An Opera in Two Acts and a Prologue
Music by Daron Hagen
Libretto by Paul Muldoon
The authors recast the story of the Venetian Moor Otello in a tiny US-Mexico border town during 1968 by combining elements of the original Venetian story, William Shakespeare's play, Giuseppi Verdi's great opera, and new, original characters and situations. The opera's unifying concept is the idea of borderlines - between countries, people, life & death, good & evil, morality, amorality, & immorality, sanity & insanity. These, and many other dualities, are expressed in the poet's choices of imagery and the composer's musical choices - tonality & atonality, operatic music & musical theater music, pop music & concert music, etc.
ACT ONE, PROLOGUE
Miguel Morales (Othello) is the police chief of a small town on the USA-Mexico border. His lieutenant Jake (Iago) is spiriting people across the border illegally; Kane (a Caucasian labor organizer from Chicago) is stirring up trouble. The action centers on the wedding of Jake and Emily (Emilia), the unfortunate planting of Mona's bandanna by Kane and Jake in Cassidy's (Cassio) pocket, and the subsequent murder of Mona by her husband. The desert. Day of the Dead 1968. Illegal immigrants cross the border into the US, where they are met by Jake.
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
The main street of a tiny town straddling the US Mexico border. It is the next morning. The costumed illegal immigrants blend in with costumed townspeople celebrating the Day of the Dead. A mariachi band is playing at full tilt. On one side of the street a cantina overflows with customers; on the other side stands a motel, before which various vendors sell flowers, trinkets and red onions. Mona lends Emily her bandanna to hold some onions. Across the street, Emily's fiancé Jake is drinking in the cantina with his fellow off-duty officer, Cassidy as well as a labor-organizer from out- of-town named Kane. The three men unfold their feelings in a liquor-fueled set of harangues: Jake resents the fact that Morales, their boss, has promoted Cassidy above him; Cassidy is thrilled to have been promoted but seethes with racial prejudice; Kane has contempt for everyone, especially the workers he's come down from Chicago to organize - he vows to bring down Morales, who keeps breaking up his "illegal assemblies." Punches are thrown and a fist-fight erupts. Kane manages to slip away. A police car sweeps in, bringing with it Morales, who breaks up the fight just as Cassidy pistol-whips Jake. Morales puts Cassidy under arrest and orders the townspeople to disperse.
ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
As the neon signs and door are flown out, twin picket fences and front doors are flown in on opposite sides of the stage. Although he has not moved from his position at the end of the previous scene, Morales is now standing before his own house a few hours later. He sings about how he has spent the Day of the Dead. He delights in his work, though he's acutely aware of the difficulty of policing the desert. He shows some tenderness toward the plight of the illegal immigrants, whose harsh treatment at the hands of the INS he deplores. He reveals that he suspects Jake is helping to bring these people into the country. He admits to being of two minds about Jake, who is even now being carried across the street to his home, where Emily and Mona are bandaging his bleeding head with the bandanna. Morales admires Jake's courage in doing what he thinks is right, but cannot countenance his breaking the law. He regrets that he may one day have to arrest him. He sings of how much he likes Cassidy, how both men are like sons to him. He sings, exultantly, of his love for his wife Mona. He specifies that they're on much firmer footing these days, learning to rebuild trust after an incident in which Mona transgressed their marriage vows. She's crossed the line. Now they're back on track. Mona leaves Emily and Jake, crosses the street and embraces Morales, singing of how she's been waiting for him to return like a poor girl in some folk song pining for her lover. They sing a brief duet in which Mona vows that Morales is her one true love. Emily comes to her front door. She wonders whether Jake is having an affair. Why is he out half the night when she knows he's off- duty? Jake sings of his regret for having to lead a double life in which he lies to her about his illegal activities. The four of them sing a quartet which recapitulates their feelings. Mona and Morales go inside. Jake comes to the door of his house and shrugs off Emily's embrace as he passes through it. He wanders out into the street and watches through the window as Emily brushes her hair. He reveals that he suspects that Morales is aware that he's helping illegal immigrants and vows to plant some evidence that will ruin Morales. Pulling a bottle of tequila from his pocket, he pulls the bandanna from his head and wraps it tightly about his fist as a plan to use it as a means to bring Morales down begins to take shape in his mind.
ACT ONE, SCENE THREE
The houses and fences fly out from around Jake. An eerie zone, a liminall place, a place of ghostlier demarcations. Kane enters, bearing a bottle of tequila, and approaches Jake. They circle one another like animals who at any moment might attack. As Jake becomes steadily more drunk, Kane slowly pours the poison of his plan to convince Morales that Mona is cheating on him with Cassidy into Jake's ear: Maybe the bandanna will do the trick? Maybe they can settle Cassidy's hash at the same time? Hopelessly compromised, Jake stumbles off. As the dim light fades to blackness, Kane, confident of his success, strides forcefully down-stage into a spot to deliver a rousing speech.
ACT ONE, SCENE FOUR
As Kane holds forth, the lights slowly rise and the stage gradually fills with onion pickers carrying long strings of red onions, which they place into baskets. A projection of onion fields materializes in the background and an onion truck rolls in. Kane's speech to the laborers encouraging them to organize is intercut with a series of asides in which he expresses his true feelings - "They're pigs... pigs or cattle... That side of beef ... That bacon flitch... I love to see them twist and twitch." Kane laughs contemptuously as the completely-seduced onion pickers take up his labor tune. Their fervor collapses as Morales, Jake and a squad of riot-gear-clad police sweep in. Morales orders Jake to check the workers' papers, points to their leader and orders Jake to arrest him. The leader pleads, "San Joaquin". Jake violently pushes him away, but it is too late. Morales has seen the exchange and is now convinced of his suspicions. Jake realizes that he is now forced to go ahead with the plan to destroy Morales. There is a fake change of mood. Jake reminds Morales of their time together as soldiers in Vietnam, describes a tragic incident which binds Jake, Cassidy and Morales together. Jake produces the bandanna as proof that Mona and Cassidy are having an affair. Morales draws his pistol and puts it to Jake's head, telling him that he'll kill him if he says anything more. Morales sends him off at gunpoint. Morales' mind works feverishly. "Holy Mother of God," he says, gazing at the bandanna in his hand. He moves throw a wide range of emotions until at last his wrath is horrifying in its coldness. If what Jake says is true, he vows, I'll kill her.
ACT TWO, SCENE ONE
A riot of excitement at Jake and Emily's wedding feast, which takes place in the cantina. The neon sign throbs. The Mariachi Band is excelling itself. Morales makes a wedding toast in which he pointedly wishes the young couple all the happiness he himself has had. The wedding party pair off for a series of dances which culminate in a chance pairing of Mona and Cassidy. Morales interprets this as confirmation of their having an affair. He calls her a dirty whore. A moment of stunned silence. He lunges for her but the crowd closes in and a humiliated Mona flees, accompanied by Cassidy.
ACT TWO, SCENE TWO
The liminal zone. After the party. Kane is with a pretty, very young, Mexican seducee. Rapt, she listens as he sings about why he has acted as he has, why he has manipulated Jake, Cassidy and Morales. The girl is dazzled by this illicit glimpse into the grown-ups' world. She wants him desperately. The verbal seduction complete, Kane finds the prospect of physical consummation redundant, even distasteful. In the end he simply walks out on her as the lights fade to black and a musical interlude foreshadowing the action of the final scene begins.
ACT TWO, SCENE THREE
The reverse of the neon motel sign. A mussed-up bed. Mona's motel room. Mona enters, distraught. She is lit by the ghastly flickering of a black and white TV screen facing away from us. She sings her version of the folk song about the pining girl. Emily comes in with a paper sack of groceries topped off by a sack of onions. She sings of how she feels like someone bringing food to a cemetery on the Day of the Dead. Yet she implores Mona to have faith. Everything will turn out for the best if Mona expects Morales to come to his senses and do the right thing. Mona reminds her that her husband of ten years is stalking her like a malevolent spirit. She feels like the whore he has accused her of being. Perhaps faith is the answer. She hasn't been to church in years but has entrusted herself to God. As Emily leaves, we follow her across the street to the dimly-lit sidewalk café table in front of the cantina where Jake, who has lost his job and is dressed in civilian clothes, is waiting for her. The three violins from the mariachi band quietly serenade them as, across the street, Mona kneels by the bed and prays aloud. She gets into bed. Morales comes into the motel room. He draws the bandanna from his pocket and twirls it into a rope. As he strangles her, Mona lets out a single, brief cry which silences the Mariachi violins. She dies. Morales is paralyzed with horror, overwhelmed by a sudden clarity of vision. Responding to Mona's cry, Jake rushes across the street to the motel, kicks in the door, bursts into the room. Morales, whose back is to the door, pivots, fires wildly, hits Jake, who goes down. Emily rushes in, throws herself on Jake's lifeless body. A moment of decision for Morales. He puts the bandanna to his eyes and forehead. Beat. He croaks, "Holy Mother of God," puts the pistol in his mouth and fires. As the shot rings out, Emily screams. The ghastly red rotating lights of police cars.
Alastair McCall (James Kane) in the 2006 European Concert Premiere.
The final tableaux from UT-Opera's production of Bandanna
25 February 1999
McCullough Theater, Austin, Texas
University of Texas Opera Theater / Michael Haithcock
American Concert Premiere
3 March 2000
Ham Concert Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada
UNLV Opera Theater and Orchestra / Daron Hagen
European Concert Premeire
26 April 2006
Parr Hall, Warrington, UK
North Cheshire Concert Band; Manchester Chamber Choir; RNCM Soloists / Mark Heron
Commissioned by the College Band Directors National Association.
Click here for more cast information.
116 minutes, with one intermission
Miguel Morales (tenor)
James Kane (dramatic baritone)
Jake Lopez (baritone)
Mona Morales (soprano)
supporting roles (drawn from chorus)
Two Mariachi Singers (men or women)
mixed chorus (18+ voices)
band version (37 players)
Flute 1 (=Piccolo / Alto Flute)
Flute 2 (=Piccolo)
Oboe 2 (=English Horn in F)
Clarinets in Bb 1,2
Clarinet 3 in Bb (=Bass Clarinet in Bb)
Bass Clarinet in Bb
Trumpet 1 (=Flügelhorn)
(onstage musicians: 3 violins, 2 trumpets, guitar, guitarron)
orchestra version (43 players)
2 Flutes (I,II=Piccolo)
2 Oboes (II=English Horn in F)
2 Clarinets in Bb (II=Clarinet in Eb / Bass Clarinet)
2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in Bb (II=Flugelhorn in Bb)
Strings (minimum, in players: 5-4-3-3-1)
(onstage musicians: 3 violins, 2 trumpets, guitar, guitarron
UNLV Opera Theater / Daron Hagen (Albany Troy 849/50)
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Morales (William Lewis) and Mona (Kelly French) in the UT production of Bandanna.
Poster from the European premiere.