Three Decembers

by Jake Heggie
Libretto by Gene Scheer

At the Patrick Henry PHAME! Theatre

It’s December and beloved stage actress and singer Madeline Mitchell is writing her annual Christmas letter. But no letter is enough to make up for the years of lost time and resentments of her now-adult children, Beatrice and Charlie. Charlie blames his mother’s distance on the fact he is gay and his sister ‘Bea’ is masking the pain of a bad marriage with alcohol… and neither can forgive their mother for their circumstances. When the truth of their father’s tragic death comes out, can true healing and forgiveness follow or will it be too late for this family?

Three Decembers is a modern masterpiece that explores the truth, lies, resentments, and ultimately the hopes of a family over the decades. With simple, yet profound, music that bares the souls of each character, this chamber opera is an intimate mediation on the family we wish for and the family we end up with. These performances featuring the return of mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade who reprises the role of Madeline that she created for the opera’s world premiere.


Sung in English with projected English text.

The approximate run time is ninety minutes with no intermission.

PODCASTS

Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Decembers: Interview with David Bennett

Jake Heggie's connection with Frederica Von Stade is well known, and this was the first complete operatic role that he created for her. We are honored that Ms. Von Stade will be with us again, along with this challenging work about family...the relationships we have as opposed to the ones we wish we had. Enjoy this conversation with General Director David Bennett!


Three Decembers

Part One: 1986

Scene 1: A Letter and a Phone Call
Siblings Charlie and Bea are on the phone to share their famous mother’s annual Christmas letter. They laugh about her theatrical writing style and muse on their strained relationship with her. Charlie is in San Francisco and Bea is in Hartford while Madeline (Maddy) is spending Christmas in the Caribbean. She describes a long-ago Christmas in San Francisco with their late father, before they were born. They hardly remember their dad as they were terribly young when he died.

Maddy gleefully announces that she will soon star in her first Broadway musical and concludes her letter by sending love to Bea’s family and to Charlie’s partner, Curt. However, his name is actually Burt, and he is very sick with AIDS. After five years with Burt, Charlie is deeply hurt that his mother still doesn’t know his name. This has been a constant battle for Charlie and his mother. Bea tells Charlie how she envies the love he and Burt share. Charlie convinces her to come to San Francisco to visit.

Scene 2: A Broadway Stage
Maddy sings Daybreak, the final number from her Broadway show.

Scene 3: Backstage
Beatrice joins Maddy in her dressing room after a hugely successful opening night performance. She expresses her concern for Charlie and Burt and accuses Maddy of continuing to be an absent, unsupportive parent. Maddy proclaims her deep love for them and explains that as a single mother, she had to work and miss much of their childhood. She describes the terrible, sudden car accident that caused their father’s death, but Bea notices that a detail of the story is a little different this time. When she asks Maddy about it, Maddy leaves the room.

Scene 4: The Golden Gate Bridge
Bea and Charlie are walking on the Golden Gate Bridge. They imagine their parents as young actors with their lives, dreams and careers ahead of them. Charlie tells Bea that Burt is not doing well and may be dying. Together, they think back on their childhood, what they actually remember about the father they never really knew, and what they’ve invented over the years.

Part Two: 1996

Scene 1: Charlie’s Apartment
Charlie sits alone in his apartment, surrounded by numerous shipping boxes, all packed and sealed. He reads through his journal and talks to Burt, who died seven weeks ago at Christmas time. He remembers how his mother finally came to visit right before Burt’s death. She touched his hand and sang the lullaby that Charlie’s father used to sing to him. As Charlie remembers, Maddy sings the lullaby.

During the song, Bea and Maddy have a quick phone call in which Maddy tells her she’s been nominated for a Tony Award. The plan is for all three of them to be together again for the big night. They finish the lullaby as a trio.

Scene 2: Maddy’s Apartment
Bea is alone in her mother’s apartment. Maddy had promised to be there to help her pick out something special to wear to the Tonys, but she never showed up. Bea stands in front of a mirror, drinks wine, and tries on her mother’s clothes as she sings of how deeply she misses her father. Her deep sense of worthlessness isn’t helped by her mother’s absence or her husband Syd’s infidelities. Charlie rushes in and notices how upset she is. He cheers her up with a story about their mother and a rousing number inspired by her passion for shoes.

Madeline enters and tells Charlie that if she wins the Tony, she will speak of how moved and inspired she was by Burt’s struggle, and that by working together, we will defeat AIDS. Bea and Charlie are mortified that their mother now wishes to capitalize on Charlie’s relationship with Burt: a relationship she had disdained and discarded for so many years.

With emotions and tension running high, Maddy accuses Bea of being a “sad, sorry, drunken mess” just like her father. Unable to mislead her children any more, Maddy reveals the grim truth about their father and the dark secret she’d been keeping: he suffered from depression, drank heavily, couldn’t get work and wasn’t able to help support or raise his young family. One night, without warning, he got up, walked to a subway station and stepped in front of a train. Maddy made up a story about a car accident to protect her small children from the truth: their father had committed suicide.

Bea and Charlie are devastated by the sudden knowledge that they have built their identities and lives on a lie. Is this something one can forgive? They leave their mother alone in her apartment. Maddy slowly pulls herself together and goes to the Tonys.

Part Three: 2006

On an empty Broadway stage, Charlie and Bea speak at a memorial service for their mother. Maddy died suddenly and quietly in her sleep after writing her annual Christmas letter. Bea and Charlie acknowledge that they still struggle to understand their mother and reconcile the lie she told about their father. But Bea says, thanks to her own children, she now understands what the theater meant to Maddy: it was her religion, it was her way of forgetting and of feeling deeply. Maddy’s ghost joins in, asking their forgiveness and explaining that she found on the stage what every person desires: not escape, but connection. Bea and Charlie offer a loving tribute to their parents’ souls. Maddy gratefully accepts. The service concludes with the final line from Maddy’s Christmas letter: “All in all isn’t life simply grand? I’m so awfully glad I showed up for it.”