Practice in the Art of Elocution(1998)
Libretto by the composer, adapted from the writings of Françoise Delsarte and Frances P Hoyle-Pogle, and from the poems of Rupert Brooke, Longfellow and an anonymous parodist, and JW Riley (E)
Boosey & Hawkes
Merkin Hall, New York, New York
Company: Mark Peloquin
Early 1900s, USA
This ‘operina’ - a word created by Beeson to describe this opera of smaller dimensions meant for the concert stage - takes place in a rehearsal studio with a soprano and her accompanist in the early 1900s. Inspiration and some of the libretto comes from a book entitled The Standard American Speaker and Entertainer by Mrs. Frances P. Hoyle-Pogle written in 1901 – a book which discusses the art of elocution at length and refers to the writings of Francois Delsarte, a Parisian who coached some of the finest singers and actors of an earlier generation. As the action begins, the soprano does various Delsartian warm-up exercises as the pianist does busywork. A discussion of various problems presented by verbal, tragic and comic projection develops and they (pretend to) sight-read musical examples otherwise known as Beeson’s Four Forbidden Songs. Using outrageous poetry of the same time period, the songs are titled as such for their rather bizarre subject matter of sickness, cigarettes and tickling.