The Covenant (2018), 60”
A lesbian witch chamber opera with libretto by Midori Marsh
Premiered in June 2018 by Vera Causa Opera, recordings coming soon! In the meantime here is a workshop recording of the Prologue.
*Explicit content below in program notes & summary
The Covenant, having received its premiere in June 2018, is an LGBT+ focused chamber opera that deals with themes of homophobia, misogyny, sexual violence and religious corruption. In opera, there are very few works that present strong women characters with diversity in their sexualities. Most women are portrayed as weak, are demonized for any demonstration of sexuality and are often killed. Because there is an enormous imbalance in the diversity of operatic repertoire, I felt that this was a meaningful project. There are several operas featuring queer male characters, but so few that focus on queer women. This opera is not only meant to be a work relatable to an underrepresented community, but also a work that has several roles for women. We are now living in a time where our society’s marginalized communities are demanding equality and representation. Due to this I felt that it was important to create a work that represented strong and diverse women characters, not only for audiences, but also for singers. It was also my goal to create a work that appealed to audiences not typically interested in opera. For this reason, the music is often going back and forth between modern and extended techniques, and tonal music typically classified as more accessible. It blends elements of musical theatre with classical and extended voice techniques to create a work that is slightly ambiguous in its medium. Additionally, it calls for a chamber ensemble as opposed to an orchestra so that it can be more feasible, for opera companies and for singers of a variety of levels who may not yet be technically prepared to sing over an orchestra. The Covenant is a work that I hope will be only one of many diverse opera projects to come into creation in the near future.
The Covenant begins with a coven of witches living secretly in a small rural community. Keira, a member of the coven who can see into the future, predicts the coming of a new witch. The witches then cast a spell to help the new witch awaken her powers. The witch in question is Catherine, a teenage girl who lives in a small conservative town and who is coming to terms with her romantic feelings towards her best friend, Lucinda. She experiences some conflict over these emotions, however is more distressed at Lucinda’s rejection of her. Lucinda is not only frustrated with the romantic feelings she has towards Catherine, but is also afraid of the consequences of being found out.
One day while Catherine is at church alone, expressing her feelings about her relationship with Lucinda, the town’s priest, Father Andrews, overhears her. Father Andrews is a corrupt man who abuses his power by controlling the town through fear. He makes sexual advances on Catherine, justifying it as a form of conversion therapy. When Catherine refuses him, he is furious and she is very distressed. She leaves the church, and happens upon the town’s mailman attempting to sexually assault a woman. The distress she felt over her encounter with Father Andrews and her anger towards the mailman causes her to involuntarily summon a power that has always been within her. This power causes the mailman to stab himself with the knife he used to threaten the woman he assaults.
Catherine is then confronted by the town’s witches. They inform her that she too is a witch, with powers that emerged due to her intense emotions over her encounter with Father Andrews and the mailman. The witches welcome her into their coven, helping her to nurture her powers. One witch however, Delaney, is jealous of the power she sees emerging in Catherine. This power developing in Catherine begins to give her more independence in her thinking, and leaves her heavily questioning the morals of the town and of her religious beliefs.
Delaney decides to create an alliance with Father Andrews, who is bitter towards Catherine’s rejection of him and who is becoming threatened by Catherine’s powers not only as a witch, but in her identity and critical thinking. They decide that Delaney will place the townsfolk under a trance and bind Catherine’s powers with a magic rope. Father Andrews will then instruct the town to help him burn Catherine at the stake. Upon the execution of their plan, Catherine proves to be powerful enough to wake Lucinda from the trance, who then frees her from the stake. Before Catherine and Lucinda run away from the town, Catherine places a spell on Delaney and Father Andrews so that they can do no more harm towards anyone else.
The story ends with the coven of witches having exiled Delaney. Keira has a vision where she sees that Catherine and Lucinda have found peace and happiness together.