Music Webmaster: L.Mullenger@coventry.ac.uk llenger
MY ELDER DAUGHTER SUZIE
AND MY 14TH OPERA
I dedicated "Claudias Dream" to my elder daughter Suzie and asked her to write something about herself. She responded with the following:
I met my husband, Peter, at Lee Abbey, a Christian Conference Centre in Devon, while visiting my sister, Penny, who was working there. The community was a lively, sociable group of young people and Peter was working on the farm and growing tomatoes. As I was also growing tomatoes at the nursery he offered to show me around his collection. We kept in touch by letter until he invited me to Liverpool a few months later, where he was working at Shrewsbury House to gain the experience recommended by the church before he started theological training to be a curate. We married in July 1985 in St Pauls Church, Mill Hill, once I had finished the Diploma in Landscape Architecture. Our wedding day was the day of Live Aid, the only sunny day, it seemed, in a summer of rain. So I was going to be a vicars wife - not something I had imagined.
Suzie Lockyer, September 1996.
I had always thought that a wonderful opera could be made out of the trial of Jesus without the presence of the Saviour being involved at all. But it was obviously a subject that would be turned down by every opera-house as being unsuited to the theatre, on the grounds that it would alienate the religious while having no appeal for the irreligious who probably form the majority of the opera-goers. Now, however that I was writing to please myself it loomed high as a subject worthy of consideration. I start with the days when Pontius Pilate is coming as a young man fresh from Rome. Perhaps it is his first diplomatic post of the kind and he is anxious to make a good impression for purposes of advancement in the Roman world. He is young and little realises that a man called Jesus of Nazareth will one day be crossing his path.
We see him first with the retiring Governor, who is able from experience to warn him about the difficult nature of the Jews with their peculiar religion and religious observances.
When the retiring Governor leaves we learn about his devotion to his Claudia Procula, who is due to follow him shortly and the special favour that has been granted him in allowing her to share time in Jerusalem. He longs for her arrival and declares himself the tenor lover, by no means the villain of the piece.
All this is in the Prologue. By Act I, which is about AD 33, Claudia has arrived and found a friend in a Jewish girl who has been engaged as her lady in waiting. I need hardly say that Claudia is the soprano and Rachel the Mezzo. When I thought of Pilates wife as Procula I found I had little sympathy for her, but as soon as I realised that she had another name - Claudia - I was able to fall in love with her and understand that famous dream of which alone St. Luke tells.
In my imagination Rachel is a Christian and it is through her that Claudia has come to know quite a lot about them.
The first scene of Act I takes place at the house of the Chief Priest at Jerusalem where Caiaphas is reporting to his father-in-law Annas how, after the money-changers tables, he had pursued Jesus into the temple and asked him on what authority he did these things and who gave him this authority. He has to admit that Jesus had cleverly answered this question with another which the Priests had failed to answer. "So he scored in the end," says Annas.
It is clear that Annas did not approve of the way Jesus had been allowed to score in the end. But both are in agreement that this Galilean must be put out of the way. Annas is conscious of the danger of attacking the Roman power with insufficient means and Caiaphas tells how he has always been of the opinion that it would be worth sacrificing one man for the sake of the many.
A servant appears who informs the Chief Priest that someone has arrived offering to give information that might lead to an arrest. This is seized upon by both Caiaphas and Annas who see in it a chance to get this dangerous Galilean out of their way. It was Thursday and with luck they could secure Pilates assent and get the whole matter concluded. So Caiaphas goes to meet the caller, who is obviously Judas Iscariot, while Annas congratulates himself.
Scene II. In the house of the Governor Rachel is entertaining her master and mistress with one of her national songs - Psalm 19, which Claudia evidently knows, for she joins in occasionally. Before they reach the end of the Psalm, the Centurion enters to tell Pilate that the Chief Priest has arrived and would like a word with the Governor. "What, at this time!" exclaims Pilate, evidently irritated. Claudia offers to go, but Pilate will not hear of such a thing. "Why should you go Darling, why should you go?" The Centurion offers the extra piece of information: "He says it is private." This makes Claudia all the more eager that she and Rachel should leave. "I do not like the man and Im sure he does not want to see me." Pilate finally realises that he must go and interview the Chief Priest elsewhere and so the two women are left alone.
"Tell me more about this prophet of yours. I hope he is not one of these violent people who are out for violence at all costs." - "Oh no." says Rachel, "He is in Jerusalem for the Feast. Perhaps a meeting could be arranged." She describes him as the kind of man who convinces you if you only look into his eyes.
Claudia admits that she has often longed for such a person.
Rachel assures her that she is not, and that if she could meet him, she would know immediately that he was the answer to all such problems. Pilate returns. "Well, what did he want?" "They only want to get a man out of their way before the Feast." "Who is the unfortunate man?" "One Jesus of Nazareth." Rachel nearly explodes. She rushes out "I cant bear it. I cant bear it!"
The Act ends with a duet between Pilate and Claudia. Pilate keeps urging Claudia to come to bed and to forget all about Jesus of Nazareth. "I must get up early in the morning. Why should you allow this man to weigh upon your peace of mind?" But Claudia cannot get him out of her mind. "You will not condemn an innocent man?" "Of course not. Why else should Rome have taken the death penalty completely out of their hands?" "I cannot forget Rachels distress" At last he manages to persuade her to come to bed and the curtain falls.
The Second Act is mainly concerned with the famous dream. Pilate has had to get up early in order to have his first interview with Jesus. We see him leaving Claudia while she lies in bed peacefully asleep.
The Centurion arrives. " It is time to go, sir." "Yes, I am ready." With one last look at the sleeping form of his wife Pilate tears himself away. An immediate change comes over the sleeping figure of Claudia, She becomes restless and troubled.
I have directed that if possible the next passage should be filmed beforehand and played so that the figure of Caiaphas should appear to be standing over Claudia.
Caiaphas (in the dream seen by Claudia):
Claudia (waking): "Ah, What a terrible dream!" (The figure of Caiaphas vanishes). Rachel rushes in.
Claudia fully awake and getting up: "Where is Pontius?"
Rachel: "He is gone to the Judgement Hall."
Claudia: "Already? I must write to him quickly. Get pen and paper. She repeats. "Oh, what a terrible dream," while Rachel fetches them. Claudia: (dictating to Rachel): "Write this. Have nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered much this day because of him."
She reads it over. "Now take it to him quickly. With Luck he will see it before he passes judgement." There is an orchestral interlude before Scene II which is outside the Judgement Hall which the Jews do not enter for fear of contamination before the Feast. Annas and Caiaphas are waiting impatiently for the Governor to appear.
When he does appear, they are surprised to hear him ask them "Of what do you accuse this man?" as if he were opening up the case again.
At this juncture Rachel appears and hands Pilate the letter from Claudia, which Pilate reads, as Rachel disappears.
Pilate asks them again: "Of what do you accuse this man?"
This brings the retort: "If he were not a malefactor we should not have brought him to you."
Take him and judge him in accordance with your own law."
"We have no right to award the death penalty and this man is worthy of death in accordance with our law.
Unfortunately for them they let fall that Jesus is a Galilean. Pilate seizes on this as a chance to abandon the whole case. "If he is a Galilean he is under the jurisdiction of Herod who is in Jerusalem for the Feast. Adjourn. Adjourn." So, much to their dismay Annas and Caiaphas find that they got to start over again before Herod
We are not shown the judgement before Herod, but it ends in a laughter scene between Herod and Herodias. They have been quite unable to take all the accusations against Jesus seriously but they are quite unwilling to come to his rescue because he is unable to demonstrate a miracle like a kind of conjuring trick, before their gaze. So all they can do is to send him back to Pilate dressed like a kind of innocent.
The scene does not end before they receive an invitation, which they accept, to go to the Governors palace that afternoon from the sixth to the ninth hours.
The Fourth scene is again outside the Judgement Hall where Caiaphas and Annas are again awaiting the appearance of Pilate from the Judgement Hall but this time they are accompanied by a male chorus prepared to lend support to the Chief priests when required to do so. We hear the famous words: "What is Truth?" coming from the Judgement Hall. Then enter Pilate "I find no fault with him at all. I will therefore chastise him and let him go."
Caiaphas: "You are no friend to Caesar if you do." The Jews: "We have a law and by this law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."
Annas: "He calls himself a King, the King of the Jews, but we have no king but Caesar. You are not Caesars friend if you release him."
Pilate, who is already weakening tries the custom of releasing a prisoner at the Feast but the Jews are clearly prepared. With one voice they cry for "Barabbas! Barabbas!" Pilate: "What? Do you prefer a man convicted of murder to your king." The Jews can easily reiterate: "We have no king but Caesar." To the question: "What would you have me do with him then? Comes the plain answer: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Seeing that nothing can prevail against them and that they are becoming mutinous Pilate calls for a bowl of water. When it is brought to him by the centurion, Pilate washes his hands. "I am innocent of the blood of this just man." The Jews cry out: "His blood be upon our hands and on our childrens!"
Pilate hands the Bowl back to the Centurion and re-enters the Judgement Hall as the Curtain falls.
Act III. The Governors Palace at Jerusalem. The stage is divided to a certain extent. On one side Herod and Herodias are being entertained by Claudia and Pilate, with Rachel in attendance while on the other, at the back, various people come from time to time to consult Pilate who has to leave his guests temporarily to deal with these matters.
At the opening Caiaphas appears in this section of the stage and Pilate has to go, rather unwillingly, to see what he wants.
Caiaphas: "You have written, in Greek, Latin and Hebrew This is the King of the Jews."
Pilate! (shortly): "Yes."
Caiaphas: You should not say King of the Jews, but what he said was that he was King of the Jews."
Pilate (on his way back to the guests): "What I have written I have written."
Caiaphas shrugs and departs.
A quartet ensues between Claudia, Herodias, Pilate and Herod. I tried to make this quartet one of the great quartets of opera. Claudia is distracted. She cannot help thinking of the poor man on the Cross, tortured in hopeless agony. She knows she is not doing her duty by Herodias but this seems so trivial compared with the agony on the Cross. Herodias is conscious of her dignity as the wife of Herod and feels slighted and disregarded by her hostess. Pilate knew that Claudia would feel upset by the man on the Cross, but had hoped to distract her. He had not bargained for such strong feelings of sympathy.
Herod is just taken up with finding himself again in the Palace and his childhood with such tortured feelings as had mainly accompanied his young life in the Palace of Herod the Great.
As the Quartet draws to an end, another visitor appears at the back. It is Joseph of Arimathea come to beg the body of Jesus to give it honourable burial. Pilate thinks that it may be to his advantage to hand over the body to someone like Joseph of Arimathea, who is known as an honourable councillor but he is surprised that Jesus can be dead so soon and decides to send the Centurion to verify that Jesus has died. The Centurion comes back with confirmation and Pilate then gives the body to Joseph of Arimathea.
After a while the Herodians decide that they must leave and Claudia and Pilate escort them off the stage. There follows an interlude where servants light lamps on the stage.
There follows a scene between Claudia and Pilate. She feels that she cannot go to bed with the person who has sentenced an innocent man to the cross, and for some while they stalk each other throughout the palace. At last he catches up with her and accuses her of being off-hand with Herodias when they had need of cultivating their guests for diplomatic reasons. She replies that she is sorry if she seemed rude in any way, but she could not help feeling in sympathy with the poor man on the Cross, suffering so unjustly. Everything else seemed trivial in comparison.
He is forced to justify himself and explain that he had done everything he could to save the Galileans life until he realised that they were on the point of mutiny if they did not get their way.
But still Claudia remains unconvinced. "You do not understand. You cannot understand. How could I listen to their trivialities when that great tragedy was happening behind scenes?" She breaks away from him and disappears, but he follows and his voice is heard crying separately: "Claudia Procula! Claudia Procula!" She reappears on the other side of the stage but breaks down sobbing. But he follows, determined to keep her love. "Who are you not to forgive,"
He does not realise it, but he has used the right word. "Forgive?" She seizes on the word. "Who am I not to forgive? It was his special word. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He is reported to have said, even when they were nailing him to the Cross."
He has won his point. But he does not seem to know it, for he continues to justify himself when it is not necessary. "In the end I took water. I washed my hands exclaiming: "I am innocent of the blood of this just person." and they took it upon themselves. His blood be on our heads and our childrens" But the one word "Forgive" has been enough to reconcile them as man and wife.
A small chorus appears from nowhere, to sing the Agnus Dei. Perhaps all the actors and actresses who have taken part but are not needed as soloists in the final scene can be persuaded to take part in this. Pilate describes how the trumpeter climbs to the top of the pinnacle of The Temple. At the first sign of dawn he sounds the fanfare to the sleeping world below. Meanwhile those who have been convinced - Rachel, the Centurion, and eventually Claudia herself, sing the words:
"Truly this was the Son of God."
It is Saturday morning and the dawn of the Feast has come. The stage is bathed in light and the Curtain falls.
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