Full Synopsis



Pocono, simple country shaman of the Lenape Tribe outside of Trenton New Jersey, introduces a train car full of Metropolitan Opera Singers, travelling on a Tuesday, in the Spring of 1936, to sing their weekly engagement at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  We meet the singers chattering about their weekly trip.  They notice the new sign in Trenton - “Trenton Makes.  The World Takes.”  The train also carries two legendary opera stars - soprano, Berglinde Kvigbjorn, from the Frozen North of Europe and conductor Rudolfo Tuscanetti, from the South of Europe.

The Singers joke with each other about meeting one of the great rich persons of Philadelphia.. “a Morris, Norris, Coxe or Pew”.. Suddenly there is a terrible accident.  The train derails and all are killed, except the two stars.  They walk to the center of Trenton, where they are joined by the Spirits of their recently departed colleagues and an impossibly Furious Vice President who refuses to help them get to Philadelphia.  He chases them away with the bravura aria “We Hate Opera”. 

Having fled, aided by Pocono, to a beautiful forest,  Berglinde can tell at once that the forest is sacred and sings “Hush.  Pocono approaches her with a beautiful pot, which, he explains, contains the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin.  Since they are trying to get to Philadelphia he feels they might consult the Ghost.  Berglinde agrees readily.   Pocono causes the Ghost to appear.  He is very sad, he explains, because his actions in life have doomed him to a shallow grave.  He slighted “Beauty” he says and slandered poets.  Since his death he has realized, ‘if you see Beauty, Beauty will see you’.  Soon it is settled that they should return to Trenton.  The Ghost brings out a new invention, The Beauty Prod, which he believes can stun Americans in witnessing Beauty.   Berglinde wonders how it works and they sing the duet “A Cosmic Ray From Far Beyond Beyond”. 

Back in Trenton, with the help of Tuscanetti and the Spirits, they attack the Furious Vice President with the Beauty Prod.  In the stately ensemble “The Golden Rays of Beauty” they attempt to convert him.  After a partial success, the clock strikes four - time to hurry to Philadelphia.

SECOND NOH PLAY:  The Salem Quilt

Mrs. Clapp, a humble spinster who runs a one-room inn by the Delaware River, has a strange tale to tell.  When her sister Abigail was married, an old quilt, handed down in her husband’s family, came to Mrs. Clapp.  It was said to have been sewn by an alleged Witch, Sybilla, who was hanged from the neck in Salem in 1692.    The quilt, feared to be haunted, was kept closed in a trunk. But one day, Mrs. Clapp, napping in her rocking chair, pulled it out and covered herself.  No sooner done than she fell into a trance and Sybilla appeared to her.  “Whomsoever shall fall asleep beneath the Salem Quilt shall see his whole life appear before him” she tells her.  She must guide those who come to her, especially the Runaway Apprentices; to help them take the nap; to see their lives and to return to their duties.  However, in the aria “One Fine Day” Sybilla prophesies that a mighty sorcerer one day will come her way, will take the nap, will dream the dream but then must move on to his great destiny.

The years go by and things turn out pretty much as Sybilla said they would except that no “sorcerer” has ever showed up.  Benjamin Franklin arrives.  He is 17 and has “just walked across New Jersey”.  He trades Mrs. Clapp a pint of ale for a bowl of ox-cheek stew.   She sees right away he is a runaway apprentice.  In an aside he details his theory about having sex with older women, “An Older Woman Is Better To Bed” and proceeds to attempt to seduce his hostess.  She, meanwhile, is eager to get him to nap under the quilt.  After a struggle they both are swept away by love and lust.  In the duet “Kiss Me With The Kisses Of Thy Mouth” they consummate their passion and Ben falls asleep. 

The old spinster musing on her awakening to love realizes that “soon he will leave” and wishes she could keep him there “a day, a month, a year”.   Suddenly she remembers that he will be having the magic dream and tries to wake him but it is too late, the dream has begun.

The scene shifts to Paris in 1776.  Madame Sans-Culottes and Beaumarchais describe the excitement brewing in Paris over the arrival of “Old Ben Franklin”.  Beaumarchais leads the crowd to watch Franklin’s session with the Barber who is making the wig for his reception at court.   The wig doesn’t fit and Franklin ends up wearing an old beaver hat much to the shock of the French.  But soon this becomes food for the frenzy and all over the city they fall on the ground weeping and crying out, “He’s dressed like a Quaker.”  Voltaire enters, sourly  deflating the crowd’s claims, “Franklin’s not a Quaker!  God forbid!”   He goes on to describe Franklin’s life in the aria “This Is A Life That Will Haunt You”.   Then, as he sings with Madame Brillon de Jouy and the Marquis de Lafayette, the famous words written about Franklin

“Erupuit coelo fulmen

Sceptrumque tyrannis”

“He tore the lighting from Heaven

And the scepters from tyrants”

the crowd re-enacts the Kite Experiment and the American Revolution, and the dream comes to an end.  Sybilla enters and leads them in the haunting parting anthem “The Earth Will Jump at Your Command”.

Waking up confused young Ben argues with Mrs. Clapp who claims he dreamt of “suffering and loneliness”.  But I dreamt of “Glory, Nations, Magic”, he retorts.  As he describes the parting words of the dream “The Earth Will Jump At Your Command” Mrs. Clapp feels a twinge of memory.  Where has she heard that before?  The gun from the arriving boat sounds and as he is about to run off, she gets Franklin to agree to take the next boat and spend just one more night with her.  When he does so she tells him he is a “little sorcerer”.  The words are hardly out of her mouth when her memory nags at her again.  Instead of going to the boat they dance the gigue together.  As they dance she questions him further and her mind misgives more and more.  Suddenly the scales fall from her eyes and she realizes “You Are The One Foretold”.  Knowing she must not detain him, she demands that he “run catch that boat”.  Sybilla and the Dream Characters appear and all send him off in the final slow waltz “Who Left This Night”.