Marie Laveau

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Marie Laveau, completed in 1983, is a full-length (2 hours) Voodoo-Opera based on legends about Marie Laveau, the legendary Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Music and libretto are both by John Carbon who wrote the story as a play first. The play was produced at University of California (Santa Barbara) in 1981. A recording of selections (with piano reduction) was made in 1985 in New York City.

This opera tells the story of a woman forced to choose between love and power. Although the character Marie Laveau is based on an actual historical figure, the many legends that surround this amazing woman made it possible to create a new tale comprised of several local legends and folk tales gathered from street people of New Orleans and the rich stock of stories (plus a few facts) about the Voodoo world’s heroes and heroines. The opera is cast in the comic-tragic mold and is intended to be a surprising blend of humor, satire, melodrama and pathos.

Synopsis

The opera opens in a church at midnight where Marie invokes a death curse on her rival, Dr. John. She fears his ability to steal her Voodoo followers (her “business”). She also is torn in two because secretly she loves him. In the past she swindled him out of his fortune partly to dethrone him, but more exactly because he would not submit to her amorous designs. While in the process of casting the spell, Marie is interrupted by Euphrasine, a young Creole girl of the upper class, who appears to light a votive candle. Marie hides and overhears Euphrasine’s plight: she is going to be married off by her dying father to an ugly French dwarf who wants her father’s money. She asks St. Jude for a way out of this marriage. After she leaves, Marie makes it clear to St. Expedite (a patron Saint of the Voodoos) that she is going to use Euphrasine to snare Dr. John.

A month later Euphrasine shows up at Marie’s door. She has had a dream in which she fell through a mirror, surrounded by Marie and her Voodoo followers. Marie seizes the moment and reads Euphrasine’s Tarot cards, telling her everything she overheard in the Church a month earlier. She also tells Euphrasine to give Jules (now her husband) the potion she supplies on the night of St. John’s Eve and to come to her ceremony at Bayou St. John. Euphrasine protests but Marie tells her prophetically that she will be there.

Meanwhile, Blackhawk, Marie’s hired spy, has informed Saloppe, Marie’s older mentor, that Dr. John has returned to New Orleans. Blackhawk, who doesn’t believe in Voodoo, teases Saloppe, who in turn tries to scare Blackhawk. She scolds him for frittering away Marie’s time with all his gambling and womanizing. Saloppe takes off for Marie’s place to tell her the news about Dr. John.

When she arrives, Marie is involved in casting another spell, and Saloppe knows it is a love spell to try to snare Blackhawk. She warns Marie that she will lose Blackhawk if she uses her powers to entrap him--just like she lost Dr. John. She tells Marie Dr. John is back. Marie tells Saloppe about the nightmares she’s been having about Dr. John’s demise and doesn’t quite believe Saloppe but finally does as she once again reveals that she is still carrying a torch for Dr. John. Her desire for a lover’s revenge comes to the surface and the scene ends with a reluctant Saloppe helping Marie plot to use Euphrasine as a “fetch” to trap Dr. John.

After Saloppe leaves, Blackhawk shows up and Marie quarrels with him, telling him that he can only get back into her good graces by submitting to her advances. Blackhawk tactlessly hits the nail on the head by telling her she cannot use her power over people to win love but somehow ends up being undressed by Marie as the scene ends with the lovers in each other’s arms.

Sometime later we join Euphrasine and her husband, the French dwarf, Jules. Euphrasine is getting gussied up to go to the St. John’s Eve Ceremony. Jules wants to consummate their now month-old marriage--a condition of Euphrasine’s father’s will if Jules is to inherit the dough. The frustrated Jules pulls a revolver on the prepared Euphrasine who slips the potion Marie gave her (unseen) into a brandy snifter. Jules commands her to submit to his wishes but she persuades him to drink--but only after she suspensefully shoots the wrong brandy snifter out of Euphrasine’s grasp. He sings a “drunken worm” aria and collapses as Euphrasine sneaks away to the ceremony.

Act II opens with Marie leading the Devotees in a wild St. John’s Eve Carnival dance. She gives a powerful speech telling them that they must get rid of the “evil” Dr. John who will undoubtedly show later in the evening, trying to win them over. Euphrasine arrives and a series of possession dances begins. Several of the devotees are possessed by various Voodoo Gods. In Act One, Saloppe tells Marie that Dr. John’s Loa is Ghede, Baron of Cemeteries, who loves Erzulie, Goddess of Love. Shrewdly, Marie devises a scenario in which Euphrasine is possessed by Erzulie, knowing that this will prove to be the best bait for Dr. John. Dr. John arrives dressed as Ghede, and makes his own plea to the crowd, portraying his healing powers and defeating a possessed suitor of the now possessed Euphrasine. They dance together in a wildly sexual dance of possession and he carries her off to his shack in the woods. Marie laughs and tells the crowd to let her go...”people get what they ask for in this world!”

Act Three begins with Marie, who is now stabbing voodoo dolls of Dr. John and Euphrasine, in an effort to make Euphrasine crazy and turn against Dr. John. It is a spell of unrequited love--a mirror of her own situation with Dr. John. Meanwhile at Dr. John’s shack, John has Euphrasine tied to a bed in an effort to restrain her desires. He makes her promise “no more lovin,” unties her, then tells her his story which includes how Marie swindled him out of his fortune he made in Voodoo. He sudden;y gets the idea to use Euphrasine as a means of getting his fortune back and doing in Marie once and for good. He ties her back up and tells her he’s going to Jules to get a ransom and report Marie, the real culprit. As soon as he leaves, Blackhawk, sent by Marie to spy, jumps in the window and takes a liking to Euphrasine. He unties her an decides to steal her away with him and travel up north with his gambling money. He shows Euphrasine the voodoo dolls he has stolen from Marie and puts them on the table for Dr. John to see. Euphrasine is driven over the edge by the sight of the dolls and vows revenge on Dr. John. They leave for Blackhawk’s hideout.

Meanwhile, Marie discovers that the dolls are missing! She goes to Saloppe devastated by the loss of her powers. Dr. John shows up unexpectedly and grinds the dolls he found when he returned to his shack in the dirt at Marie’s feet. He tells Marie that he knows where Euphrasine is--he found Blackhawk’s handkerchief on the floor of his shack and knows he has her. Then he tells her that he sold Euphrasine back to Jules and he is a wealthy man again. He also cuts Marie to the quick by telling her that he knows why she has tried so hard to bring him to his knees for years and years: she wanted him but couldn’t admit it. She is devastated as he leaves and Saloppe has to pull her back together as Marie begins to reinfuse the dolls with her powers.

The final scene opens in a rented room in Josie Arlington’s Five Dollar House on Basin Street where Blackhawk and Euphrasine are in bed. Blackhawk comments on the sad strains of the Black Funeral procession which can be heard from the street in the distance. He tells Euphrasine that they will play uptempo on the way back. As he looks out the window, he sees Jules coming up the street and tells Euphrasine to hide. Euphrasine is crazed and responds by reciting lines at random that she has recited at other times and places. He hides behind a screen and gives Euphrasine his revolver. Jules storms in and quarrels with Euphrasine, who shoots him. They drag the body behind the screen and begin to plot their escape but again hear footsteps. This time Euphrasine hides behind the screen and Dr. John storms in looking for Euphrasine. he begins to strangle Blackhawk and they back out of sight onto the veranda. Meanwhile the funeral band has returned and is now playing “Oh Didn’t he Ramble” at a deafening pitch. Above the sound we hear shots ring out and Dr. John reemerges. He grabs the deranged Euphrasine and they fall oblivious on the bed wild with passion. Marie enters unseen with a knife and the dolls. Just as she places the knife in Euphrasine’s grasp (stabbing the dolls frantically) Dr. John turns around and sees her! He picks Euphrasine up and pushes her at Marie. Euphrasine stabs Marie to death. Euphrasine has a short mad scene. Saloppe arrives and falls hysterically on Marie, then asks about Blackhawk. Dr. John points to the veranda and Saloppe rushes out to find the body. Meanwhile, Voodoo drums are heard in the distance and Euphrasine is driven over the edge into possession once again and becomes Erzulie, Empress of the Voodoos. Saloppe brings the limping Blackhawk in (who has only been shot in his “seat ‘o learnin’”). Blackhawk looks upon the body of Marie. he places some money from his bankroll on her body and tearfully demands that she get a decent burial. Saloppe and Blackhawk decide to go to Port-au-Prince with the bankroll and leave Dr. John and Euphrasine alone in the gathering darkness. the lovers gaze into each other’s eyes hypnotically above the sound of the drums and Euphrasine, the new Voodoo Queen, commands him: “Come, my people call me.” The opera ends as they float off into the distance.

© John Carbon 2013