Note from Malcolm Caluori:
When, in the late spring of 2007, I first
read the poignant and profound short story “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin (1851-1904), I
was struck by its message, in that way that great literature has of carefully carrying one to a final destination via a path
that lends stunning context to that destination. Most would likely regard the plantation era tale offhand as a story about
race. I would consider this a fairly superficial assessment. “Désirée’s Baby” is a thoroughly
human story, filled with passionate human longings, joys, and sorrows.
No question, Chopin’s comment is on how social implications
around race irrationally bias our perceptions and—more insidiously—how our beliefs about society’s perceptions
can be permitted to outweigh our own judgment and experience. But there is no preaching, no ethical theorizing, and I would
be hard-pressed to attempt extrapolating any pithy moral at the story’s conclusion. Amazingly compact with not a word
wasted, Chopin merely presents the dramatic narrative, skillfully maneuvering her reader through a brilliantly calculated
series of offerings and withholdings that prepare us, at its end, to ourselves raise the pertinent questions to be contemplated.
As artists, this indeed is our language. As a music dramatist in search of potential subjects, how could I not be so moved
and inspired but to include this universal and ever-timely tale of love and grief on my back burner of works-in-waiting? The
preliminary adaptation subsequently developed (included below) has, so far, waited a decade for an opportunity to be realized.
Due to the author’s architecture,
the story, in my opinion, would be weakened were it to be “fluffed” into a full-length opera. For the same reason,
it becomes apparent that the singers should rather “represent” characters than to “portray” them,
and that dramatized incidents should perhaps be only semi-staged. In considering the dramatic genre best suited in this case,
I imagined a chamber opera-type setting in a cantata-style format for soloists with chorus. The emotional expression would
be better served with vocalists not designated as mere presenters (as with oratorio), but as actors empowered to dramatize
their situations. My conception of the piece has been to convey the story through narrative where staging would undo (or intrude
upon) the integrity of the author’s careful exclusions; but to include some staging and costuming where enactment would
liberate (and enhance) the dramatic experience and presentation.
The adaptation as conceived could run approximately 40-50 minutes in duration. It does indicate instrumentation.
However, the instrumentation originally selected is intended to be a preliminary indication only. I am hesitant to propose
a final instrumentation prior to getting into the work of creating music for the piece.