In his youth, Osbert Brydon rejected the future that his wealthy, capitalistic New York merchant family had planned for him. Over thirty years ago he fled to Europe to escape his parents, his experiences of being treated as an outsider, and label as the family failure. Now, as a successful writer, he has returned to the place of his New York childhood to settle his legacy.
SCENE 1: Osbert meets again his childhood love, Ellice Staverton. She has become an actress. In their childhood, they created fantasy worlds together while playing in his parents’ house with his puppet theatre. This house is now nearly empty, but the old wallpaper seems to whisper about the past, as if there was a secret to unveil. Ellice praises his business skills which he seems to have inherited, and she states with burdensome clarity: “If I had seen you like this when we met, I would have instantly fallen in love with you.”
SCENE 2: Osbert is touched deeply by her words – “in love!“ – and is increasingly disturbed by the lost possibilities as the past begins to envelop him. His jealousy grows towards the other person who he thinks he could have been. Who could he have been? What does he look like? What does he think? Is he a better person?
SCENE 3: Ellice and the estate’s housekeeper, Mrs. Maldoon, pass through the old house, looking at the rooms which now belong to Osbert. His puppet theatre they used to play with, to fantasize and imagine, is there – but Osbert realises he can no longer play. Mrs. Muldoon blames it on ghosts, Ellice blames it on memories. Osbert withdraws into his artistic perspective.
SCENE 4: Osbert, admits that he is self-absorbed and egoistical, and that he left his family in New York out of arrogance and conceit. He expresses to Ellice his hopes that she consider him fondly, as in former times. “To the contrary”, is her ambiguous answer. Life cannot be rewritten. She had dreamed of him, two times - but it was of the other Osbert.
SCENE 5: Osbert’s thoughts revolve ever more deeply about his alternative self: who would he have become if he had stayed? What would he have been like? What could he have been? Could just one choice have changed everything? He sinks into self-accusation, then into agony. He is a writer, self-absorbed, with very little else. Everything external got in the way of his writing. When he asks himself the question of what Ellice’s role is in his life, a showdown ensues. The other Osbert takes physical shape and fires his own questions at him. The greedy merchant and the selfish artist compete against each other: “more, more, more” against “me, me, me”. It is a fight without a winner.
SCENE 6: Mrs. Maldoon finds Osbert. Ellice joins her. He askes himself if he is dead and sees Ellice from beyond his present life. Why has she brought him back to life? Is there is a way out of his loneliness? — //
© Deutsche Oper am Rhein – Anna Melcher; translation: Douglas Brown