Chamber Opera in One Act
Libretto by David Mason
Music by Tom Cipullo
Duration: ca. 60 minutes
Commissioned by Music of Remembrance
Premiered at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington on May 19, 2019
Miklós Radnóti baritone
Fanni Radnóti soprano
flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano
It is the evening of May 19, 1944, and Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti is spending his last night with his wife Fanni. Tomorrow, he must join a battalion of forced laborers. Along with 6000 other Hungarian-Jewish conscripts, Radnóti will serve as slave labor, building a railroad line in support of copper mines in German-occupied Serbia. On this last night at home, an unseen presence can be felt alongside the couple, a presence that moves “through the pauses, through the breaths, through the spaces around them.” It is Death, who some say “is in love with poetry.” On their last night together, Fanni and Mik sing of their love, as well as the struggles in their marriage, as Death looks on the future. Sometime in November, Mik will be dead, shot like many others on a death march and buried in a mass grave. After the war, the grave will be exhumed, and Mik’s body will be identified by the small book of poems in his coat pocket. The poems will distinguish Radnóti as one of Hungary’s greatest poets and a major witness to the Holocaust.
"The opera's tone is melancholic but tender... Cipullo's economic instrumentation never sounds scant; instead
it underscores the emotional intimacy shared by the characters... Cipullo's consonant harmonies, subtle
dynamics and slowly unfolding melodic phrases turn Mason's text into an odd lullaby, full of bittersweet
moments. The Parting takes the catastrophic, dense and unwieldy Holocaust and zooms in on one life
lost, demonstrating the enduring nature of love and art in defiance of extreme cruelty and injustice."
Daniel J. Kushner
“Taking his cue from Radnóti’s poems, Cipullo’s music is direct and often tender, with a recurring theme that
tugs at the heart. Equally effective is his well-crafted juxtaposition of quiet, intimate passages with those that
are far more agitated, angry, and questioning.”
Jason Victor Serinus
San Francisco Classical Voice
May 11, 2020
"...an appreciative and fascinated audience saw the world premiere of this very dramatic, very beautiful
and moving work...Cipullo's compositional style is to serve the story at all times rather than to give
himself a spotlight. His music never distracts or shows off, but weaves seamlessly into the development
of the characters and the rise and fall of the drama. He is especially generous to singers, giving
them intense passages and gorgeous moments while honoring each individual's vocal expression."
Seattle Gay News
May 31, 2019
"This opera is a profound meditation on what it is about art that outlives us, that enables us to be
creative even in the face of unimaginable adversity, and reminds us to guard against hatred
and to celebrate what makes us human."
"This intensely moving chamber opera by composer Tom Cipullo and librettist David
Mason explores the sad and illuminating story of Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti,...
an unforgettable listening experience."
The Flip Side
The Parting – Composer’s Note
“You have never to look far
to see that for some
evil is right next door.”
These lines, from the opening monologue of David Mason’s libretto, haunted me throughout the many months I spent composing The Parting. Perhaps it’s our nation’s current political and social climate, but in this disappointing time of xenophobia, increased racism, shocking anti-Semitism, divisiveness, and ever-growing tribalism, David’s words seemed more accurate than at any other point in my lifetime.
What does it look like, this evil next door? More importantly for a composer charged with creating a new opera, what does it sound like? Picture an apartment in Hungary in the second quarter of the 20th century. Music from next door comes through the window. Perhaps it’s a young girl singing a folk melody, or a husband and wife playing a four-hand work by Stephen Heller, Emánuel Moór, or any of the lesser-known Romantics. The music is tuneful, straightforward, even common. If there truly is, in the famous phrase of Hannah Arendt, a “banality of evil,” might this be the sound of it – this narrow melody followed by a simple sequence, floating on the air from our neighbor’s home?
It is this familiar but unplaceable music – a ghostly music from some other time and place - that is the foundation of the opera’s score. The theme that starts off the work first appears in its simplest statement, but soon becomes corrupted, presented with wayward pitches, rhythmic changes, odd voicings, and extremes of range and dynamics.
If history teaches us anything, it’s that both poetry and love have a way of outlasting evil. In one of the most moving moments in the libretto, Death teaches Radnóti why we live. “To learn what love is. To love. To make beautiful things. To die.” In the final ensemble, the original theme returns, but now transformed into something different. Is it hopeful? We have the poetry, after all. But this theme is also a warning, whispering, as in the words of Miklós Radnóti -
“I lived on Earth in an era such as this…”