music by CHARLES KIM
libretto by JEFFREY SHAMAN

a chamber opera based on the book,
Des Indes à la planète Mars by Dr. Théodore Flournoy


S y n o p s i s

[Act I, Scene 1Act I, Scene 2Act I, Scene 3Act I, Scene 4 ]
[ Interlude ]
[ Act II, Scene 1Act II, Scene 2Act II, Scene 3Act II, Scene 4 ]


Background


Much of this opera is based on the study From India to the Planet Mars, by Dr. Theodore Flournoy. Helene Smith was the nom de plume of a real woman, who during the late 19th century conducted seances and experienced past lives, and whom Dr. Flournoy observed for many years.

Dr. Flournoy's study of Ms. Smith, published in 1900, was of major scientific import, and remains a significant example of the intent and scope of the field of subliminal psychology. Dr. Flournoy, while not believing in Ms. Smith's psychic powers, felt that because Ms. Smith believed in her own abilities-trances, visions, hallucinations, space and time travel - she provided an invaluable key for exploration of the mind. Dr. Flournoy postulated that unlike most people, in which the conscious and subconscious - the awake and real worlds-are clearly separated, for Ms. Smith no such separation existed. In her trances, Dr. Flournoy felt, her conscious and subconscious commingled, permitting open study of the subconscious. This study was the crux of subliminal psychology.

In the late nineteenth century, leading psychologists throughout Europe, including Jung, Freud, and Richet, employed psychics for their research. Dr. Flournoy was an esteemed pioneer of this field and respected figure in all psychology. (Jung in fact credited Flournoy's advice and support for helping him rnake his split from Freud.) Dr. Flournoy helped establish the department of psychology at the University of Geneva and was a famed lecturer. By 1910 subliminal psychology was an abandoned field. Many influences factored into this turn of events-the ascendancy of psychoanalysis, skepticism of psychics, etc.- but Dr. Flournoy, still active, lived to see this disesteem.

Act I, Scene i

The year 1910, on the stage of an empty lecture hall at the University of Geneva, Jung and Freud meet having both been summoned by a mysterious letter from their colleague Theodore Flournoy. Theodore has been missing for weeks, presently appears from the back of the stage. He is disoriented and uncertain of his recent whereabouts, but soon recognizes his surroundings. There, weeks earlier, Flournoy had lectured defending his life's work, subliminal psychology, once a cornerstone of the field, now a subject of derision, Flournoy remains indignant to psychology's tergiversation of his brainchild and argues for its acceptance with Jung and Freud.

Act I, Scene ii

Theodore tells of his greatest test subject, Helene Smith, a Genevese woman with psychic powers, who conducted seances that Flournoy attended regularly. Her belief in her own abilities carried her through time and space to alternate worlds; for her these events were real

A 19th century Genevese parlor appears on stage. At a central table Helene Smith is seated and in a trance. Flournoy seats himself and questions her. He notes her behavior-once again he is the curious scientist. Helene tells the doctor of another presence in the room, a Guiding Spirit, who aids her in her journeys. Only Helene sees and hears this man. The Guiding Spirit is mischievous; he evades the doctor's request for his given name, and instead launches into a joyous soliloquy. While Theodore ponders the situation and independent will of the Guiding Spirit, Helene and her aide make plans to travel.

Act I, Scene iii

Helene travels back to 15th century India. In her trance she speaks Hindi, a phenomenon the doctor excitedly notes. A palace library appears on-stage. Helene is the princess Simandini, a woman of fantastic talents. The Guiding Spirit moves freely from the parlor to the palace, where he is Kayu aide to

the princess. Simandini is legislating a new law for her prince, and Helene, still in the parlor and in a trance, also writes in Hindi. Simandini finishes the bill and gives it to Kayu for his perusal. While he reads the princess reflects on her life and the new legislation's meaning-greater rights for all, regardless of caste or sex. Rouka appears, and he and Simandini begin to flirt and then sing a love duet. Kayu presents the bill to Rouka, and the two men leave. Alone Simandini reflects on the changing times. Kayu rushes in, distraught and desperate, for Rouka has been killed and the murderers are hunting for the princess. In the parlor Helene is feverish; she feels her death is near. Simandini remains defiant and curses her fate. Kayu ushers the princess from the palace to safety.

Act I, Scene iv

ln the parlor, Helene has fallen into a deep sleep, and Theodore uses the time to muse on her condition. The Guiding Spirit reenters the parlor and is angered by the doctor's analyses. He nudges Helene awake so that she may defend herself.

Helene insists that she was Simandini in a past life and insinuates that Theodore was in fact Rouka. Flournoy can't believe this suggestion-it is contrary to all he believes possible, yet be is angered by science's rejection of his work. Helene consoles the doctor, claiming to know of a place where his ideas will be accepted. Theodore Flournoy, however, is not yet ready to go there.

Interlude

Back in the lecture hall auditorium Jung and Freud question Theodore about Helene Smith. Theodore again grieves the rejection of his life's work, and Jung and Freud attempt to solace him. Then Flournoy remembers something about chocolates and France.

Act II, Scene i


Theodore returns to the parlor. Helene is in another trance. She believes that in another past life she was Marie-Antoinette. The Guiding Spirit was her aide Phillipe. A room in Versailles appears on stage; Marie-Antoinette is relaxing in her bed chamber, eating chocolates. She is a queen of style, loved by the people, as she herself explains. King Louis appears and irritates the queen with his requests for some of her food. They argue, but Louis insists he needs something for the crowd of peasants gathered at the palace gate. Marie-Antoinette relents and reluctantly permits the king to give the throng her fruit.

The scene shifts to the Bastille. Marie-Antoinette is in prison being fed gruel by Phillipe. In the parlor Helene is awake, though still experiencing the queen's activities. Marie-Antoinette contemplates her situation-life without chocolates. Simandini appears in the prison cell, which surprises Helene and shocks Theodore. The princess explains that the queen will soon be executed and that she must leave. Simandini leads Marie-Antoinette out of the jail scene (across stage) into the parlor.

Act II, Scene ii

Theodore cannot believe his eyes; he can see both Marie-Antoinette and Simandini. The three women are determined to find a place of safety and acceptance. They conspire to create a world of their choosing on the planet Mars. From the edge of the parlor (still in the auditorium), Jung and Freud caution Theodore against this fantasy and madness. They insist Flournoy must return to the real world.

The women beckon the doctor to join them. On their world he will find his work valued, his advice and opinion sought. Theodore struggles to make sense of the surrounding events, to fit them to science.

Act II, Scene iii

The women gather around the parlor table for a seance, and begin to build their world on Mars. Jung and Freud continue to urge Theodore to return to his senses. Theodore ponders the relative merits of a real world filled with rejection and a fantasy world of acceptance.

The new world on Mars is finished, and together with the Guiding Spirit the women step onto it. Helene and the others invite Theodore to join them, while Jung and Freud press Flournoy to accept reality.

Act II, Scene iv

The scene dissolves back to the University of Geneva auditorium. Theodore now understands where he has been. Jung and Freud argue over Theodore's condition, the state of his mind. As they do, Theodore Flournoy slips away.

END

[ Act I, Scene 1Act I, Scene 2Act I, Scene 3Act I, Scene 4 ]
[ Interlude ]
[ Act II, Scene 1Act II, Scene 2Act II, Scene 3Act II, Scene 4 ]


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