Richard Wilson: Aethelred the Unready







Æthelred the unready




An Opera in


Seven Scenes




A Live Performance Recording








Robert Osborne


Elizabeth Weigle


Drew Minter


Andrew Childs


Jonathan Goodman


Curtis Streetman


Thea Tullman










Richard Wilson writes:


It was during a prolonged losing streak of the New York Yankees that, musing on the subject of failure, I decided to write an opera about Æthelred the Unready. The libretto I wrote is mainly whimsical. But it does draw on history, presenting three characters who actually existed:


Æthelred the Second lived from about 965 until 1016. He was king of England from 978 until 1016. Æthelred acquired the epithet “the unrede” meaning “the ill-counseled.” In time this was corrupted to “the unready” despite the different meaning. He was indeed cursed at his baptism by Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for defiling the font. The words of Dunstan's curse, quoted in the opera, are drawn from the chronicles of William of Malmesbury.


Emma married Æthelred in 1002. She was the sister of Richard II, duke of Normandy


William of Malmesbury lived from about 1096 until 1143. His great work entitled Gesta regum Anglorum (The Deeds of the English Kings) is a history of England from 449 to 1127. Much of the text of William's part in the opera is taken directly from this chronicle.


Reference is made to an anti-Æthelred poem containing the expression, “with knees unsteady”. This is “An Archaic Jingle” by Christopher Logue, from his collection Abecedary.


Work on the libretto and then the music of the opera began in the summer of 1992. Excerpts were performed in concert by The American Symphony Chamber Orchestra as follows: Scene I on May 7-8, 1993; Scenes II, III, IV/V and VI on September 9-10, 1994. Jan Opalach was in the title role on both occasions. For the May 13, 2001 premiere in Merkin Hall, New York City, the work was completely re-scored, reducing from classical-sized orchestra to an ensemble of six players, and the seventh scene extensively re-written. It is that live performance that is captured on this disc.


Opera Scenario


Scene One—Upping the Epithet


The periodic Tribunal of Historical Revision is soon to take place. Prodded by his nagging wife Emma, Æthelred the Unready agrees to approach Clio, the powerful Muse of History, in hopes of improving his reputation upon the 1,000th anniversary of his death. Although Emma has still grander aspirations (“Æthelred the Ardent” or “Æthelred the Urgent”), he would be content merely to have his epithet changed to “Æthelred the Adequate.” Worrying that her husband will make a mess of his appeal, Emma resolves to consult The Publicist for advice. After she leaves, Æthelred is haunted by his childhood disgrace, his “baptismal embarrassment,” which prompted him to be cursed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Scene Two—The Forgetful Muse


Clio is reminded of the upcoming Tribunal by The Assistant, who draws her attention to a request by an obscure Saxon king. Clio has not heard of Æthelred the Unready and plans to ask her friend, the chronicler William of Malmesbury, about him. William appears and, to Clio's delight, launches into a recital of the exploits of his favorite Saxons. When he is finished, Clio has forgotten the name she wished to ask him about.


Scene Three—Publicist to the Rescue


Emma explains her problems to The Publicist, who advises her to approach William of Malmesbury—whose influence on Clio is known to all. He also recommends obtaining the aid of The Hypnotist, who can embolden Æthelred and make him a more effective advocate for his cause.


Scenes Four and Five—Emma & Dithering William vs. Our Hero at the Hypnotist


[take place simultaneously]


Emma attempts to ingratiate herself with William of Malmesbury, who again gets carried away on the subject of Saxon kings. She can scarcely get his attention. Meanwhile, The Hypnotist is putting Æthelred into a trance. He provides him with three mystic words which, when used together in a sentence, make him bold and decisive. But this effect will be thwarted should he speak the forbidden word. Emma gives up on William, departs, and Clio appears. She has remembered Æthelred's name. It prompts only the dimmest of William's recollections.


Scene Six—The Great Encounter


Æthelred begins his interview with Clio in a bold and convincing manner; the trance is working. Clio seems impressed. The Assistant interrupts and causes Æthelred to mention—by accident—the forbidden word. Æthelred goes to pieces. His speech comes out wrong, full of spoonerisms and incoherent slips. Clio is bewildered. She dismisses him as a fraud.


Scene Seven—Aftermath


Æthelred encounters Emma, who scorns him; William, who mistakes him for some other English king and drifts off telling of obscure battles; and The Publicist, who proposes a new and more outlandish strategy. Æthelred goes off alone to ponder his fate. To console himself, he sings an ancient love song. The Hypnotist appears and, finding him depressed, puts Æthelred to sleep. While he sleeps, Emma, Clio, William, and The Publicist, as a chorus, sing fatuous warnings against sloth and indolence while advocating bold and bloody actions. Æthelred, assertive at last, sends each of them packing. Finally at peace, in a dream state, he picks up a trumpet and plays a wistful solo.


Opera Libretto


SCENE 1—A motel room at Mt. Olympus, which resembles a spa in upstate New York.


Emma Æthelred! You must get up. Think how it looks. So many hours lying slugabed. Æthelred! Do wake up.


Æthelred Yes, my love.


Emma So many days and years. You have slept the greater part of a millennium. Such sloth! Such inactivity! Such abject passivity!


Æthelred Yes, my dear.


Emma A dearth of drive, a lack of thrust! No drive, no thrust! Whatever led me to wed one so lacking in motivation? I gave you my youth, my beauty, my social prestige!


Æthelred No doubt, my dear.


Emma Why can't you have been Æthelred the Bold… Æthelred the Resourceful…Æthelred the Stalwart?


Æthelred Alas, my love. You demand too much. My nature falls short.


Emma No kingly nature has ever fallen so short. Think what they have said about you. “A ruler of singular incompetence, who did nothing but postpone and hesitate.” “Wretched and disgraceful.”


Æthelred Yes, my dear.


Emma We must redo your image. A fantastic transformation is what we need.


Æthelred Yes, my dear, my faithful Emma.


Emma We shall apply to Clio, the all-powerful Muse of History. There's the Tribunal, the upcoming Tribunal. With Clio's intervention at the upcoming Tribunal, the record can be rewritten. History can be revised. What we need is initiative, imagination and ambition. For once, Æthelred, be up to the challenge!


Æthelred What a thought, my dear, such a thought my dear Emma.


Emma No more, “Æthelred the Unready, with knees unsteady.” Rather, “Æthelred the Aggressive, with posture impressive.“


Æthelred Dear me, my love. I fear I fall short, dismally short.


Emma Or Æthelred the Ardent! Æthelred the Urgent! Æthelred the Inexhaustible!


Æthelred My dear…my love…my wife. Let's scale down our aspirations. Let's confront reality. The Muse of History—this formidable figure—she has much on her mind. If I gain her attention, I shall plead for reputational revision. A change in epithet. An improved odor. But let due modesty prevail. I'll seek to replace “Æthelred the Unready” with something more agreeable, more mellifluous, more affirmative. Let me be known in future as “Æthelred the Adequate.”


Emma “The Adequate, Æthelred the Adequate?” To tell the truth I had hoped for something a little catchier, a tag with a bit more pizzazz—a name I could bask in a bit—I mean I know this is an improvement…at the same time it seems a trifle timid…


Æthelred It will take some getting used to. I do believe this is not asking too much, not asking much at all—really quite a modest request, a simple rectification, a putting right of an injustice, a longstanding injustice.


Emma I am off to arrange the appointment with Clio. Æthelred, you must prepare to state your case.


[To herself] He will fail in this as in everything else. We truly need help. The Publicist! I wonder, would The Publicist have an idea? He's the master of maneuver and strategy. Would he welcome a challenge? The challenge of his career! The challenge of his life! [She exits.]


Æthelred It won't be easy to argue my case. My record falls short of distinction; and I get scant support from my wife. Ridicule, scorn, disdain and contempt—these are what constitute Emma's assistance. And what will the fearsome Clio perceive? This potent muse prefers battles and blood. She dispenses her favors toward proud achievement. And what have I to offer? I got off to so terrible a start. A baptismal embarrassment too dreadful to tell. With the bishops assembled, I suffered a lapse, a quite natural occurrence, a moment of infant confusion. Without intending sacriledge, I defiled the font in a shocking way. I was only a babe, a tiny child—but my name was ruined with this single deed. The upheaval was instant and brought on a curse. The Archbishop of Canterbury—I can hear him now—Dunstan, by name—to the world and posterity he shouted, “By God and his mother, this will be a sorry fellow.” What could I do? I was only a babe. I was doomed though only a babe.


SCENE 2—Clio's lavish mountaintop ranch-


style house.


Clio As the Muse of History, I savor my many perquisites. But the pleasure of my power is increasingly qualified by a slippage of mind. Mental failure…a constant muddle. I cannot remember the simplest things. My grasp of daily events, my recollection of favorite battles, of cherished massacres, of horrendous villains…


Assistant Muse Clio, I hesitate to interrupt your reverie…


Clio Ah, my reliable helper, speak up...


Assistant Have you possibly forgotten the impending Tribunal?


Clio Oh my gracious. Is it time for that again?


Assistant I fear it is once more upon us. Requests and petitions flow in like the tides. Grievances abound.


Clio Few are content with posterity's verdict. The power of revision…


Assistant Few are content with posterity's verdict. Clio's power of revision is sought all around.


Clio What a bother, these interviews. So difficult to follow.


Assistant One petition stands out from the rest…most peculiar. From a certain Saxon king.


Clio Ah the Saxons! William of Malmesbury, my friend the famous chronicler, has told me so much of these Saxons.


Assistant The name is unusual. Æthelred. Spoken of as “Æthelred the Unready.”


Clio Æthelred the Unready? I've not heard him spoken of.


Assistant Little is known of his accomplishments. Evidently not many accomplishments. A dim figure I guess. A poem was written…not flattering. “With knees unsteady, his brain deady.” Something like that.


Clio As the Muse of History, I must remember to ask William when next I see him. Which will be next week…


William [enters] Ah, Dear Lady,


Clio Oh, good heavens…I've forgotten…


William You haven't by chance forgotten our appointment?


Clio Dear William, of course not. Not forgotten... I've awaited your arrival.


William You seem a bit preoccupied…distracted….


Clio I'm amidst preparations for the infernal Tribunal…my periodic duty...


William The emblem of your eminence...of your vast power.


Clio The chance to adjust reputations. To redefine outcomes; to reload the dice. A moment to savor my muse-ish authority. So exhausting this muse-ish authority!


William My lady, your eminence abounds and resounds. Your power defies all comprehension.


Clio I must bear in mind so many details.


William The characters in history fall within your jurisdiction.


Clio But can you help me in one matter? Recall to my ken those many Saxon dignitaries. You know them so well, and I thrill to the telling.


William With pleasure dear lady. First there was Egbert, then Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, Æthelbert...but the slyest of these was Alfred the Great.


Clio Dearest Alfred the Great, a rascally fellow.


William Disguised as a minstrel, he spied on the Danes and…


Both He routed them firmly from England. A thunderous and bloody rout it was.


Clio My pulse quickens at the thought.


William A pulse-quickening rout it surely was.


Clio Ignominious defeat!


William But let's not neglect Edmund and Edred, Edwig and Edgar, Edward the Martyr and Edmund the Second…


Both But the most pious of these was Edward the Confessor.


Clio Poor childless Edward. He loved to hunt. And those miracles…


William He cured blindness and ulcers and swollen glands.


Clio But his confessions were always a puzzle to me. He was forever at it—awash in guilt.


William Edward ate and drank sparingly. He fought no wars, lowered taxes…


Clio No basis for guilt


William No sins to repent.


Both An idle confessor, he seemed a blameless king.


William Not like my namesake


Clio William the Conqueror.


Both Now he was more like it. A regular stallion.


William He overtook Exeter


Clio and ruined York;


William He burnt


Clio and plundered,


Both spilling blood all around


Clio You capture my heart with these luscious tales.


William Pulse-quickening tales to win your affection.


Both Blissful stories of blood and war.


William Blissful acts of destruction.


Both Just what the Muse of History savors! The source of boundless prurient delight!


Clio But there is one Saxon about whom I wish to know more.


William Who is it dear Muse?


Clio Oh dear, I have forgotten his name. It's on the tip of my tongue. My assistant will know… [looks about] Drat! She's on her break.


SCENE 3—The Publicist's office; chrome, glass, and potted palms.


Publicist Your husband needs to redefine himself.


Emma But we cannot leave it up to him.


Publicist I meant that we—that is, I— need to redefine him. I never give the client much say.


Emma My husband can hardly say his name. He is timid to a pathological degree. He opens his mouth only to yawn.


Both And as to his other deficiencies


Clio Incompetence, incontinence, inconsequentiality…


Publicist That is sad, but I'd like to assure you…


Emma Fecklessness, mindlessness, non-conviviality…


Publicist Madame, I want you to know. In the sphere of public relations, I have yet to suffer defeat. No matter what diffidence or weakness, no matter what disarray, my professional prowess, my cunning resolve, my crafty…


Emma What we need is a plan of action.


Publicist My thoughts exactly. But may I confide in you? The Muse Clio is much affected, or should I say touched, by the attentions of a certain chronicler, William of Malmesbury. He's a famous authority; and a tiresome bore. Still, were we to gain the favor of this man, were we to somehow catch his eye.


Emma To somehow catch his eye?


Publicist To focus his gaze.


Emma To create an allure?


Publicist To capture his fancy.


Emma To elicit his sympathy?


Publicist To gain his support.


Emma I must think on the implications…


Publicist You must summon the resources…


Emma I must ponder the approach…


Publicist May I mention one thing more?


Emma Please speak.


Publicist Your husband must participate.


Emma My husband participate? Perhaps I have been lacking in clarity. My husband's a veritable mouse.


Publicist Even for that I have the solution. I recommend a science most helpful. You see, hypnosis can embolden a mouse.


Emma The mousiest mouse?


Publicist Hypnosis can embolden the mousiest mouse.


SCENE 4—Emma and William in the book-lined study within William of Malmesbury's apartment.


SCENE 5—Æthelred and The Hypnotist in The Hypnotist's examining room; clinical furnishings. [The two scenes take place simultaneously]


Emma It's so rare one meets a great historian.


William Oh, well, I really don't know…I'm delighted…that is I…


Emma A famous, distinguished chronicler who is also so charming…


William Your keen perceptions leave me unable to speak…coherently.


Emma You are clearly generous, sympathetic, and influential.


Æthelred You will find me beyond reach of your skill.


Hypnotist Just focus your gaze on this pendant.


William Ah, dear lady, you are most comely and fetching.


Emma Now there is a matter…something that rates your distinguished attention. A matter of unjust reputation…


William Surely not your precious reputation…


Emma No, not mine, but rather one of a noble Saxon king.


William Ah, a Saxon king! Just my specialty! My particular fondness. Is it perchance Egbert or Æthelwulf?


Emma No, the name is Æthel…


William Æthelbald or Æthelbert?


Emma No, you see, it's my hus…


William You see, Æthelbald and Æthelbert were sons of Æthelwulf. Now there was a daughter—what was her name?


Æthelred My plight is hopeless at best.


Hypnotist Cast your eyes over here if you please.


William The daughter…her dowry was set in Æthelwulf's will. Such a fine will. Something for St. Peter, a bit for St. Paul, a bit for the poor…


Emma Oh dear, what can I do? This is hopeless…dear me…his name is Æthelred…


William And then there were the ecclesiastical immunities…


Emma This is getting me nowhere.


William Indeed, yes, they stem from the reign of Charles. Not Charles the Great, of course, but his grandson. Have I spoken of the Vision of Charles?


Emma His…name…is…Æthelred the Unready, with knees unsteady…


William [off in his own world] Such a fright! Those fearsome pits boiling with pitch and brimstone and lead and wax and grease. The blackest demons flying about, with fiery claws. Dragons and scorpions. Evil serpents. Poor Charles…


Emma Oh dear, this is unpleasant. How very disagreeable.


Æthelred “A king of singular incompetence.”


Hypnotist Just focus your gaze on this object.


Æthelred “Who did nothing but postpone and hesitate.”


Hypnotist You will feel a deep sense of repose.


William Which reminds me of the death of King Alfred. So sad about his disembowelment. Putrefaction was a concern at the time.


Emma I give up the effort; I get nowhere; we must try something else. [she exits]


William What was that daughter's name?


Clio [arriving] Ah William, so refreshing to see you.


William Dear lady, dear Muse. But was there not someone else here? A most agreeable image.... I could have sworn…


Clio Your erudition is sought at this critical moment.


William I am unaccustomed to being in such demand.


Clio A name that had slipped my mind…I now recall. Could you peruse your voluminous memory and relate the accomplishments of a certain Æthelred…called “The Unready.”


William Æthelred the Unready? Um. It's a name I've heard recently. But I must tell you it prompts the very dimmest of recollections.


Æthelred “Wretched… and… dis…grace…ful…”


Hypnotist Give yourself up to its power.


Æthelred A…blissful…




Hypnotist Attention now: You must learn the three mystical words.


Æthelred Oh…blessed…sleep.


Hypnotist Oh no! Not those words. Rather the ones I tell you. Fit them into one sentence—all three of them into one sentence—and all of your difficulties will simply evaporate.


Æthelred Well I am frankly dubious…


William I'm frankly dubious…not much to recall…


Clio However dubious, please tax your memory


Hypnotist The first mystic word is artichoke.


Æthelred I do not know it.


Hypnotist Artichoke. A complex vegetable.


Æthelred Artichoke. Did I not once gag on one?


Hypnotist Many tiny spines…


Æthelred I remember…bloody artichoke!


Hypnotist And the second mystic word is Synecdoche.


Æthelred What? Another mouthful!


Hypnotist Syn-ec-do-che. A figure of speech.


Æthelred What meaning?


Hypnotist The part is taken for the whole. As in, “All hands on deck.”


Æthelred Syn-ec-do-che.


Hypnotist And finally, you must learn Tabernacle.


Æthelred Tabernacle


Hypnotist These three words must be placed in one sentence…


Æthelred One telling sentence…


Hypnotist which will cause an emboldening trance, an invigorating spell, an illusion of courage and assertiveness to envelop your being


Æthelred My being enveloped in strength, my nature transformed!


Hypnotist But you must pay close attention to this: Avoid one word…the forbidden word.


Æthelred What is it?


Clio Do tax your distinguished brain. I need some reference…


William An unfortunate incident at the baptism. The Archbishop of Canterbury was appalled at so public an




All They were cleansing the font for ages…


Clio But his exploits…his kingly accomplishments…


William Alas, they were few in number. Ineffectual bribes to the Vikings. Tardy responses to invasion.


Clio One backfiring policy after another.


William Confusion, mishandling, and sloth.


Clio Indeed, how long did he remain?


William Thirty-eight years of desultory reign.


Clio So long in power for such an incompetent!


William `Twas a time not given to high expectation. But it must be said that, near the end, he confessed the errors of his youth.


Clio What, another confessor? What prompts these unctuous outpourings?


William You must find out for yourself. I really can't explain it.


Clio Perhaps I should see this sorry figure.


William As you wish, dear Muse; but little will come of it, I'll venture.


Hypnotist The forbidden word is…


Æthelred Yes, I'm listening.


Hypnotist Do not mention the word “Chickenfeed.” All will be lost. The trance will vanish in an instant. No “Chickenfeed.”


Æthelred It need never cross my lips.


Hypnotist You are now ready for any imaginable challenge.


Both For any imaginable challenge.


SCENE 6—Clio's dwelling place.


Assistant Your exalted personage, Muse Clio, I present a Saxon visitor, Æthelred the Second, known through history as “Æthelred the Unready.”


Clio Advance into my presence, your royal unreadiness.


Æthelred Uh…uh…a-hem. [to himself] I must conquer my nervousness. [to Clio] Let no artichoke invite.[to himself] Did I say `invite?' I meant `invade'[to Clio] Let no artichoke invade the tabernacle of your brow—brow being an example of synecdoche…I believe.


Clio What greeting is this? Some cabalistic mantra? Some mystic rot?


Æthelred [to himself] I am gaining in strength! [to Clio] Your beatitude, Muse Clio, I stand boldly before you, a victim of historical injustice.


Clio Wherein lies your grievance?


Æthelred This preposterous epithet, “The Unready”. It has dogged me for a millennium. An open embarrassment. An outrage, a stigmatization.


Clio But your actual accomplishments…


Æthelred Does no one see virtue in kingly restraint? It's true I was phlegmatic and tentative. I dallied and tarried, delayed and evaded. Oh yes, all this is true. And yet, let no one be deceived. My dilatory method concealed a scheme most ingenious. I sought to avoid violence and bloodshed. To prevent misery and despair. It was, if I may say so, a master plan of the subtlest complexion. A service to humanity.


Assistant [interrupting] Muse Clio—an unexpected delivery. A large truck backing up to the door. Saint Dunstan Suppliers…


Clio I recall nothing about a delivery…I know nothing about it.


Assistant An unfamiliar substance is being unloaded.


All An unfamiliar substance, being delivered, unexpectedly, by truck!


Clio Perhaps Your Grace can identify…


Æthelred A recognizable odor… I do believe it is…chickenfeed! Curses! What have I said?


Clio and


Assistant A mistake! Be off! Saint Dunstan Delivery, be off!


Æthelred A mistake, indeed. What was it I was saying?


Clio What was it you were averring just now?


Æthelred I evaded the artichoke by dilly-dallying! [to himself] What words are these? What am I saying? I'll try again. [to Clio] Who but I was phlegmatic in Schenectady! That was the place I defiled the Tabernacle! Alas, my complexion suffered dreadfully.


Clio What is this man talking about? I fear he is beyond my assistance.


Æthelred [to himself] My words come out all wrong. I am tongue-tied and confused Is it Dunstan? The curse of Dunstan? Once again tormenting me!


Assistant Let me help you to the door, your Royal Presence.


Æthelred [to them] I am sullied with royal artichokes! Lead me to the Archbishop of Canterbury! [exits]


Clio Another fraud…a case of fakery. William was right after all.


SCENE 7—On a footbridge over the river, nearby Clio's home.


Æthelred For a moment I thought I was winning. I had made such a strong beginning. The spell was working and, for an instant, I was almost in charge. Her attention was riveted. I was talking sense. Then all of a sudden…


Emma [enters]Husband, how did you fare?


Æthelred I was inadequate.


Emma Don't tell me.


Æthelred I fell short…dismally short.


Emma Another fiasco. Why must it be this way? You lack all fortitude.


Æthelred For an instant, I had Clio's attention.


Emma Insufficient to the core.


Æthelred Confident, assertive…


Emma Blundering, fumbling…


Æthelred Clear and effective…


Emma Stumbling and defective…


Æthelred I was almost winning.


Emma Yet another defeat for us both.


Both It's more than I can bear [manage]…this benighted failure




Æthelred No hope for improvement


Emma No hope for change… [exits]


William [enters] Here's a figure I almost recognize.


Æthelred I am one of your Saxon monarchy.


William A king? A Saxon king? Some Saxon hero? Don't tell me your name—I can say it. You are Edmund. or Edwig or Edred. Yes Edred, that's it, I am sure. You beat back the Northumbrian wretches. But you suffered, if I remember correctly, digestive distress. Unable to swallow—such an unfortunate problem. A regretable defect. [exits]


Æthelred He has never acknowledged my being. He has never kept me straight. I am not on his list of favorites. This blithering fool! It's by such dithering hands that reputations are shaped—or mis-shaped.


Publicist [enters] Ah, so, my client! Is my client triumphant?


Æthelred Take a closer look, sir. I am virtually supine.


Publicist Did the strategy fail us?


Æthelred Most decisively it failed us.


Publicist I never give up. Another chance. I need another chance. A stunning new plan. Something guaranteed to hit home. Influence applied at the vital spot.


Æthelred I am exceedingly doubtful.


Publicist We must play to their vulnerabilities.


Æthelred My reservations…


Publicist Exploit weakness…


Æthelred grow by the minute.


Publicist threaten exposure…


Æthelred With respect, sir, I'll postpone further action. I need to ponder and deliberate; to ruminate alone.


Publicist You will find me at my office


Æthelred To ruminate alone.


Publicist When you need my special services… [exits]


Æthelred I'll ponder and deliberate.


[Æthelred, alone, walks off the bridge to a bench by the river. He sings an ancient air.] “One morning in the sweet month of May as the sun was rising an orchard did I enter. Beneath the pine a maid picked roses. I drew near and offered true love. She replied to me: Oh never shall you touch me,


for I already have a sweet friend.


One morning in the sweet month of May.”


Hypnotist [enters] You seem weary…in need of a tonic.


Æthelred My spirits are flagging. [He settles on the bench.]


Hypnotist Just focus once again on this pendant.


Æthelred Spare me anguish, pain, confusion.


Hypnotist Just focus your gaze…


Æthelred Oh blessed sleep [he sleeps]


Hypnotist Embrace deep slumber. [exits]


Emma, Clio, William,


Publicist We must not sleep our lives away


Let's banish sloth and inaction


Deeds of glory, acts of courage


Only these give satisfaction.


Æthelred What rubbish is this?


What propaganda?


Emma, Clio, William,


Publicist Nothing counts like fervent self-regard.


Advancement, status and clout.


Let's banish ineffectuality


With this seemly incantation.


Æthelred Drivel! Detritus! Stuff and nonsense!


Propaganda! Parasitic blather!


Empty rhetoric!


Piffle! Cant! Sheer eyewash!


Emma, Clio, William,


Publicist The image is all-powerful


Self-promotion is the highest goal.


Æthelred Begone you scurrilous porcupine!


Promotion bah! Demotion, yes!


You merit rank demotion.


Begone! Depart in disgrace! [Publicist exits]


Emma, Clio,


William Deeds of glory, acts of courage


These constitute our satisfaction


Æthelred Poppycock! Twaddle!


Banish forever this rot


It breeds extreme stupefaction.


[Emma exits]




William I cherish deeds and acts of war!


Æthelred Bugger off, you bloody bore! [Clio exits]


William I cherish…


Æthelred You'll perish! You oafish dervish [William exits]


Æthelred [to himself]


I've spared the world travail.


Shunning every brute aggression


Inclining toward more


lyric expression


Through gentle ornament


and apt detail.


What strength I have


Though faint and fleeting


Leaves me your good sympathy entreating


And with this timid verse,


I'll thwart foul Dunstan's


ancient curse


And let meek sentiments prevail


And now dear people


The time has come


Find amusement elsewhere—


some mute caprice


I've taken all I intend to take


And will now be left in peace.


[Æthelred, in a dream state, finally at peace, picks up a trumpet and plays a wistful solo.]




Libretto ©1992 by Richard Wilson


RICHARD WILSON is the composer of some eighty works in many genres. He has received such recognition as the Hinrichsen Award (from the American Academy /Institute of Arts and Letters), the Stoeger Prize (from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), the Cleveland Arts Prize (from the Women's City Club of Cleveland), and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recent commissions have come from the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations. His orchestral works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the American Symphony, the Pro-Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard, Mr. Wilson holds the Mary Conover Mellon Chair in Music at Vassar; he is also Composer-in-Residence with the American Symphony Orchestra, for which he gives pre-concert talks.


ROBERT OSBORNE has sung extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, Russia, South America, and Asia under such distinguished conductors as Bernstein, Ozawa, Russell Davies, Tilson Thomas, Spivakov, and Williams. His operatic recordings include Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis, Hindemith's Hin und zurück, Monk's Atlas,Partch's The Wayward, and Wallace's Kaballah. His recordings include Songs of Henry Cowell, Songs of John Alden Carpenter, Songs of Leo Sowerby, Orchestral Songs of Shostakovich, Partch's Eleven Intrusions and Dark Brother, and Frank Martin's Le vin herbé. His operatic repertoire includes over forty roles which he has sung in Berlin, Paris, Houston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Santa Fe and New York.


ELIZABETH WEIGLE has appeared in numerous world, European, and New York premières. Foremost among her operatic roles are Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Adele in Die Fledermaus, Despina in Cosi fan Tutte, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Singer No. 1 in Conrad Susa's Transformations, and Musetta in La Bohème. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music where she studied with the late Jan DeGaetani, Ms. Weigle received her Masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music with continued studies at The Juilliard School.


DREW MINTER has appeared in leading roles with the opera companies of Brussels, Toulouse, Boston, Washington, Santa Fe, BAM, Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass, Nice, and Marseille, as well as Skylight Opera, Opera/Omaha, and the Berkshire Opera Festival; and at the Halle, Karlsruhe, Maryland and Goettingen Handel festivals. He has sung with many of the world's leading early music ensembles, including Les Arts Florissants, the Handel and Haydn Society, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Freiburger Barockorchester, and as a guest at festivals such as Regensburg, BAM's Next Wave, Boston Early Music, Edinburgh and Spoleto. Mr. Minter's newly formed group, TREFOIL, an ensemble of singer/instrumentalists, performs 14th century music from original notation. He is represented by over 40 recordings.


ANDREW CHILDS has appeared with the Seattle Symphony, the Society of Composers International, the American Guild of Organists, the Orange County Youth Symphony, Philharmonia Northwest and the Connecticut Master Chorale. Active in opera as well as concert, he has sung with Seattle Opera, Harrisburg Opera, Glimmerglass Opera and the Center for Contemporary Opera among others.




CURTIS STREETMAN has appeared as Sarastro in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Claggart in Britten's Billy Budd and Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. At the Teatro Liceau he appeared as Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni and Figaro in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Other performances include a tour of Stravinsky's Les Noces and Britten's Curlew River with the Paris Ballet.


JONATHAN GOODMAN began his singing career with Chanticleer, touring ten countries and recording works from Josquin to Rorem. Since moving to New York, he has appeared with the American Symphony, Jupiter Symphony, the Orchestra of Saint Luke's, Amor Artis, the Waverly Consort, Parnassus, the Voices of Ascension, Musica Sacra, Beachworks, the Mark Morris Dance Group, the New England Bach Soloists, and the New York Collegium.


THEA TULLMAN graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College and received her master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music. At Vassar she sang the roles of Poppea in Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea and Mlle. Silberklang in Mozart's The Impressario. With Chicago Opera Theatre she has performed the roles of La Musica in Monteverdi's Orfeo and Lucia in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia.


ALAN BLUSTINE, clarinet, has performed with the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet Orchestra, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A member of New York Chamber Soloists, the Festival Winds and Speculum Musicae, he has premiered many solo works by such composers as Milton Babbitt, Donald Martino, Elliott Carter and Wayne Peterson.


ROLF SCHULTE was born in Cologne, Germany. After winning top prize in the Munich International Radio Competition he came to the United States to study with Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music. His other teachers include Yehudi Menuhin and Franco Gulli. Mr. Schulte has collaborated with conductors Christoph von Dohnányi, Dennis Russell Davies, Max Rudolph, György Léhel, Hiroshi Wakasugi and John Nelson in concertos from Beethoven to Berg, Sessions, and Elliott Carter.


DOROTHY LAWSON, cello, holds both master's and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School where she studied with Leonard Rose and Harvey Shapiro. She received the diploma of the Vienna Academy and her bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto. Regularly performing with such groups as the New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Sea Cliff Chamber Players, Philharmonia Virtuosi and the Lincoln Center Community Concerts.


BLANCA URIBE was born in Bogotá, Colombia. She studied in Vienna at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art with Richard Hauser and in New York at the Juilliard School with Rosina Lhevinne and Martin Canin. Her extensive repertoire ranges from Scarlatti to works of the present. Particularly notable are her interpretations of the 32 Sonatas of Beethoven, which she has performed in cycle on several occasions, and the complete Iberia Suite of Isaac Albéniz.


PAUL HOSTETTER is the Music Director of the Lyric Orchestra of New York, Principal Guest Conductor for the Daylesford Sinfonia (Bermuda), and the Resident Conductor of the Genesis Opera Company (New York). He has also conducted the New Jersey Symphony and on Broadway as the associate conductor for Leonard Bernstein's “Candide” and “The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm.” As a percussionist he is a member of the Perspectives Ensemble and has performed and recorded extensively with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and Philharmonia Virtuosi.


MATTHEW GOLD performs regularly with such groups as Sequitur, the S.E.M. Ensemble, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Ahn Trio, and Speculum Musicae. He has been featured on the Summer Garden Series at the Museum of Modern Art, the Three Two Festival of New Music, the Norfolk Contemporary Festival, the Prague Spring Festival, the Warsaw Autumn Festival, and Construction and Process in Poland. He also performs frequently with the American Symphony Orchestra and on Broadway. Mr. Gold attended the Juilliard School where he was a student of Daniel Druckman.


Further Acknowledgments


Michael Pisani rendered invaluable assistance with respect to direction and musical preparation. Special thanks are in order to Frances Fergusson and Norman Fainstein, president and dean of Vassar College, Todd Vunderink, Maggie Heskin and Jason Labes of Peermusic Classical, to Lynne Meloccaro, Daniel Gruber, Lisa Takemoto, Alex Johnston and Kristen Long of The American Symphony Orchestra. To Adene G. Wilson, who in a mere four months notated the entire opera and produced the individual parts, no words of thanks are quite adequate. For this project she proved herself stalwart, ardent, and inexhaustible.




Publisher: Songs of Peer, Ltd. (ASCAP), by arrangement with Peermusic Classical.










Æthelred the Unready


An Opera in Seven Scenes


by Richard Wilson


1 Prelude & Scene I - Upping the Epithet [17:45]


2 Scene II - The Forgetful Muse [10:51]


3 Scene III - Publicist to the Rescue [5:00]


4 Scenes IV&V - Emma & Dithering William vs. Our Hero at the Hypnotist [11:52]


5 Scene VI - The Great Encounter [8:33]


6 Scene VII - Aftermath [21:08]


Total Time = 75:12


Produced & Engineered by Wayne Hileman, Squires Productions, Inc.


Recorded live in a semi-staged performance at Merkin Hall, NYC, May 13, 2001




Æthelred the Unready Robert Osborne


Emma, his Wife Elizabeth Weigle


Clio, the Muse of History Drew Minter


William of Malmesbury Andrew Childs


The Publicist Jonathan Goodman


The Hypnotist Curtis Streetman


Clio's Assistant Thea Tullman


Michael Pisani, director






Allen Blustine, clarinet • Rolf Schulte, violin


Dorothy Lawson, cello • Blanca Uribe, piano


Paul Hostetter & Matthew Gold, percussion


Richard Wilson, conductor