EMMELINEAn Opera in Two Acts by Tobias Picker
Published by Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)
The Mosher family burying ground. Fayette, Maine 1841
Henry Mosher, fallen on hard times, has just finished burying another of his children. Several other Mosher children -- Emmeline the oldest at thirteen -- stand by; their mother Sarah weeps on the shoulder of her sister-in-law Hannah. A sternly religious woman, Hannah berates Henry for his weakness and urges him to send Emmeline to work in the Massachusetts textile mills, in the hope of sending money home to save the family. Henry resists but, quoting scripture and by the force of her will, Hannah takes the frightened girl away with her.
The mill. Lowell, Massachusetts
The foreman, Hooker, is interviewing girls who have come for jobs. One girl, because she has a small child in tow, is summarily dismissed. Hannah leads Emmeline to Hooker, and answers all of his questions for her. Emmeline is hired, told she will live at Mrs. Bass' boarding house, and put immediately to work. An older girl, Sophie, shows her how to use the machines. The mill owner, Mr. Summers, enters with his son-in-law, Stephen Maguire, who is the factory supervisor. Stephen notices Emmeline and approaches her. She is both embarrassed by and grateful for his attentions. Their conversation is quickly swallowed up by the loud clatter of the mill.
The boarding house
The girls have just finished dinner and Mrs. Bass tells them to prepare for bed. She tries to comfort Emmeline, who is obviously exhausted. Sophie and Emmeline stay behind, and Sophie tells her the rewards of hard work. Together they sing of their fantasies of wealth and freedom -- though Sophie warns Emmeline to stay away from Maguire, a married man with a dangerous reputation.
The work day is ending but Emmeline lingers, obviously sad. Maguire tries to cheer her up with stories of his emigration from Ireland and working his way up at the mill. When Emmeline teases him for marrying the boss's daughter, he complains of his wife's coldness. He asks Emmeline if he might stand in as her father and if she will be his friend. Emmeline frees herself from his grasp and rushes out of the factory.
The boarding house
Emmeline is alone, finishing a letter to her parents, when she hears Maguire outside, calling for her. Unsure of what to do, Emmeline sings, "What does he want me to say?" and walks out into the dark. We see her running, looking back over her shoulder. She seems to be running away. It is gradually revealed that she is in a forest.
A forest near Lowell
Emmeline is running; Maguire is behind her. She laughs, and it is obvious that the two are playing a game. Maguire rests and tells Emmeline how beautiful she is, that only she can understand the loneliness he feels. She needs a man she can trust; he needs a woman he can love. Confused, Emmeline sees her sad, defeated father in Maguire's face. When Emmeline touches Maguire's face lovingly, he kisses her, then picks her up, laughs, and walks slowly off.
Hooker is rehearsing the factory girls in a song to entertain Mr. Summers. Emmeline is working with a pained, exaggerated determination, and Sophie asks why Maguire doesn't talk to her any longer. As Mr. Summers enters, with his daughter and Maguire, the girls begin their song, but as the group nears Emmeline, she faints. Everyone crowds around her, and Sophie realizes that Emmeline is pregnant. Mrs. Bass defends her guardianship; Hooker insists she be sent away; Maguire tries to give her money; Maguire's wife -- understanding the situation -- gives Emmeline the beautiful shawl she is wearing and leaves on her father's arm, disdaining Maguire. Hooker sends for Aunt Hannah. Helped to her feet, Emmeline is led off.
A bedroom in Aunt Hannah's house. Lynn, Massachusetts
Emmeline is in bed, thrashing in pain. Aunt Hannah tells her that the couple who will take the child are downstairs, waiting. They are moving far away "where the poor child may have a new life in the Lord." Emmeline, though resigned, still pleads not to have her baby taken away. Hannah coldly remarks that the child, like Emmeline, is born to sorrow, born to sin. As the moment of birth arrives, Hannah moves to help her.
The parlor of the Mosher home; the great field. Twenty years have passed.
Emmeline's mother, wearing Mrs. Maguire's shawl, sits in a parlor chair, paralyzed. Emmeline reads a letter from Hannah and grieves that there is never any news of her child. She tries to imagine the life her lost daughter may be leading. Her father bursts in, announcing that the new boarder has arrived, and again urging her to marry Simon Fenton, a prosperous businessman in town. Simon presses his own case, but Emmeline declares she will never marry.
Emmeline's sisters enter with the new boarder -- a handsome young railroad worker named Matthew Gurney. He and the other men talk of the coming Civil War. Everyone eventually leaves except Matthew, who takes out his harmonica and plays a tune. Emmeline returns and watches him, then goes to fetch her Bible. Matthew admits he's never learned to read properly, and Emmeline offers to teach him. In a succession of quick scenes, Matthew learns to read -- and reveals that he has fathered a child back in Kansas, but abandoned it. When he asks Emmeline if she has any secrets, too quickly she answers no. Emmeline has fallen in love with Matthew.
Henry Mosher comes to tell Matthew that the railroad crew is heading north Matthew refuses to go, declares his love for Emmeline, and asks Henry for her hand. Henry protests that Matthew is too young and unreliable -- but the couple runs out.
Entwined and walking through the dark, they come to a great field. He tells Emmeline he can see the future from there, and the house he will build them. Hesitant, Emmeline asks if he doesn't want to know more about her, but he tells her she only came to life when she met him. "I love you," sings Emmeline passionately, "more than I love my life. May God forgive me, but I love you more than I love God Himself!" They walk away into the darkness, and the stage brightens as festive wedding music plays.
The townsfolk have gathered and are singing a hymn. Pastor Avery leads the marriage service. Emmeline's sister Harriet and a few other women talk spitefully among themselves about the spinster and the young man. The service ended, the crowd congratulates the pair and dancing begins. At first part of the crowd, then gradually isolated, Emmeline and Matthew dance alone with each other.
It is a cold winter night some months later. The house Matthew and Emmeline are building for themselves is not yet finished. Mrs. Mosher has died and the family is gathering. Harriet enters, and accuses Emmeline of abandoning their mother -- which angers Matthew. Harriet mentions that Aunt Hannah will be coming. Emmeline worries that her Aunt will disapprove of her marriage.
Parlor of the Mosher home
Mrs. Mosher's coffin is where her chair used to be. Pastor Avery is leading the family and townsfolk in prayer. Hannah comes in and greets Emmeline warmly. When Emmeline confesses she was afraid her aunt might disapprove, Hannah tells her that she has redeemed herself and asks to meet her new husband. When Matthew tells Hannah her name, she stands as if frozen. In a tense encounter, Hannah begins to question Matthew about his background, finally revealing to the horrified crowd that Matthew is Emmeline's lost child. Emmeline flees; Matthew runs after her.
The great field
Emmeline has run to the place where she and Matthew first declared their love and collapses, sobbing convulsively. Matthew catches up with her and accuses her of hiding the truth from him. She insists that she did not know the truth -- she thought she had a daughter. She begs him not to leave. Disgusted, Matthew backs away from her. Mrs. Mosher's funeral passes in the background. Emmeline staggers toward it. Her father -- with his rifle -- and Pastor Avery bar her way. Defeated, she runs after Matthew.
Emmeline bursts into the empty house and collapses. A rock is thrown through the window, and angry women's voices are heard outside, cursing her. The Pastor, Harriet, and Hannah quiet the crowd and enter. They accuse her of a terrible sin. The Pastor offers her money. In a rage, she refuses their judgment, their money, their ultimatum. She refuses to leave. She puts on Mrs. Maguire's shawl and sits in a chair -- just like her mother -- and tells them she will wait for her child to return. They leave. She picks up one of Matthew's shirts and clutches it tightly. In a final aria, she deliriously recalls scenes from her life as ghostly voices from the past are heard. The house disappears into the dark void of the night sky. She is utterly alone.
Read what Patricia Racette had to say about Emmeline on US Opera Web's online magazine.