Libretto by Rinde Eckert (E)
Boosey & Hawkes (Hendon Music)
Festival Gardens, St. Louis
James Robinson, director
Conductor: Daniela Candillari
Company: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Buckingham Palace, London, UK; 1969
Moon Tea is a surreal and comical reimagining of the 1969 visit by the Apollo 11 astronauts, fresh from their historic moon landing, to have tea with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace. Each of the five characters—Prince Philip, Neil and Janet Armstrong, Queen Elizabeth and Michael Collins—share their personal thoughts.
Philip, as a former pilot, imagines what it would be like to sit on top of that rocket, making history instead of holding the hand of history. Neil and Janet share the stage in a duet: Neil, the world’s most celebrated traveler, refuses to leave the hotel because of a common cold, but his wife Janet is not about to pass up this opportunity to begin the wonderful friendship she imagines with the Queen. The tales of weightless escape are an irresistible fantasy to the Queen who feels the weight of the crown and the swarming paparazzi. Collins—preoccupied by palace protocol—trips backwards on the stairs and breaks a priceless vase while trying to avoid turning his back on royalty. This embarrassment awakens his festering resentment that he captained the spacecraft a quarter of a million miles, just to wait in orbit (like a dog in the mall parking lot) while Neil and Buzz collect all the glory. During the final quintet, a grander, more universal sentiment is teased out from the solipsistic monologues.
I’ve always been interested in fish-out-of-water stories like Back to the Future or Being There. I was drawn to the story about these men of great achievement, not schooled in royal etiquette, meeting with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip surrounded by the trappings of Buckingham Palace, who are in turn awestruck by the astronauts’ great achievement.
On a personal note, I’ve been obsessed with the moon landing ever since Kennedy called the shot in 1962 while I was a kid living in England, and then of course after watching it on television in 1969. Although Moon Tea is based on an actual event, the ironies and absurdities are exaggerated and extrapolated in the spirit of farce. Other influences include Elizabethan madrigals, American funk, Mozart comic operas, and the mythology of all things lunar.