Scene4 Magazine: Dialogue-The Old Diva's Monologue from the Musical HYPATIA  | Griselda Steiner | August 2013 |
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August 2013

The Old Diva's Monologue from the Musical HYPATIA

Griselda Steiner


The Old Diva's Monologue begins the musical HYPATIA in which opera heroines confront their destiny that always ends with their tragic deaths.
At the turn of the century the Old Diva wanders an abandoned stage where she performed that will be demolished the next day.  She examines the theatre and bows to remembered applause.  She touches the old flats. props and a trunk filled with the costumes her heroines wore.  After she trips on a trap door, she dreams that a spider web appears backstage from which Hypatia, the Crown Priestess of Destiny emerges.  Hypatia then takes her heroines on a journey to change their destiny.

(The Old Diva looks out at a royal box and her eyes study the imaginary king.  She picks up a bouquet of orchids he had tossed on stage.)

The King is Dead!  But like the memory of his love, the sweet scent of the orchids he pinned on my shoulder after each performance was my greatest reward.

(She smells the orchids and pins them on her shoulder. She leans towards the orchestra pit and makes a motion of acknowledgement toward the conductor and orchestra members.)

Maestro - your divine musicians...

(As she wanders the dark stage, she lights a candle.)

Tomorrow you - my beloved opera house - this glorious cathedral structured by the echoing music of a lost era - your beautiful gilded boxes, the crystal chandeliers, the red velvet curtain will lay in a pile of rubbish - destroyed and forgotten forever in the name of "progress".

(She explores the old set flats and as she touches them, dust falls from her hands.)

Magnificent temples - ballrooms - grand balconies, street cafes, boudoirs, drawing rooms, forest caves.  If only I could rescue you with my bare hands.

(She comes center stage raises her arms then draws her hands to her heart.)

I am "Stella Grande" - the great star - the greatest soprano of my time.  Now I am just an Old Diva - forgotten – scorned. When my voice failed, I became a laughing stock - a fallen star quickly replaced by anxious understudies waiting in the wings.  Now I am remembered only in aging photographs on libretti, posters stored in dark corners of libraries and museums.

(She lets out a mournful piercing cracked high C and descending glissando.)

My voice is now a faded relic - but it was once like a view from a snow peaked mountain spanning the terrain of human emotion - from the simplest of joys - to the great happiness of divine awakening - from feeling the tragic sorrows of the heart to understanding the painful deceptions of life.  My voice flowed with the stream of music - like melting snow cascading down the mountain, yearning like melodies that want to dwell in their own element to become part of a lake - beautiful, placid - a place of rest and solace for the soul. My voice - always one with the music - the meaning of the words - was able to reach the realm of supernatural power.

(The Old Diva opens an old trunk to pull out remnants of costumes.)

Look - only remnants are left of the costumes my great heroines wore - the ones I played, the ones I directed, here ragged and forlorn.  Like my dress - like myself - once adored - worshipped - a glittering star - when my beauty paled and men took no pleasure in looking at me - I became nothing - like my heroines who died at the hands of their composers.

Here, Carmen's red acacia flower, Violetta's camellia, Azucena's shawl, Salome's bracelets, the Queen of the Night's crown.  How I felt their loves - their passions, their anxiety. I cried their tears.  How I hated their dying  - hearing them sing a cadence of dissonant sounds leading to their decadent deaths.  Why? Why did their composer's kill them like dolls to be flayed by men's fear of their great feminine powers.

(The Old Diva pulls out Carmen's red Acacia flower.)

You Carmen, feared for your free sexuality and exotic gypsy temperament. You died when Jose stabbed you to the ground.

(She sings from Carmen's libretto.)

But if thou must die, if the word so dread
Already in heaven is decreed
The cards to whose will thou art forced to yield
Will again repeat thy doom
Well be it so; death must come!
Carmen will defy it.  Carmen is strongest.

(The Old Diva pulls out Azucena's gray scarf.)

Azucena of "Il trovatore" - you died revenging your mother.  She was burned at the stake for her great intuition.

(She sings from Azucena's libretto.)

Out to kiss me in a last farewell
Wildly did the crowd revile her
They shrieked like a mob of mad women
and with a hellish lust for blood

They tied her to a stake then
She called for Death to take her
 "Avenge my death," she cried
Her words burn in my heart forever
Words she spoke and died

(The Old Diva pulls out Violetta's camellia flower.)

In "La traviatta", Violetta, you died consumptive, punished for being a courtesan and daring to love a member of the bourgeoisie.

(She sings from Violetta's libretto.)

I shall die! But, oh! My memory may he not rashly curse
Do thou my pains and sorrows to my beloved rehearse
This bitter sacrifice to make to blighted love;
But ever, whilst I live, None else shall have my heart

(The Old Diva pulls out Salome's veils.)

Salome a child dancing seductress. I danced your youthful dance even in my old age.

(She sings from Salome's libretto.)

I am amorous of thy body Iokanaan.  Thy body is white
Like the lilies of the field that the mower hath never mowed.
Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains
Of Judea and comes down into the valleys. There is nothing
In this world so white as thy body. Suffer me to touch thy body.

(The Old Diva pulls of the Queen of the Night's Goddess crown.)

And you Queen of the Night - most magnificent of all - were made a symbol of evil in Mozart's "Magic Flute". You are the original Great Goddess.

(She sings from Queen of the Night's libretto.)

My daughter left me in dismay,
With her my happiness has vanished
A scoundrel bore my child away
I still see her shiver
I still hear her shrieking
In vain for aid seeking

(The Old Diva wanders the stage again, leaving the candle holder on the trunk.)

If I were granted a last wish, I'd wish that I could change the destinies of my beloved heroines.  They would not die.  They would escape the traps set for them by their composers who like evil spiders weave venomous plots. 

I remember every last inch of this stage - even the trap door.  Oh no!

(The Old Diva trips on a trap door, falls asleep and dreams.  In her dream Hypatia emerges from a spider web backstage and challenges the opera heroines to a fantastic journey.)

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Griselda Steiner is a poet, dramatist and free-lance writer living in New York City. A member of the Playwrights and Directors Unit of the Actors Studio from 2007 through 2009, she has written the play MARY M and the MAD PROPHET, the musical HYPATIA and screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE.
For other dialogues from Hypatia and more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2013 Griselda Steiner
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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August 2013

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