Welcome to the Hotel Eden!
by Roger Brunyate
|Welcome to the Hotel Eden—|
A happy day, Shalom!
It’s really just like Paradise—
You’ll feel like you’re at home.
at Theatre Project, April–May, 2005
Thus the opening chorus of Henry Mollicone’s Hotel Eden. The Peabody Opera Theatre last performed the opera in spring 1992, in the Friedberg Concert Hall. This time the Peabody Chamber Opera will be presenting the work at Theatre Project, whose smaller, more intimate space will make the perfect venue, since in this opera the familiar bible stories are reduced down to a very human scale indeed. This music theater piece with text by the Hollywood scriptwriter Judith Fein takes three stories from Genesis and re-imagines them in a Palm Beach hotel. With its underlying themes of marriage and the redefinition of the relationship between married couples, Hotel Eden is a feminist work, centered around strong women, women who realize that they can be strong, or women who discover that they must be strong.
|Painting by John Collier, 1884|
Lilith came to the attention of Robert Darling, who, as director of the Central City Opera Festival in Colorado, had commissioned Henry Mollicone’s first opera, The Face on the Barroom Floor, in 1976. He suggested that composer and librettist add two other Genesis stories to that of Adam and Eve, setting them all in the same hotel. So Lilith, with its young married couple, became the first act of the completed opera. The second act deals with the tired, twenty-year marriage between Noah and his wife. The final act, about Abraham and Sara, shows a couple in their golden years. The full opera was premiered by Opera San Jose, California, in 1989.
|The triangle of Lilith, Eve, and Adam|
|Diana Burson, Faith Okkema, and Timothy Bentch at Peabody, 1992|
By the start of the Mrs. Noah act, the Hotel Eden is in disrepair. The tarnished Angels — a Repairman who doesn’t do any work, a Chef who tells the guests to send out for Chinese, and an Emcee concerned only with her fingernails — sit around reading People and the National Enquirer. It is New Year’s Eve. Admiral Noah, recently retired from the navy is brought to the hotel by his wife for what she clearly intends to be a romantic second honeymoon. But things go from bad to worse. Noah hits the bottle, and his exasperated wife goes down alone to party with the Angels. Tired of always being referred to as “Mrs. Noah,” she insists that they use her real name: Rosalind. A disco rock scene ensues (“Roz is hot!”), which is interrupted by water dripping through the ceiling; the Admiral, above, is almost drowning in his bath. They all rush up to save him, but the water shorts the electrical circuits and the hotel is plunged into darkness. Then a stroke of magic: the emergency lighting comes on, refracted by the water into rainbow hues. In the hush that follows, Noah approaches Rosalind with new respect, and they agree to start again. Meanwhile, the Angels get to work straightening out the hotel.
|Disaster strikes the nightclub|
|Peabody Opera Theatre, 1992|
Try to think of nice distractions
When you’re having those contractions:
Think of Caribbean beaches,
Think of mangoes, guava, peaches.
When you feel those inner foments,
Try to think of happy moments… etc.
Mollicone can write tunes of all kinds. Oddly enough, though, it is not the upbeat pop numbers of the jazz Angels that stick in the memory, but the moments of pure singing, when everything seems to stop. The miracle of the rainbow when Noah and Rosalind are reconciled goes far beyond a mere trick of lighting; it is a musical miracle also — a love duet of such simplicity that it catches at the heart. Out of this develops one of those reflective ensembles at which this composer excels. “Did the Director know this would happen?” asks the Repairman; “I wonder…”
…I wonder if He knows how hard a task it is
To bare our hearts and live a life that’s modeled after His?…
I wonder why it takes all our years upon the earth
To open up our hearts to love, and truly know its worth?
The unforgettable melody to which this is set recurs in the third act as Abraham recalls the early days of his marriage to Sara. From there to the end of the opera, it reverberates as a touchstone of humanity, simplicity, and love regained after so much turmoil. It is at moments like these that one feels the comparison with Mozart may not be altogether far-fetched.
|An earlier version of this essay appeared in Peabody News in February, 1992.|