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  • Scott Williamson

Ah, bravo Figaro...

Barber of Seville design, Munich

Below is a new poem as a gift for the awesome team who brought Rossini's Barber of Seville to colorful life this past weekend at Opera Roanoke (read the review here).

Our production drew on a range of historic styles and influences, like the image above, and included nods to the surrealist worlds of Luis Buñuel and René Char. The act one finale, with its brilliant and proto-surrealist text looks ahead more than a century. Here are the last few lines of Act I of Sterbini's libretto, which inspired one of Rossini's greatest set pieces:

Striking heavily, the hammer / Makes the very walls resound / With a barbarous harmony. / Thus our poor, bewildered brain, / Shunned, confounded, / In confusion, without reason, / Is reduced to insanity.

My poem is a Cento, or "found poem" using words from Char's most famous collection of poems, Hammer without a Master (Le Marteau sans maître: poems which inspired Pierre Boulez's breakout work of the same name). The only line not from Char is the phrase which closes my wholly un-original piece.

Overture II (Seville); SMW, 2019

Hammer without a Master, or, riduce ad impazzar: a Cento after René Char, for OR Barber of Seville

O knowing caresses, o useless lips

(Love: Being the first to come.)

Violent eyes in the one who wields destructive force

(Lungs: The firearm arrives / The belly won’t bite the hand that feeds it.)

I dream my head on the tip of my knife

Like hot-air balloons of hell

(Iron Mask: You can’t hide rage without diplomacy.)

Inexplicable disappearances

Uncultivated minds

Love’s defense violence

Paralysis wandering ease

I leave you nothing to fill your mind

The dreamer embalmed

Figures faded as soon as they’re composed

Their revolution celebrates the apotheosis of declining life

This fanatic With the supernatural power Disrupts the accumulated harmony

Gold nocturne

O my translucent foxglove!

The stick of dynamite which pulverizes it

There is no irreplaceable absence

consuming reason

Dream there is nothing perishable

In their carnivorous tableau

(Those with truly a taste for the void

burn their clothes before they die.)

It is the transmutation of harmonic riches

reduced to insanity.

(Roanoke, May 2019)

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