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© Copyright 2020 Frank Pesci

THE STRANGERS

IMMIGRATION AND MOB JUSTICE IN AMERICA

THE STRANGERS is the true story of eleven Sicilian immigrants accused of a crime, tried, acquitted, and then lynched in late 19th century New Orleans. The first Stateside rumors of the mafia, post-reconstruction tensions, and xenophobia underpin a parable about faith, social responsibility, and self-betterment.

 

VENUE, CASTING, & ORCHESTRATION

Principal Roles (9 Singers)

 

DAVID HENNESSY (Lyric Baritone) – New Orleans Chief of Police. Assasinated October 16, 1890. 

MARGARET HENNESSY (Dramatic Soprano) – David Hennessy’s widowed mother.

 

EMMANUELLE POLIZZI (High Lyric Tenor) – a Sicilian immigrant in New Orleans, one of many accused for the murder of Hennessy.

 

IANIA ROMA (Lyric Soprano) – A Sicilian immigrant in New Orleans. Polizzi’s  wife.

MAMA ROMA (Mezzo-soprano) – Iania’s mother; the family’s matriarch.

 

ZIA FRANCESCA (Zwischenfach) – Iania’s maternal aunt.

 

CATARINA ROMA (Coloratura Soprano) – Iania’s younger sister. 

BILL O’CONNOR (Character Tenor) –  Representative of “Law,” a superintendent of a private detective force employed by the ruling classes of the city. 

 

WILLIAM PARKERSON (Bass-Baritone) – Representative of “Order.” Wealthy and influential New Orleanian. 

SATB Chorus (off- and on-stage, and/or pre-records)

Sicilian Immigrants,  police officers, residents of New Orleans, and the “Council of Fifty,” - A citizen’s committee tasked with collecting evidence and information pertaining to the assassination of the Chief. Some chorus members can may double as supernumeraries, as appropriate.

The principal roles can be cast separately, or from within an SATB ensemble. The chorus can operate in the Greek tradition as a quartet, as a large ensemble in the grand sense, be completely pre-recorded, or be employed in any combination as space and necessity allows. 

Flexible orchestrations options
  • "New Orleans Traditional" (clarinet, trumpet, trombone, guitar/banjo, piano, contrabass, vibes and trap kit) 
  • Chamber orchestra 1.1.1.1 - 1.1.1.0, git/bjo, pno/kbd, vibes, traps, string quintet
  • Full pit orchestration 2.2.2.2 - 4.2.2.1, git/bjo, pno/kbd, vibes, traps, str.) 
Ten years after the incidents depicted in this opera (and in the same city),  Jazz was born from a mixture of African, Caribbean, and European musics. The soundworld of the opera reflects the swirling (sometimes conflicting) cultural influences that underpin not only the clash of cultures that led to this tragedy, but also the musical identity of America at the time - strained and combative, unique and beautiful.

WORK in PROGRESS

The action takes place in New Orleans in late 1890 and early 1891: “Piccola Palermo” (the Sicilian ghetto), Charity Hospital, the Orleans Parish Prison, on Girod Street, at the statue of Henry Clay on Canal Street, and at Hennessy’s Funeral at St. Joseph’s Church. The events depicted are presented in chronological order over two different timelines: those of Hennessy and Polizzi. Similar events in these different timelines are juxtaposed to emphasize causality and interconnectedness.

Prologue

The COUNCIL OF FIFTY (Chorus) directly addresses the Sicilian immigrant population of New Orleans. This body is a secretive council of citizens tasked to collect evidence and information pertaining to the assassination of Police Chief DAVID C. HENNESSY.  They are a mixture of "silk stocking" gentility, and bare-knuckle hostility.

Libretto - click image to view

Piano/vocal score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

First Scene

DAVID HENNESSY and BILL O’CONNOR come to a crossroad and bid each other good night.  A moment’s calm is broken by the reports of shotguns and pistols, Several men race across the stage with a bloody Hennessy in pursuit.  He fires, collapses and yells for help. O’Connor comes running, asking who the assailants were. Hennessy whispers into his ear.

Libretto - click image to view

Piano/vocal score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

Second Scene - Part One

In “Piccolo Palermo” MAMA, ZIA, and CATARINA are in an interior courtyard of a tenement building, the sounds of the Sicilians (Chorus) are heard offstage. IANIA ROMA enters, asking below if they have seen her husband, “Manni."

 

MAMA and ZIA retire. CATARINA attacks IANIA about her crazy husband and how she clings to the old world. IANIA fires back, calling her sister a coward who is ashamed of her heritage. CATARINA storms off.  Alone, IANIA admits to herself that her fear is becoming greater that her hope.

Libretto - click image to view

Piano/vocal score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

Second Scene - Part Two

EMANUELLE POLIZZI enters, with a bundle under his arm. Delicately, Iania questions him. He tries to allay her fears, but admits that bleak thoughts have been creeping in again. Polizzi shifts the bundle and a gun falls out.

 

Iania is alarmed. Polizzi hesitates, then says that he found it in the street. He decided to take it so that he could be strong and protect her. Hastily, he stuffs the gun back in the bundle and they enter the tenement.

Libretto - click image to view

Piano/vocal score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

River Interludes

I. The City's Lifeblood

The "Saint James Infirmary Blues" and the Spiritual, "Deep River" swim within a musical representation of the Mississippi, which flows through the city, and is central to the lives of all this opera's characters. 

Orchestrated score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

II. A River's Tributaries

Ragtime, the Tresillo, Delta Blues and European hymnody intermingle, before converging to become Jazz, an art form born about ten years following the events upon which this opera is based.

Orchestrated score - click image to view

MIDI realization - click to listen

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Fueled by resentment toward the growing influence of the Sicilian immigrant community, the ruling elite of New Orleans turn on the strangers in their midst. Rumors fly of the Sicilian’s secret “Stiletto” societies; blame is placed on members of the immigrant community for the assassination of the Chief of Police. After a hasty trial with no evidence, the Sicilian defendants are acquitted.  Enraged, city leaders rally the populace. A mob advances on the prison where the men are being held and eleven of them are murdered, their bodies strewn across the prison yard and left hanging from tree branches. 

 

This sad, true episode laid bare the power of violent anti-immigrant rhetoric in America. The horror of the lynching, however, was generally accepted across the country as an example of honorable justice and community protection. 

THEMATIC IMPACT

This opera’s topic - the complex and emotional foundations of xenophobia, its translation of fear into violence, and the ramifications on its victims and perpetrators - is particularly relevant. Global refugee crises continue unabated, as do the wide range of cultural and governmental responses, from acceptance and assimilation to violent rejection.

 

What a dramatization of this episode shows is that - almost word for word - the same sentiments toward late-19th century immigration are the same that fuel contemporary nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric in America, the only difference being that Latinos and Muslims now fill the role held - in this instance - by Sicilians. 

COMPOSER

Frank Pesci’s compositions have been performed across North America and Europe. He has written nearly 100 works for the concert stage, including forty choral works, eleven song cycles, nearly twenty chamber and concert scores, and five operas. He lives in Cologne, Germany.

LIBRETTIST

Andrew Altenbach is Music Director of Opera at the Boston Conservatory. He has held coaching and conducting staff positions with several prestigious American opera companies, including the Santa Fe Opera, Music Academy of the West, Cincinnati Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Merola Program.