The Passion of Rita St. James

The Passion of Rita St. James - a modern musical morality play
Music by David Conte
Libretto by John Stirling Walker

written for the San Francisco Conservatory Musical Theatre program
premiered March 10th, 2003; Hellman Hall, San Francisco Conservatory
Heather Carolo, director

Cast of Characters

Rita St. James (Lyric Soprano) --headmistress of a school for wayward children she inherited from her father, its founder. The soul of goodness, troubled by her inability to bring her ideals across and by loneliness.

Javier Gonzales (High Lyric Baritone) --the janitor at St. James. He embodies the wisdom of a life uncluttered by academic conceptions. Not handsome.

Becky LaRue (Lyric Soprano) --Rita's secretary. A vibrantly active, warmly engaged admirer of the St. James philosophy.

Napoleon Jones (Boy Soprano) --a magical boy. New arrival at St. James', given to sullenness in the presence of others, but gifted with a profound feeling-sense.

Brian Brainard (Lyric Baritone) --assistant Headmaster. Obsessed with the desire to improve education by his system, "The Brainard Method", which has the goal of making children into cogs in the vast machine of society.

Norman Crane (High Dramatic Tenor) --Art teacher. A rabidly manic-depressive serial-killer type, slavishly devoted to Brian and his schemes. He hates children.

Frances Lawton (Lyric Mezzo) --Head Teacher. A passionate amateur psychologist, in love with Brian, and hatefully jealous of all that Rita stands for. She hates children.

Librettist's Note

The Passion of Rita St. James is not set in any real, physical-historical time. Rather, it is a tale of the encounter of characters, who, though human in personality, give expression to diverse qualities, respectively, best characterized perhaps by saying that they are the "spirits of the age" of DIFFERENT time periods.

Rita is the spirit of the nineteenth century, modeled after Dickens' "Agnes" of David Copperfield.

Brian Brainard, her key antagonist, is the spirit of modern business and educational "systems," which see their validity as derived from various kinds of statistical (applied mathematics) analysis, without any consciousness of the fact that math, by its nature, is incapable of conveying anything meaningful about HUMANITY.

Norman Crane, his crony, is the truly eternal spirit of unconsidered passion; Norman transcends time and space.

Frances is related to Brian, as a spirit of the twentieth-century: in her case, of the culture of psychology ignorant of philosophy, which has found ultimate expression in the period since the end of World War II (as represented by "Nurse Ratchet" of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.")

Napoleon is a thoroughly contemporary child of the present.

Becky is modeled after the qualities of forthrightness and loyalty I experienced (perhaps naively), in the movies, as characteristic of the "Girl Fridays" and WACS of the 'thirties and 'forties.

Javier is the incarnation of the 'sixties' and 'seventies' idea of what was then called a "minority"--a category that expressed itself as much in economic as in socio-political terms.

The school itself, and the surrounding countryside, are purely nineteenth century, in accordance with Rita's determining role there; these characters, however, have full consciousness of the developments during the history since the time period of which they are the spirit. They have LIVED THROUGH what succeeded them. Thus Rita can quote Judy Garland singing of bluebirds flying beyond her reach, and a picture of Bill Gates can hang in a school that gives no indication of the existence of computers.

Costumes, set design, direction, and character interpretation should aid the audience's sense that different time-related cultural QUALITIES are coming into contact, as represented by the various characters, rather than that we are dealing with some kind of "time warp," or, at the other extreme, that these are all ghosts.

Rita St. James is the headmistress of a school for wayward children, who works with certain allies within the school to overcome an evil influence that has infiltrated it. The conflict between these forces of good and evil centers around Napoleon Jones, a boy who is rather uniquely unwilling to submit to influences outside the impulses of his own heart. The effect of her selflessness--and Napoleon's--may seem unbelievable, but...what are fairy tales for?