Music and Libretto by Alden Jenks
I wrote this libretto after reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. My first thought was to use her book as a libretto. I abandoned this idea in favor of a sort of inverse Frankenstein: instead of humans creating a monster, monsters create a human…. After a year or so of rewriting and re-rewriting the monsters became robots, the scenario a scary future in which the earth has been devastated by the follies of man. Only the robots have survived. (This is not “science fiction” --- fiction, yes, but very unscientific. And in spite of the setting, it isn't grim. The robots are gang of technocrats with several screws loose.)
That was one trick the humans had — they could “make copies of themselves” — and the Chief Scientist has been trying to find out how they did it. He recounts how in their first attempt they failed: it seems they created a Man instead of a Woman. They threw that one out. So it will be necessary to try again, this time to make A Woman. They set about doing this, and the first act ends with a wordless scene in which they assemble the machinery. There is a big crescendo, and the Woman rises up from the operating table, with a terrible scream. Curtain.
In the Second Act the Woman is the main character. She is a young adult. R.dot and the Chief Scientist are her main contact with the robots. A truly mad scene occurs in which the Chief Scientist and R.dot dance about trying to persuade the Woman to eat their newly synthesized peas. The Woman, meanwhile, is trying to get them to admit they could make another being like herself, so she wouldn’t feel so isolated.
They humor her about this. They move to the Robot side of the stage (separated by a wall from her cell). We hear a conversation between R.dot and the Chief Scientist in which they make it plain that their plan is to “harvest” the Woman’s reproductive organs and connect them to the Robot Replicator, another gadget which is being constructed. This is followed by a scene in which the all the robots deplore the idea of making any more humans, describing the destruction of the environment that has taken place (R.dot: “They kind of made a mess of it the first time”). At the same time the Woman sings about the moon light shining through the skylight into her cell. She is fascinated, and delighted, by it, and begins to move, almost to dance, in this light.
R.dot re-enters her cell. When the Woman complains (as she has before) that she doesn’t see why she is there, why she even exists. R.dot assures her that she has an important purpose, which he describes. She pretends to be fascinated and delighted by this plan, and asks to see the machinery. R.dot is not sure this is appropriate, but finally gives in and takes her to the laboratory. He begins explaining the workings of the machine. The Woman looks for a weapon, finds something, and smashes the Replicator. She then flees the laboratory, out into the wilderness beyond the robot’s dome.
In the Third Act the stage is divided into three "zones". We see the Woman running through a jungle. The sounds of things in the bushes frighten her, and we can hear the sounds of the robots pursuing her. She arrives in the left "zone", where she sings about the delight of her new freedom. The robots draw near; she resumes her escape. A scene ensues in the right "zone" in which the robots sing about the urgency of catching the Woman.
Then she reappears, in the central "zone". It is now day time. The Chief Scientist and the other Robots catch up to her. They try to persuade her to return to their safe, climate-controlled, environment. The tropical heat and humidity are creating problems for the Chief Scientist, his machinery is breaking down. Staggering and stammering he makes a final desperate lunge at the Woman, who pushes him to the ground — where he expires, limbs waving pitifully in the air. Horrified, the other Robots flee, dragging their leader with them.
She is left alone in this steamy, fertile, tropical landscape. She sings a voluptuous solo about the richness of the place, and its solitude. At the conclusion of the scene (and the opera) more rustling in the bushes is heard, and a large biped emerges. She turns to meet it: she welcomes her future husband (the discarded experiment described in the first act). Curtain.
© 2016 Alden Jenks
Following a successful crowd-sourced fund-raising campaign, I was fortunate to have four scenes selected by West Edge Opera for performances in January 2017. Then in June I produced four other scenes.
The robots live in a climate-controlled dome and rarely go outside. A video screen shows various scenes of the ruined planet. At the beginning of the act the “chorus of robots” comes in chattering excitedly about their new operating system (O.S.). They compare it scornfully to the previous, human-designed, operating system. There is a chorus in which the robots sing the theme song of their (now defunct) manufacturers, “General Robot”. Probably some choreography here.
While this is going on a new character comes on stage, another robot (“R-dot). He is a sort of dithery Woody Allen type, distraught because somehow he didn’t get the new operating system. He sings about this over the others singing about “General Robot”. The chorus yells at him “Download! Upgrade!” and there is a big build-up to the appearance of: The Chief Scientist (also a robot). He is the leader (although, as becomes apparent, he is falling apart from lack of maintenance). He has a protracted solo, with interjections from R.dot and the other robots. In this solo he describes the terrible problems that the robots face because they can’t get spare parts, and have no means of replicating themselves.