in three acts.
The present. A small, struggling opera company, in the mid-sized
American city of Willington, is mounting a production of a classic
Italian opera, La Pastorella.
Cast (in order of appearance):
|The Stage Hand
|Arthur, a stage director
|Anna, the lead soprano
|Sharon, another soprano
|Gwen, Arthur's wife
|Mr. Penney, development director
|Carlo, guest tenor
|Margaret, costume designer
|Ann Merriman, CEO
|Anna Merriman, her daughter
||Speaking role (child)
||Mixed chamber choir
A stage in a regional opera house, during and after rehearsal
A corporate boardroom, the next morning
A stage in a regional opera house, the next morning
A downtown street, that afternoon
That night, on stage and back stage, during performance
Sunset, a rocky hillside in the central Apennines
Backstage, after the performance
ABOUT THE WORK
Buffa is, as the title implies, a comic opera. The plot centers
around the production of a fictional 18th-century Italian opera
by a small American opera company. The singers rehearse, fight,
make love, and perform in roles that reflect their own personalities
in whimsical ways.
Beneath this light surface, however, Buffa is an opera about
opera itself and --- in particular -- the state of opera in
America today. At various points, the characters are given opportunities
to express their feelings about opera: its purpose, its relevance,
its mysteries and its impracticalities. Operatic conventions
are alternately celebrated and ridiculed. In the last two scenes,
the cumulative effect of these viewpoints results in a single,
affirmative credo for opera and, by extension, for all of the
The central protagonist is the lead soprano Anna, who not only
grapples with her doubts about the relevance of her work, but
also struggles to maintain her fragile psyche in the face of
mounting pressures as the performance approaches.
In addition to being the main protagonist, the character of
Anna serves as a personification of opera in contemporary culture.
Her journey from fear to despair to revelation are reflected
by the structure of the sonnet she sings in her role as the
shepherdess, a sonnet which begins the first act, concludes
the second, and provides the pivotal epiphany in Act Three.
As she watches the setting sun, the shepherdess tells of her
sorrows and apprehensions, then unexpectedly finds a sign of
hope in the approaching darkness:
|Il sole s'arrende alle colline
Le colline s'arrendono al ombre
Le ombre si stendono,
i lupi scendono
e circondano i poveri agnelli
|The sun surrenders to the
The hills surrender to shadows
The shadows lengthen,
the wolves descend
And circle my poor little lambs
|Ogni notte svanisce un altro
Ogni alba li conto e piango
Provo a tenermeli vicini, sicuri
ma occhi affamati brillano
|Each night another one vanishes
Each dawn I count them and mourn
I try to keep them close and safe
But hungry eyes glow
in the darkness
|Nel cielo nero, una stella
abbraccia in un sguardo grazioso,
e da questo segno di perseveranza
la speranza si rinnova:
Il sole arrende, ascende una stella
e accende il cuore timoroso.
| In the black sky, a single
it holds me in its tender gaze,
and from this sign of perseverance
hope is renewed:
The sun surrenders, a star ascends
and illuminates the timid heart.
2 Flutes (2. dbl. Piccolo)
2 Oboes (2. dbl. English horn)
2 Clarinets (2. dbl. Bass clarinet)
2 Bassoons (2. dbl. Contrabassoon)
2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C
1 Bass Drum
2 Tom toms (medium, low)
1 Suspended Cymbal
OVERTURE: The orchestra rehearses an overture
from a late eighteenth-century opera. The music stops and starts,
as various passages are repeated in different tempi, sometimes
in individual sections, sometimes with the entire ensemble.
The Stage Hand, dressed in overalls, comes out from behind the
curtain. He takes a remote control from his belt and begins
pushing buttons. After a few moments, the surtitles light up,
reading "Saturday Night/ The Willington Opera
Company/ presents/ La pastorella/ (The Shepherdess)."
With a grand, sweeping gesture, the Stage Hand throws open the
curtain, revealing the set and characters for the first scene,
frozen in place. The Stage Hand makes his way around the stage,
spiking various spots on the floor with masking tape. As he
marks each area, it slowly fills with light.
SCENE 1: Arthur, the director, is showing Anna
the kind of entrance he wants her to make. She listens attentively,
then follows his instructions. She begins an aria in which a
shepherdess describes the approaching sunset. The rest of the
cast listens in admiration. Suddenly she breaks off in the middle,
yelling at the conductor about the tempo. Chaos ensues. She
storms off, and Arthur, following her, calls an end to rehearsal.
SCENE 2: Sharon and Arthur's pregnant wife Gwen discuss
Anna's latest outburst. Their musings turn to the imminent arrival
of Carlo, the visiting tenor.
SCENE 3: The Willington Opera's development
director, Mr. Penney, enters. Sharon runs to get Arthur. Penney
announces that he's arranged for singers to perform at a local
bank the next morning. Carlo makes a grand entrance, immediately
attempting to seduce Gwen and Sharon in quick succession. Anna
returns. Penney tells her that she's to sing at the bank the
following morning. She refuses. Their argument escalates. Arthur
asks the others to leave, so he can speak to Anna alone.
SCENE 4: Anna tells Arthur about her visions.
He tries to bring her back to reality, reminding her of the
impending performance at the bank. She voices her discouragement.
He makes an eloquent plea for the importance of committing oneself
to art and to beauty. They sing a duet which concludes with
a tender kiss. Arthur breaks away in confusion, then exits.
SCENE 5: Margaret, the costume designer, enters
with the shepherdess costume. She helps Anna try it on. They
talk about the following morning's performance at the bank.
Margaret convinces Anna she should participate. Anna exits.
Margaret sings about the ridiculous complexities of mounting
THEME AND VARIATIONS: A boardroom at United
First Securities. Mr. Penney tells the bankers about the importance
of supporting opera. He introduces Carlo, who then serenades
Ann Merriman, the president. She's very impressed, and invites
him into an adjoining room to discuss a private transaction.
Delighted, Penney introduces Anna. She tries to sing, but is
unable. The bankers exhort her, then ridicule her. She is outraged,
and calls forth a tremendous thunderstorm, sending the bankers
scurrying about in terror. At
the height of the storm, Merriman and Carlo return to see what
commotion is about. In the ensuing melee, Merriman is drenched
with a pot of coffee. Everyone is horrified. Anna, who has broken
down completely, picks up the shepherdess aria where she left
off in Act I, singing about the approaching night and the hungry
wolves that threaten her sheep.
SCENE 1: Sharon exults in Anna's breakdown,
seeing an opportunity to further her own ambitions. Carlo enters
and serenades her in Italian, German and French, but she turns
the tables on him, to his utter confusion. Arthur enters, looking
for Anna. Sharon and Carlo exit together, and Arthur sings of
his complex feelings for Anna. Margaret enters, and he hastily
explains that he's upset about the state of the opera. Gwen
enters, complaining of pains in her stomach. Anna returns, looking
disheveled, and the four of them sing about their apprehensions
for the coming evening.
SCENE 2: Citizens of Willington furtively discuss
rumors about the events at the bank. Penney enters and, overhearing
them, adds a few rumors of his own, whipping them up into an
excited frenzy over the upcoming performance.
SCENE 3: La Pastorella. The orchestra tunes, then
plays the overture. Backstage, Penney exults over ticket sales. Arthur listens nervously.
Sharon, costumed as a duke, makes a dramatic entrance to start
the action. Carlo, as the prince, enters soon after, and they
challenge one another. Meanwhile, Gwen comes into the backstage
area, collapses on the floor and goes into labor. While the
Duke and Prince begin dueling, a crowd of chorus members and
dancers gathers around Gwen. The duke stabs the prince, who
then sings a death aria while Gwen is moaning backstage. Finally,
the prince dies, a baby cries out, and everyone cheers. Sheep-fairies
perform a magical dance around prince's body, while Gwen is
wheeled away with her new baby. The backstage crowd dissipates,
and we see Anna for the first time, in her shepherdess costume.
She exchanges a few words with Arthur, then prepares to make
SCENE 4: An Italian mountainside. Anna sings
the shepherdess aria describing the sunset and her fear of the approaching darkness.
A star appears, rekindling her sense of hope. The entire cast
emerges from the shadows, singing a hymn to the memory of light.
SCENE 5: After the performance, everyone congratulates
one another. Penney heads off to try to bribe the local music
critic. Carlo and Sharon leave together. Ann Merriman meets
up with Anna, who apologizes for the scene in the bank. Merriman
forgives her, and even thanks her for coming. Anna exchanges
a few words with Merriman's little daughter, who expresses her
admiration in a way that touches Anna deeply. Merriman and her
daughter depart. Anna shares her epiphany with Margaret. One
by one, everyone exits, leaving Anna and Arthur alone. Arthur
tries to apologize for kissing her, but Anna dismisses the apology
and sings a tender farewell. He exits. Alone, she changes back
into street clothes. The Stage Hand returns and presents her
with two questions, the answers to which will determine her
image to view score.