Flight Path

Opera Theatre of St. Louis charts the course for the world premiere of a Lindbergh opera

Loss of Eden's success or failure will be based on the psychological and emotional complexity of the relationships as they are presented onstage. "It's not a documentary opera," Albano reiterates. "It really is a group of scenarios based upon what Gore Vidal calls 'agreed-upon facts."' Another guiding directive came from OTSL artistic director Colin Graham, who told the dramatists, "If you read in your research that they stormed off and had an argument and nobody could hear what they said upstairs -- imagine it! Write that argument."

In acquiring the theatrical truth of these individuals, both Albano and Franklin say they arrived at the project with greater knowledge of, and sympathy for, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose writing gave them access to a poetic voice from the beginning. With her Gift from the Sea a generational bestseller, they both knew her writing, and throughout the project, says Albano, her diaries became his most consistent resource for finding -- more important than the history -- how that history was remembered.

The imagining of these characters has determined their musical personae. Anne is scored for a mezzo-soprano, because, says Franklin, "there is such an inner turmoil in her writings, which always had a little bit darker color, at least in my mind." He pairs her with a baritone Charles. "I thought it also interesting to try and do duets with a baritone and a mezzo rather than do a baritone and soprano. The musical considerations were secondary, though. There was something inside me that reacted with her writing that said this is a darker, lower character voice."

Charles Lindbergh suffered the cruelest force of gravity: the kidnapping and murder of his first child -- with the whole world feasting on the disaster.
Charles Lindbergh suffered the cruelest force of gravity: the kidnapping and murder of his first child -- with the whole world feasting on the disaster.

The "shady" Bruno, as Franklin describes him, who comes and goes mysteriously, expressing his obsession with the material largesse of the American dream, sings a desperate, volatile tenor. His Anna "develops through the opera," says Franklin. "She becomes quite strong, at least in the second act, and you really want a strong soprano voice for her." Although Franklin says he has tried to "develop an equal level of sympathy, or empathy," for these characters, reading the libretto -- without score, with only minimal stage directions -- Anne and Anna stand out as the tragic heroines of this piece, thin reeds caught in the powerful ambitions of their men.

Loss of Eden premieres next summer at OTSL. With the Missouri History Museum presenting its own Lindbergh exhibition, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the New York-Paris flight, St. Louisans will have ample opportunity to explore one of the city's most compelling and complicated figures. Vidal has noted that Americans are obsessed with the theme of lost innocence. We're the only people who believe we can get it back. The Lindbergh tragedy makes another telling of that loss, operatic yet intimate.

Franklin shares an anecdote told to him by his mother-in-law: "Her vivid memory at the time is of her parents going around and putting locks on the upstairs windows of the house. Nobody had ever locked their upstairs windows before."

An empty crib. The son of a god is stolen. A nation wakes in fear. What could be more operatic?

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