On the Origin

2011

Composer:
Justine F. Chen

Librettist:
Rochelle Bright

Composer website:
https://www.justinefchen.com/selected-works

Composer contact:
justinefchen@gmail.com

Performance forces:
2 soprano, baritone — pno

Length:
0:25

Languages:

Notes:
1915, Cambridge. An elderly woman stands before the scientific community to address the claim that Charles Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed. 1859, Down House. Charles Darwin has created a makeshift study in his pigeon aviary. While out walking, his Christian wife Emma sneaks in. She searches for his manuscript, scared of what Charles’s new theory might be. Emma begs the pigeons for clues to the manuscript’s location. She tries to imitate their calls, but finds that she doesn’t have the dexterity of voice to match them. Inside Charles’s travel trunk she discovers her daughter Annie’s writing box, which she hid in the attic after Annie’s death in 1851. Charles rushes in explaining how Annie’s keepsakes help him to write. As a peace offering, Charles hands Emma a locket and reads from the journal he kept of Annie’s childhood. Unable to contain her grief, Emma leaves. Alone, Charles weighs the pros and cons of publishing his manuscript. Pro: it would lead to a new understanding of heredity. Con: it will be seen as heresy, for which he and his family will be made to suffer. Unable to clear his thoughts, he turns to the one person who may help.  Charles finds Etty, his sixteen-year-old daughter, in the library. Feeling neglected by her father’s many hours alone in the aviary, she refuses to speak openly. Charles produces Annie’s box. He asks what he should do with his manuscript. Reading from Annie’s baby journal, Etty reminds Charles of the true power of nature.  With a gust of confidence, Charles finds Emma in her bedroom. He gives her the choice to either destroy or publish his manuscript ‘ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES’, on one condition, that she read it first.  Charles waits for Emma in the aviary. Emma is overcome by the beauty of Charles’s written word and is finally able to imitate the birds with Etty. 1915, Cambridge. A grown-up Etty declares that her father, Charles Darwin never recanted any of his scientific views.