The Light Within: A Very Early Rough Draft of an Opera on the Life of Lucretia Mott

Main Characters

2016-03-01 12.01.03
Lucretia Mott at about the age of 70…give or take. You can still see the fire in her eyes if you look beyond the bonnet

Lucretia Mott: Soprano – A short, sprite of a woman of quick movements and vivacious manner. She is slender and petite with an air of dignified simplicity and a grace of conduct beyond her years. Two features rule Lucretia’s face; A benignant mouth which softens an otherwise dominant chin and lofty brow. She has beautiful, limpid-grey eyes widely set and full that seem to grow appealingly darker whenever she is moved by the excitement of sympathy or the animation of conversation. Beneath her lively exterior lies a nature as deep and sober as that of her beloved James; always she is tender with a high degree of practical spirituality.

Thomas Mott: Baritone – A tall, quiet, grave-looking man with sandy hair and kindly blue eyes who takes his time and always acts with great deliberation. James perceives everything in a serious way but is always tender with a high degree of practical spirituality.

Miller McKim: Bass Baritone – A young man with a deep sense of spirit. He has dark features and a flair for theological discourse. He is very much a match to Lucretia’s highly spirited convictions.

Quaker Elder – Mezzo Soprano or a Baritone

Quaker Choir

 

Librettist’s note: I have been working on this particular piece for about five months. It pre-dates the launch of the Mott Academy of Libretto Writing and was partially responsible for MAWL coming about in the first place.

This Micro Opera is based on the book Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott written by Margaret Hope Bacon. I began writing The Light Within (TLW) when Philip Glass’ Etudes for Piano came into my world. I found a compelling (one could say obsessive) relationship between Bacon’s book and Glass’ music and set to find out where the two intersected. This is very much a work in progress and I have a long, long way to go before it clicks but I’ve come far enough that I think it’s time to share it with you.

To help you make any reasoned sense of this, get yourself a copy of Glass’ Piano Etudes and read on. For a taste of what I’m trying to do, listen to this…

…while you read the first scene of act 1. Hopefully you’ll get the idea. I’d love to hear from you if anything strikes a chord. Any composer out there interested in crafting a minimalist score with Quaker ideals send me a note. This will be a full blown opera one day!

ACT I

Scene 1

Place: A busy Quaker home in Philadelphia 1880. It is the last day of Lucretia Mott’s long and storied life. Based on the tempo from Glass Etude No. 1

Lucretia Mott sits napping in the family room near the fire, an extra blanket lovingly placed over her shoulders by her daughter Mary before she dons her bonnet to head out for a meeting. Several other men, women and children – all dressed in simple Quaker garb – bustle around the home as the morning light rises. Everyone is equally busy and equally happy in their appointed tasks. A number of people head out the door after Mary while others attend to laundry, or splitting wood out back. After a great burst of energetic activity (with the one still-spot being our beloved Lucretia contentedly napping) the room falls quiet. The silence arouses our matron who is happy to be finally alone with her own company. Lucretia holds some knitting in her hand and attempts to pick up the pearl stitch she was in the midst of when she dozed off but her hands are arthritic and she rests her work back in her lap intending to resume knitting in a little while.

The weather is churning outside from the NorEaster that passed through last night. The sun darts in and out at irregular intervals indicating the fast moving clouds overhead being pushed by gale-force winds that have lost their bite but not their shove. This creates a dramatic moving light in the room. At one moment Lucretia sits in darkness and then suddenly a brilliant light breaks in bringing clarity to the room. This creates a distinct Chiaroscuro which moves around Lucretia as she stirs with the dancing light. The music conveys a reflective quality as our antagonist finds the strength to sit up straight and be fully present to the room and the audience therein witnessing the production.

LUCRETIA MOTT

Welcome
Is thee is comfortable?
The storm abates, see how it pushes and pulls the light
The light, the light
Bright like a Nantucket morning
Clear as the wind whipping my skirts

“Spitfire” twas a name they had for me then
As a girl of ten

Spitfire, spitfire indeed
Too many names have I acquired this long life
Not all said lovingly, I assure thee

As a girl I knew what my faults were
I earnestly sought a passive state
I’d wait for truth to unfold from my soul of its own accord

God speaks directly to men and women
boys and girls
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

By minding the Light Within
one learns where one’s duty lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

First-Day silence deep and awesome
Therein I prayed to overcome my hasty rage
My Spitfire tendencies
But it’s not fair how human beings mistreat one another
Humanity shudders at our self-inflicted atrocities!

 

QUAKER CHOIR

God speaks directly to men and women
boys and girls
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

Mind the Light Within
learn where thy duties lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

 

LUCRETIA MOTT

So much injustice in the world
how to fight against it all
when one is so weak and small?

I miss the sea, the ships, the salt spraying on my face
Nantucket’s stark and revealing light
The Light Within I seek so earnestly still
I miss my Thomas, my beloved Thomas

 

QUAKER CHOIR AND LUCRETIA MOTT

God speaks directly to women and men
girls and boys
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

Mind the Light Within
Learn where thy duties lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

 

LUCRETIA MOTT(spoken)

Thee is here to witness an accounting of my days

 

End of Scene 1

 

Intersticial:

QUAKER CHOIR
“unable to abide Thy purity till pure as Thou are pure.
Made such by Thee we then are free.
And liberty, like day, breaks on the soul
And by a flash from Heaven
Fires all the faculties with glorious joy.
Oh Thou my voice inspire
Who touch Isaish’s hallowed lips with fire.”

 

The scene transitions from the stormy set to the house first owned by Lucretia and Thomas five years into their marriage. Lucretia throws off her blankets of old age and stands before the audience a young woman in her prime. She reaches for her bonnet and ties it properly under her chin. 

 

Scene 2

Thomas enters carrying several bundles of cotton fabric

THOMAS MOTT

Lucretia dear – lend thy hand?

Lucretia goes to lend her new husband a hand, heartily hoisting a bolt of fabric over her shoulder. Thomas opens his mouth to protest

LUCRETIA MOTT

I hoisted heavier bolts of fabric before thee ever heard my name called out at Nine Partners school, Thomas Mott. I can manage.

THOMAS MOTT

Well I know thy strength, Lucretia. But there’s an additional…

Lucretia lets out a quick yelp as a small kitten pokes it’s furry head out of the bolt Lucretia is holding

THOMAS MOTT

…suprise inside that one. I could not entice it out of its hiding place so I settled to cary it home

LUCRETIA MOTT

What a delightful fright thee gave. It’s decided; we shall name thee “Boo.” Thy task is to keep the mice in order. Thomas, we must discuss the issue with cotton. A slave, a slave’s poor hands are bound up in the warp and weft of this cloth!

Sound of their child, crying, waking from his nap

LUCRETIA MOTT
My dear little Thomas is awake. We cannot continue we must divest from this wretched slave-reliant industry. Thee cannot abide much longer!

THOMAS MOTT
Go, attend to him. I shall finish stacking the bolts and Lucretia… thee is right but how to make a change that brings no harm to our family?

LUCRETIA MOTT
Thee will do what thee knows is right, Thomas, just as thee knew the right thing to do was to marry me

QUAKER CHOIR

Her life and his were destined to flow
As parallel banks of a meadow stream
Running towards the ocean of great human compassion
Making kin all bodies regardless of creed or color or custom

Scene transforms into a Quaker meeting house five year’s earlier with Lucretia and James sitting opposite one another on plain benches designated for the bride and groom. She in her simple grey Quaker dress, he in his simple black Quaker suit they are bidden to stand by one of the Elders who call them forth before the congregants. The music is formal and tight. Nerves abound but the couple show no outward emotion

 

Scene 3 – Wedding of Lucretia & Thomas based on Glass Etude No. 2

JAMES MOTT

I, James Mott, take thee, Lucretia Coffin, to be my wife, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband so long as we both shall live.

LUCRETIA MOTT

I Lucretia Coffin, take thee, James Mott, to be my husband, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a true and loving wife so long as we both shall live

 

QUAKER ELDER

In a true marriage relation
The independence of husband and wife is equal
Their dependence mutual
Their obligations reciprocal

 

QUAKER CHOIR

Believe always in the soul of man
invisibly rapt – ever waiting
ever responding to universal truths

Light – Dark – Voice – Seed – Hunger – Thirst – Pilgrimage

Wait for truth to unfold from the soul of its own accord

 

QUAKER ELDER (addressing the couple directly)

Love all people
Act from the direction of the inner light
Submit to God within

 

LUCRETIA & THOMAS

Life’s purpose is to live it out together
Ever alongside one another
In grace, strength and simplicity

I lend unto thee my full heart

May we be brought unto a child-like state
so to receive all the mysteries belonging to thy kingdom

 

Crescendo as Lucretia and Thomas fall into one another’s arms in an impassioned kiss on their wedding night in the upstairs bedroom of Lucretia’s parent’s house where they will live their first year of marriage.

 

End of Act 1 Scene 3

 

Act 2 Scene 1

 

In the Mott household ten years into their marriage tempo based on Glass Etude No. 3 Lucretia is orchestrating the household chores while also preaching at Quaker meeting

LUCRETIA MOTT

Sweep the floor – hang the wash – chop the meat and make the pies
tack the carpet – sew the shirt – weave the rug – darn the heel
Make the tea – set the table – prep the food – and stoke the fire
add a chair there’s a hungry woman lingering outside our door Mary

I see

I see Inner Light residing within each person

Scene swings to her standing and preaching at meeting

LUCRETIA MOTT

Launch thee forth, as men and women do, amid real, independent, stormy life

Heed the call from God

Be an instrument of the spirit

Good to be always zealously affected in a good thing

It’s a simple perception of duty
that brings thee to close examination of thy daily life and practice

Head not the voice that entices

The one that slumbers and forgets

Bring forth thy greatest possible self and be fully who thee is – man and woman, boy and girl, black and white, poor and rich

 

Scene swings back to her home

Sweep the floor – hang the wash – chop the meat and make the pies
tack the carpet – sew the shirt – weave the rug – darn the heel

Oh my stomach!! (Lucretia doubles over in pain and takes a seat. Her daughter, Mary, brings her a glass of milky water to drink)
Make the tea – set the table – prep the food – and stoke the fire

Perhaps I’ll sit a moment by the fire to knit (she falls asleep)

End of Act 2 Scene 1

 

Act 2 Scene 2 In a large assembly of abolitionists populated mostly by men with a smattering of women this scene is based on the tempo of Glass Etude No. 4. During the music-only intersticial Lucretia sits proud and straight during entire pantomimed proceedings. She “speaks” only occasionally but every time she does the entire assembly turns to listen to her. The assembly is dismissed and Miller McKim, who converses with Lucretia during the pantomimed session, steps forward in an aria

MILLER MCKIM

Who is that woman? So learned and self-possessed
So unlike all the women I have ever known
What hath God driven that she glows with such inner fire?
She, like the bright, clear light after a terrible storm
warm and compelling – harsh and direct
I feel rather that she looks directly at my heart and speaks truth
I cannot hide from her piercing gaze
No one has seen me as deeply, purely, completely
as this handsome Quaker woman from Philadelphia

 

LUCRETIA MOTT
Miller McKim, thy dark good looks
thy earnest, searching attitude
misguided, though it may be, thee is replete with potentiality
(aside) If only he would step away from the Presbyterian stronghold at seminary
Thy Light Within is strong indeed – my dear Miller – My poor, poor orphan boy – The darling subject of my pen
Dare I say he remindeth me of my little Thomas – The one who left my breast too early for his time – How I ache for my first son who would be the age that Miller McKim is today
Push this grief aside, Lucretia
Miller is a man who must make his day
And I will provide what guidance I can along the way

(Addressing Miller) Come to Philadelphia for the antislavery convention

 

Miller looks to Lucretia longingly. She returns his affectionate gaze and bustles off to another meeting with the abolitionist women. Thomas Mott notices the animated conversation between his wife and Mr McKim. He reacts not with rage but with a momentary wave of sadness.

 

__________________________________________

Rough draft, as I said. In the future I will post other scenes for TLW as I write them. It’s like creating a jigsaw puzzle from scratch except I’m making all the little pieces first and then figuring out a way to make them fit. I hope you got something out of reading this. Do let me know how it hits you. Have a productive week.

MMN

© Marianna Mott Newirth with preliminary permissions from FCG Quaker Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s