an opera in one act

Commissioned by Ossia and the Eastman School of Music

[ Winter. A tenement. ]

Scene 1: The self-centered and pretentious composer, Anton Webern, is sitting at his desk working on his Sinfonie, his magnus opus. As he explains how brilliant his work is, his girlfriend, Beckett is sitting on the sofa preparing Heroin. She comes up to him, with a syringe and tells him that after they inject, she would like to go out dancing. Not the dancing type, Webern begs to stay home so he can work, but after some consideration, he reluctantly agrees. She shoots him up and then herself. Webern explains how he met Beckett and how they are only living together for “simplicity’s sake” and how he would like to move one and be with other people. Beckett explains how she loves Webern for his money and sexual abilities, however he is violent and abusive at times and doesn’t understand her “sickness.” As Webern sinks into a trip he explains that he is petrified of Beckett’s visitations from a prophetic Light. They both become listless and tired and pass out.

Scene 2: Beckett and Webern are asleep. Suddenly, the Light appears through the window. Beckett awakes and cowers behind the bed. However, after some time she is comforted by the light and begins to talk to it. The Light tells her the Webern “is He.” The light immediately subsides and Beckett falls to the floor, crying. Webern awakes and comes to Beckett’s side and comforts her. He tries to explain to her that the Light is not real and is only a visual hallucination caused by Beckett’s spiraling drug problem. She does not agree. They fall back asleep.

Scene 3: Webern is alone in the apartment getting ready for a “secret date” with another girl that Beckett does not know about. He is looking at a love note that this girl wrote him; he is falling out-of-love with Beckett. The phone rings, it is the girl. He warns her not to call this number anymore. He hangs up the phone, grabs his hat, and exits. A few moments later, Beckett returns. She rolls a joint and sings of her love for Webern. As she looks over his desk at his music, she fantasizes for a moment about Webern’s future as a star composer. There, she finds the love note. 

Scene 4: Some days later. Beckett is once again preparing heroin. Webern sings a short aria about the process of making heroin. They shoot up.

Scene 5: A few hours later, they are doped up. Webern sits behind his cello, improvising some music. Beckett sits on the floor, smoking a joint. To pass time, they are inventing a story about a man named Sam, who cheats on his woman and when she finds out she pre-meditates a murder and kills him. Webern is somewhat alarmed by the story, it is all to familiar. The Light appears, and suddenly Beckett realizes what she must do: she must kill Webern. The phone rings, Webern jumps for the phone and answers. It is the girl. He explodes, telling her that she should never call again. While he is on the phone, we see Beckett remove the endpin of the cello and place it underneath the pillow on the bed. Webern hangs up; Beckett comes to his side and tells him that she knows what is going on. He tries to deny it, but Beckett produces the note. He doesn’t know what to say. Suddenly, Beckett changes her mood from angry to seductive. She crawls behind him, kissing his neck and telling him wonderful things. Webern slowly comes under her spell. She reaches down toward his legs and slyly whispers into his ear: “Fuck me.” He turns around, grabs Beckett and throws her on to the bed and violently fucks her. As Webern approaches orgasm, Beckett takes the endpin from the pillow and plunges it into his back. Webern shrieks the tone row from his Sinfonie and falls to the floor. She stabs him a few more times until he is dead. The Light appears and Beckett suddenly shifts moods from revenge to pure fear and denial. She doesn’t know how this happened. In a moment of panic she digs through her things until she finds a small revolver. She puts it in her mouth and pulls the trigger.


Vincent Calianno


Soprano solo (Beckett)
Countertenor solo (Anton Webern)

Flute (doubles Picc.), Oboe (doubles English Horn), Clarinet (plays Eb, Bb Bass, Bb Contrabass), Saxophone (plays Soprano, Alto, Baritone), Bassoon (doubles Contrabassoon), Trumpet in C, Bass Trombone, 2 Percussion [I. Crotales*, Glockenspiel, Bass Drum, Tamtam, Crash Cymbals, Medium Suspended Cymbal, Large Suspended Cymbal, 3 Suspended Railroad Stakes, Small Triangle, 5 Temple Blocks, Sandpaper Blocks, Small Maracas, Plastic (Toy) Rattle, Guïro, Metal Washboard, Whip, Lion’s Roar, Trap Set; Ii. Vibraphone, Xylophone, Marimba, Bass Drum, Very Small Triangle, Large Triangle, Bell Tree, Mark-Tree, Large Suspended Cymbal, Auto Coil, Large Woodblock, 5 Temple Blocks, Small Maracas, Cabasa, Ratchet, Metal Washboard, Vibraslap, Whip, Police Whistle, Waterphone, Large Wooden Box], Piano (doubles Synthesizer & Celesta; also plays Metal Music Stand), Harp (doubles Large Ratchet), Guitar (doubles Mandolin and Banjo; also plays Washboard and Suspended Railroad Stakes), Accordion, Computer-Controled Sampler, 2 Violas (I. doubles Violin), 2 Violoncelli, 2 Contrabasses


1 Hour


11 February 2004
Heather Gardner – Beckett; Caleb Burhans – Webern
Vin Calianno – Conductor
Kilbourne Hall — Rochester, New York