Monday, July 22, 2013

The Villa Lysis

I’ve just read again my libretto for “The Villa Lysis – A Shrine to Love and Sorrow” and I really do wish I could find a composer willing to work on it. I really and honestly feel it deserves to be taken the next step. Chris Littlewood is working on the other opera with the tentative title “Modi” on the life of the painter and sculptor Modigliani. As with Belle Otero I had wanted to write the Modigliani story for more years than I can remember and suddenly out lf the blue it happened, as did the story of the Baron Jacques d’Adelsward-Ferson, the man who built the Villa Lysis on the isle of Capri. I don’t mean I had been wanting to write about the Baron for years and years but over a year ago I read somewhere, can’t remember where, that there was a competition for a new opera and the subject had to be GLTB. First prize may not have been all that substantial but performance was guaranteed and that was what attracted me. Don’t ask how I discovered the good Baron Jacques. As with Modigliani a great deal to date has been written about him but I can’t say, before starting my research, I had ever read any of it although a novel by Roger Peyrefitte entitled “A Particular Friendship,” amongst other titles, like “Exile of Capri” has been on our bookshelves for goodness knows how long. Evidently Peyrefitte was painstaking in his research, reading everything d’Adelsward had written, going to places he travelled, even going as far as interviewing people who had personal knowledge of Jacques but the result is more fiction than fact. Peyrefitte obviously just wanted to write a good novel rather than be restricted by authentic biography. I quote from an article originally published in a German magazine – “Exile of Capri, the final result is a distortion no matter how brilliant, perhaps revealing more about Peyrefitte and his times than about d’Adelsward and his.”
More than twenty years ago now my literary agent in London suggested I write a screenplay on the mass murderer William Palmer, known as “The Prince of Poisoners.” I duly went ahead and wrote it as a deep black comedy. I had no sooner finished it when Yorkshire Television broadcast their version and, I hate to say it without sounding like sour grapes, but it was one of the most dismal programmes I have ever watched. How can you possibly write on a subject like that and produce something so boring and dull? Well, somebody did but unfortunately it put the kybosh on mine (shades of Harry Secombe and “Pickwick”) my agent wanted nothing more to do with it so a very good script languishes on the shelf if anyone is interested. I always thought of Rupert Graves as Palmer. So just why wouldn’t my agent go ahead with it? Because Yorkshire TV got their oar in first? How many films have been made on Oscar Wilde and the subject never seems to pall?
So, although much has been written about the Baron d’Adelsward, I see no reason why I should not join in in my own inimitable way. If there is a composer out there who thinks he or she might be interested, or if anyone knows of one, please get in touch. In the meantime here is a taster from “A Shrine To Love And Sorrow.”

2) The terrace of the Wolcott-Perry villa. The two ladies are having their tea.

I see that simply dreadful woman is sailing away.
All a body can say is thank the Lord.

What? (Looking out to sea.) Oh, yes.
I do believe that is indeed her yacht.
Yes, it most definitely is.
Good riddance I say
A blessed relief.

We won’t have to batten down the hatches.

Or man the battlements.

Or raise the drawbridge.

(They laugh. A young maidservant enters and gives a little curtsey.)

Please excuse me, my ladies.

What is it?

SADIE: Do we have a problem?

There is a gentleman has called.

What? Without an invitation?
Who may it be I wonder?

(The maid advances on the tea table and hands Kate a visitor’s card.)

Baron d’Adelswärd Fersen. Hmnnnn…

(The two women give each other nods and knowing looks.)

Usher him in.

(The maid bobs and goes. After a few seconds Jacques enters.)

My dear Kate, my dear Sadie,
Please do forgive this intrusion
But I am in such a fearful state.
Something dreadful has happened,
Truly dreadful.

My dear Jacques, what could it be
That’s affected you so?
You look quite pale, dear boy,
It cannot be that bad surely?
Sit down, sit down
And tell us what it is.

(But Jacques does not sit down. Throughout the scene, until the end, he paces.)

Here, here, read this.

(He passes Kate a slip of paper. She reads it and hands it to Sadie.)

Forgive me.
I shall be back tomorrow evening.
I love you.

Oh dear.

(She hands back the note.)

What can one say?
Tell us, Jacques, how this has happened,
It has something I feel sure
To do with that dreadful dreadful
Simply dreadful woman.

(Pointing out to sea) Yes, yes.
 Even now he is on that accursed yacht
And who knows where they are bound for?

To Lesbos I have no doubt.
That’s what she said.
And I can only hope she stays there.

No, that cannot be,
Not if he says he will be back this evening.
He does say that doesn’t he?
Doesn’t he say that?
He will be back this evening?

Then, if they are not sailing for Lesbos,
That blessed island set in the violet sea,
They are merely on some excursion.
If the sirens of Capri had done their job
The wretched woman’s yacht would have hit the rocks
And we would all be saved
From her wicked wiles,
Her depraved nature.

(She gives a violent shudder.)

But tell me, dear boy,
How did this come about?
Would you like a cup of tea?

(She rings a little hand bell.)

Thank you, no.

(Proffering the plate.) Maybe an éclair?

(Shakes his head.) I first met the Baroness Zuyderzee…

KATE: That dreadful woman!

SADIE:  Dreadful woman.

(The maid appears.)

Bring another cup please.

(The maid bobs and goes.)

In various Paris salons,
And then in Venice
Nino and myself that is.
The Baroness had with her
Her new conquest
A Russian girl named Alexandrine.
Young, quite voluptuous…

(He outlines her shape with his hands.)



(The teacup rattles in her hand. She hastily puts it down.)

We went out, in a gondola of course,
As everybody does.
When in Rome do as the Romans do,
When in Venice go out in a gondola
And this vixen, this young harridan,
This harpy
Made her intentions abundantly clear
As far as Nino was concerned.
The Baroness invited us to cruise with them,
An invitation I politely, but naturally, refused
And we fled that snake pit of female lust.
Oh, I should have gone,
I should have gone,
At least I could have kept an eye on them.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear.

But when the baroness arrived in Capri
I could hardly ignore her,
And invited her to lunch.
It took four men,
Four strong brawny Capriots to carry her up the hill
Such is her enormity.
Only her appetites and her fortune
Are larger than her revolting body.
The wicked Alexandrine was of course
Still with her and made no bones about it
That she still had eyes only for Nino
And was determined,
That blood sucking vampire from the Russian steppes,
However I might try and prevent it,
To ensnare him with her wolverine fangs.

And the dear boy fell for her charms,
I’m not surprised.
Women can be so alluring,
So seductive, as we know too well,
(To Sadie.) Don’t we, dear?
And he jumped over the hedge as it were
To the adjacent field.
You know the old saying
About the grass being greener.

My dear Jacques, with all due respect,
I have to say this was inevitable.


Maybe life at the Villa Lesbos,
I do beg your pardon,
A slip of the tongue,
The Villa Lysis
Was becoming just a trifle boring?

(Lifting the pot.) Another cup of tea, dear.

(Passing her cup.) Thank you.
You will remember, Jacques,
The two American girls visiting us
Quite recently
And how, when our backs were turned,
Nino did something rather naughty
With one of them in the garden
And received a slap in the face
For his temerity.
Our visitor’s are so much better behaved
Than some I must say. Thank you, dear.
(As she receives her tea.)

We know how you feel, Jacques,
Believe me.
When the baroness was here before
We kept losing our maids one by one,
The pretty ones anyway
It was most annoying to say the least.

After a while one runs out of pretty maids.

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