrong forecast brings rain. She finds shelter in a carved-out rock.

Sometime in the past, an Indian woman, Pale Doe, has found shelter here when her husband, the chief, was buried by a mud slide. She was previously told by the Spirit not to destroy the land, but only to hunt in it. Her husband did not listen to her.

Flora is rescued by the merchant who had set her up with the picnic. Flora is aware of the warnings. She is left with a decision, though her response is left unknown.


Time: It is late Spring. The forest is dense with vegetation, water, and wildlife. The forest is the Spirit. It has a subtle, though powerful force.

I should have listened to the people in the general store where I bought my picnic. They told me that my car was too light-weight for these woods. But look, how beautiful the woods are. It was well worth the long walk. Look! A deer came out from behind that old chimney. And another! Shh. Now, you scared them off.

The radio said that the day would be warm and sunny. What a wonderful day to celebrate my inherited property. I shall toast my fortune. That large boulder is just perfect to set the picnic blanket on. No, it is my table linens, and this is not a glass plate, but fine china, and crystal, and silver, and an entire banquet. A toast! To a woman of property!

How strange and fitting that this is natural and elegant. The trees are like slim columns, all similar and all different. They are equally supporting my expansive sky-light. The ground is steeply graded like a grand staircase. Upstairs, the ceiling of my leaded glass sky. Below, a black floor of smooth pond water.

I'm glad that I'm alone. I'm talking such nonsense. What if someone heard me? It must be the wine, or the air, or my over-romantic soul. What else could turn trees into columns, and that cloud into a dragon? Watch it! Careful now. Come back down to earth. I almost broke the glass. I promised to return it on my way back.

I can change it all to serve me well.

I can part the woods and clear a plot of land.
I can carve a path and pave a road to my yard.
I can cut the trees to see out to other places.
I can build a house to keep the inside in.
I can stretch a fence to keep the outside out.
I can level the slope and dig a pool.

I can change it all to serve me well.

I can invite some friends to visit.
I can show how much can be done.
I can sell them parcels of land.
I can develop an entire community.
I can design in natural looking parks.
I can make this a special, pure, organic place.

I can change it all to serve me well.

There must have been a house over there once. Only the chimney is left now. It looks like a tree from here, twisted and covered with moss. These three large stones look as if they were placed here, laid side by side. They fit together perfectly. I wonder why. They're covering something... a large hole, or a cave. It must be an old storage cellar. It's not so very deep, just five or six feet.

What? What's that? Oh no! No. It's beginning to rain... on my day... my inheritance day... my picnic! Quickly! It's starting to pour. Gather everything up in the blanket and lower it down there. Only five or six feet. I promised to return them. Careful now. Careful.

It's dark in here. How odd! How very odd! I don't feel as if I am alone.

Pale Doe:
Alone! I am so alone!

A Shaman's daughter and young chief's bride
who understood the forest's sound.
My groom did here decide
to build our tribal compound.

A doe, my namesake and guide,
warned "Alter none of green that grows.
Hunt only for what you need." she cried.
I told my husband so.

My father's father bestowed on me the lore:
"Alter none of green that grows.
Hunt only for what you need."
That mandate I contended for.
But my husband's plan held firm.

The trees were felled, and used for roofs.
Then heavy rains fell down.
The mud rampaged like stampeding hooves.
My husband and I were never found.

Alone! I am so alone!
Our hunters once were purified here.
The quarry's souls were freed.
Within this sweat lodge I cannot hear
my love's voice which once did lead.

In this stone shrine of the Spirit's hand
I forecast the potential storm.
Embrace and respect this fragile land,
or you'll wake your dream to mourn.

Here Time is the sole intrusion.
No one can block its course.
To take such steps is an illusion
whose treads will crack by force.

An architect's grand staircase
is a man's provoked creation.
It strains to hold the angle's face
then fails in decimation.

Pale Doe:
Nature's streams do freeze and flow.
Their forms are never constant.

It strains to hold the angle's face
then fails in decimation.

Pale Doe:
The streams of Nature freeze and flow
with change its constant mold.
But only humans do impose
the conceit of unnatural control.

Hear my words! Listen to my words! Can you hear me? Do you hear me?

I hear you! I hear you! I can hear you!

Hello! I'm here. It must be the man from the general store. I'm here. Can you see my arm? I'll be right up. I was waiting out the storm in the sweat lodge here. Oh thank you for coming to my rescue! I'm all right though. I'm so sorry that I made you worry.
Yes, I have all your things. They're all safe, right here. Yes, you were right. My car could not make it up here.

Yes, this all has quite a powerful beauty. You know about this area. What ever happened to the people in what's left of that house there? What ever happened to the Indians who used this ceremonial sweat lodge?

How do I know that it's a sweat lodge? I'm... I'm not sure. I thought I heard it, I'm not sure.

Howard L. Kessler (B:1949)

Commission & premiere: 1980, Craftsbury VT, Jenneke Barton, mezzo soprano, Andrew Thomas, Conductor
Also: 1999, The Juilliard School, Talena Mara, mezzo soprano, Andrew Thomas, Conductor

to Jenneke & Joan Barton
Judy & Gene Price