A Benjamin Songbook

256

Benjamin Younger emerges from a trunk, ready to explore the Gulf Stream 


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These concert arias, arranged for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, clarinet and piano, were composed for a concert in Merkin Concert Hall (May 24, 2001). The arias are from my comic opera Benjamin (1987), with libretto by Sarah White. The topic is Benjamin Franklin and his many facets. An unusual feature of the opera is the splitting of the Franklin persona into a child's voice, a mezzo-soprano (pants role) and a baritone. The mezzo-soprano role is called "Benjamin Younger," and the more conventional Franklin "Benjamin-Baritone." Although the child is not heard in this songbook, Franklin's wife, Deborah, is represented by a soprano. One additional character, Madame Brillon, is not heard in this arrangement. The original 150-minute opera is scored for 15 instruments, chorus, soloists and dancers. These arrangements are in some cases "new pieces," meaning that I have gone so far as to combine two arias (in the Dear Child Reprise) that are sung separately in the opera. I also have added new melodies for the clarinet. The piano part is more than a reduction of the score here. The order of the arias has also been changed for dramatic and tonal considerations, so the sequence of events depicted in the story is not always preserved.

The following comments may help the listener understand a few elements of the story of the opera:

To Be Frugal:

Benjamin-Baritone, his own task master, laments the fact that discipline requires sacrifice.

Gulf Stream Aria:

Benjamin-Younger, Franklin's more playful, spontaneous self, decides that he will explore the Gulf Stream.

Dear Child:

Franklin's faithful helpmate Deborah reads a letter from her husband, who has been overseas for many years.

Our Bell:

Franklin reassures Deborah that the electrocution of a turkey caused by his electrical experiments will not be the only product of his risky investigations.

Your Ship Will Roll:

Deborah warns Franklin of the dangers of the high seas in an effort to convince him to remain in America.

Dear Child Reprise:

Franklin, returning from England, many years later, finds the Dear Child letter and laments that he did not return before Deborah died. In a new duet setting, heard here for the first time, Deborah (as a ghost) reads the letter, haunting Benjamin while he grieves.

Gulf Stream Trio:

Franklin is torn in two by conflicting desires. Deborah urges him to stay in Philadelphia (Your Ship Will Roll), Benjamin-Younger advocates ocean travel (Gulf Stream Aria), and Franklin tries to reassure Deborah that his inventions will keep her safe and remind her of his love while he is gone (Our Bell). --Notes by the Composer

Selected Performances

May 24, 2001: Constance Beavon, mezzo-soprano, Tonya Currier, mezzo-soprano, Stephen Kalm, baritone, Doris Hall-Gulati, clarinet, Steven Graff, piano.

© John Carbon 2015