Pedrillo Botón is a chamber opera for an audience of children and adults. The text is adapted and translated into Spanish from The Adventures of Peddy Bottom by Stefan Themerson (1910-1988).
Interlude (Entering the Forest) 3’09”
The story is set in the land of fables, where humans and animals are persons alike. Walking along the road from one place to another, Peddy/Pedrillo meets a number of colourful characters such as a poetry-loving camel, a pompous carabineer, a lachrymose sea captain and his formidable harpist wife, and a wolf who keeps the economy running. Through these encounters he tries to find out ‘what he is’: not an easy task, for all people and animals identify him as something else, and different from them. In the end Peddy/Pedrillo discovers that identity is not a matter of simple labeling: it can be good to be many things at the same time.
Theatre and Music
The text abounds in opportunities for musical theatre. There are poems, stories and songs, and moments for dance. The Camel-Professor who loves reciting poetry much more than lecturing; the Sea Captain who has told the story of his losses so often that even the trees and the stones can’t take it any more; the Prime Minister’s Wife who is compared to a nightingale: these are ‘operatic’ characters.
Responding musically to my reading of the story, I have tried to revive something of the positive naïveté of a 6-to-8-year-old in response to both the tonal idiom and the possibilities of musical theatre. This was not so difficult. Listening to and playing familiar music, or music in a familiar idiom, is a constant exercise in the suspension of prejudice, the ability to be surpised-while-knowing.
In a way delightful to children and adults alike, Themerson pokes fun at the skewed logic which often cements human society. The theme of identity and the author’s humorous-ethical outlook make his story highly relevant to the present age.
Inevitably the music betrays multiple influences and sources (such as classical recitative, Ravel harmony, Latin-American rhythms etc.) Even as an eclectic product, this specific amalgam could only be created today (and by this person, I suppose). In this sense the music may be like the protagonist:
But all the men I meet on my way think there is something doggy about me, and all the dogs think there is something human about me, and all the saw-fishes think there is something of a nightingale about me, and all the cats think there is something fishy about me […]. (p. 8-9)
But nothing else is like all these combined in this specific way.
LM March 2009
Stefan Themerson, The Adventures of Peddy Bottom. Drawings by Franciszka Themerson (Amsterdam: Gaberbocchus Press/De Harmonie 2003)
[…] a major source of potential conflict in the contemporary world is the presumption that people can be uniquely categorized based on religion or culture. […] A uniquely divisive view goes not only against the old-fashioned belief that all human beings are much the same but also against the less discussed but much more plausible understanding that we are diversely different.
Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Penguin Books 2007)