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Picasso: out of the blue

Duration: short evening with interval

Libretto: Jonathan Alver

There are four cycles to life and love:
Fate decides which will have most effect on an artist...
With Fernande came the embrace of the loving couple -
Comfortable but fatally lazy!
Fernande's love brought the rosy glow of harlequins and clowns...

There are four singing roles: Picasso (baritone); Max (tenor); Fernande/Eva (soprano); and Gertude (mezzo). Four instruments form the band: clarinet (=Eb clar, =bass clar); euphonium; viola; harp. Two harmonicas and an assortment of hand percussionis distributed amongst the players.

The two acts each have a prologue and three scenes. They cover Picasso's early life in Paris. Between the scenes are instrumental interludes, which describe a group of paintings on which Picasso would have been working on in his studio during the events of the following scene.

In the Act One Prologue, we witness a shadowy re-enactment of the an event which was cataclysmic in its effect on the young Picasso; the suicide of Carlos Casagemas in 1901. This emotionally disturbed fellow-artist had come from Spain with Pablo but had never adjusted to the poverty of the bohemian life.
Scene One opens three years later in Picasso's studio in the Bateau Lavoir rooming house. He shares the place with the homosexual poet Max Jacob, who tells his friend's fortune by reading his palm. As Max departs for his new editor's job, Pablo encounters a young girl in the hallway. They are soon in each other's arms. She is Fernande Olivier.

Scene Two is based on the famous dinner party at the "Bateau" in 1905; held to celebrate the birthday of the Douanier Rousseau, an elderly naive painter. In this account, however, the Douanier does not appear. Instead, they characters we have already met are joined by the great American writer and patron, Gertrude Stein. Max sings a setting of his poem "The Sailor's Homecoming", and there is a later duet between he and Gertrude describing the changes in Pablo's work from the lugubrious Blue Period to the Rose one; with its pastels and circus scenes. Finally, Pablo declares that he will paint Stein's portrait. Scene Three finds Stein alone, back in the studio in 1907. This is the ninetieth sitting for the still unfinished portrait! Her monologue covers a welter of gossipy details about Picasso's rapidly deteriorating relationship with Fernande. He has found an excuse to get rid of her and is now with a pert little thing called Eva. He has also moved on artistically into Cubism via the monstrous "Demoiselles d'Avignon". At last, Pablo dashes in, paints over the existing face on the portrait and sketches in the mask-like visage we are familiar with in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Gertrude is delighted with it!

Act Two's Prologue or Pre-Call, shows Gertrude gossiping again. This time it's on the new-fangled telephone, and she's informing Max (in code!) of how Picasso has moved to respectable Montparnasse, where he is now ensconced with Eva in bourgeois splendour in the Rue Raspail. Scene One takes place in the apartment's bedroom on a sunny morning in 1912. Eva is, apparently, a good manager and, when Pablo succeeds in selling a painting to Gertrude at a good price, she rewards him with sex. Scene Two is another dinner party, two years later. There could not be a greater contrast with the scene's Act One counterpart; for the Great War has broken out and Eva is ill. Gertrude wants to train as an ambulance driver and Pablo is mocked on the streets because of his pacifism. Hen Max arrives, Pablo and Gertrude go out to see the parades of troops and Eva confides to Max that she 's dying. He advises her to turn to his new-found Christianity. Scene Three is another monologue - this time for Picasso himself. He sees his life so far, as a sequence of four cycles, each springing from different friend or lover to create him as "the Painter of Modern Life". Has a pattern been set for the future?

MP3 audio extract (1'41"):
Act 2 Scene 2

Other Operas:
Insight into Night
Line of Terror
East and West
Shawna and Ron's Half-Moon
Hollow Hill