In the heat of what was the day, in the mouth of what was (2008)
Performance by Lucia Lynn Acitelli (soprano) and Lisa Sylvester (piano).
On a poem by Genevieve Kaplan.
Note: The words below correspond to the vocal setting and sometimes differ from the original poem.
Love. On a bright day.
I met poet Genevieve Kaplan while we were both graduate students at the University of Southern California. Her poetry tended to favor autumnal moods. When we decided to collaborate, however, perhaps eager to tap into the energy exuding from the California spring (this was in April 2008), I asked whether she would mind writing a "solar" piece. A few days later, Vieve sent me the text of a love song, which set itself to music almost effortlessly. The poem, with its summery, sensuous imagery called for lush, buoyant music. Vieve repeatedly resisted my attempts at pinpointing specific meaning in her poems, and this one was no exception. Nevertheless, being incorrigible in this respect, let me mention some of what this poem evoked to me, as this informs the musical setting.
The narrator is meeting something or someone (a lover, the sun, the spirit of summer), a being that exudes warmth and radiance. Images pertaining to flight pervade the poem, as though the protagonist is dissolving into the air and melding with that being or maybe with the universe as a whole. The unity leads to a feeling of completion, expressed with the phrase "it is enough." To echo this in the music, I included a fleeting echo of the Passover song "Dayenu" ("it would have been enough"), albeit set in the minor to imbue the moment with a feeling of nostalgia.
To introduce the sudden phrase "I woke," I picture that the narrator, in a state of bliss, falls asleep overnight. As the new day begins, birds start singing. The narrator awakens, feeling parched and disoriented, until elements fall into place one by one. First, the car, by which the character came to this magical place (and which will undoubtedly be used to return to the real world) is still there, at once threatening and reassuring. Then, the bell, which, to me, refers to the bells that line El Camino Real, the California Mission trail, a road that connected the Spanish missions. (The most striking architectural feature of these buildings, as those familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo will know, is their bell towers.) If taken in this way, the bell evokes a link to the path that the car is to take, and, like the car, it seems to lead back to reality. The bell also evokes an alarm bell - and the necessity to wake up from the blissful dream. Fortunately, though, not everything has evaporated: "there is your hand." The ecstatic adventure may thus continue.
Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2009) and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013). Find her online at genevievekaplan.blogspot.com.