Sung in English with projected English translation
Appropriate for ages 13+
1 hour, 30 minutes
Number of intermissions: 1
A Chamber Opera in Two Acts, Based on Compleat Female Stage Beauty, by Jeffrey Hatcher; By Special Arrangement with Lionsgate
Music and Libretto by Carlisle Floyd
A king’s decision drastically alters the life of an actor and the future of the theater.
The androgynous Edward Kynaston has become an idol of London's Restoration-era theater for his finely honed and utterly convincing portrayals of female characters. But with the stroke of a pen, King Charles II not only allows women to appear onstage but also forbids men from performing as women. Only Kynaston's mastery of his craft keeps him from being swept away by the tides of change.
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center
Edward Kynaston (c. 1640–1712) was one of the last Restoration actors to perform women’s roles on the English stage. Prince of Players deals with the crisis that this idolized star experienced when his career came to a halt with an edict from Charles II: “No He shall ere again upon an English stage play She”.
Homeless as a child during the Civil War, Kynaston was taken off the streets by an actor made redundant as a consequence of the closing of the theaters. Through him Kynaston learnt obsolete acting techniques. The opera follows Kynaston’s fall from stardom, his descent into the theatrical lowlife, and his struggle to restore his stage identity set against the panorama of the 17th Century London
Edward Kynaston is performing the role of Desdemona in Othello, opposite Thomas Betterton, the famed actor-manager of the Duke’s Company in London. The spontaneous applause he receives upon Desdemona’s death interrupts the flow of the production and upsets several members of the acting company.
After the performance, the artists are presented to Charles II and his mistress, the erstwhile orange seller, Nell Gwynn, now an aspiring artiste herself.
Two society ladies seek Kynaston out backstage. They are so taken by his impersonation of Desdemona that they doubt whether he actually is a man. Kynaston’s dresser, Peg Hughes, watches how they flirt with disgust and sings of her secret passions for Kynaston and for acting.
As Kynaston, still in his stage costume, and the ladies stroll in St. James’s Park, they are accosted by Sir Charles Sedley, who takes all three for meandering prostitutes. Kynaston plays a dirty trick on Sedley but the joke does not go down well. Sedley vows revenge.
Several days later, Kynaston practices hand gestures on a dim stage while waiting on his lover, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Peg watches Kynaston rehearse and confesses her desire to act herself. As she practices hand gestures with Kynaston, Villiers enters, recognizing Peg from her stage performance at a pub theater a night ago. He informs Kynaston that she will be performing that night again. Peg rushes off, embarrassed that Kynaston now knows her secret. Kynaston is disgusted by the idea of a woman acting; Villiers calms him and suggests that Kynaston joins him at the Oak Apple Day celebrations at the Palace of Whitehall.
At the royal banquet, Kynaston is once again presented to Charles II and Nell Gwynn who hardly recognize him in a man’s attire. In attendance is also Sedley who reveals to be promoting Peg’s burgeoning stage career. Kynaston makes sure that Sedley realizes it was Kynaston whom he propositioned in St James’s Park. Sedley is seething.
Nell raves about Peg being the first woman on the English stage and Charles II consents: “Out with the old, in with the new.” Anxious of the demise of his career, Kynaston begs Charles II to reconsider, but the king ultimately pronounces his edict.
Betterton is on stage rehearsing a scene from King Lear. He is awaiting Nell and Peg who are coming along with their protectors to audition for roles. Kynaston bemoans the consequences of the royal edict. Betterton urges him to take male roles; Kynaston attempts to do so in front of Nell and Peg, but has great difficulty and finally leaves the theater, humiliated.
Villiers awaits Kynaston at his London residence. Kynaston arrives haggard and disheveled. Villiers pronounces his decision to terminate their affair, offering money to the obviously struggling Kynaston. Kynaston declines and leaves Villiers with a kiss on the forehead, quoting a familiar passage from Othello.
Kynaston gets an engagement at a bawdy tavern where he performs in drag as “Lusty Louise”. Peg appears in the audience during the performance and publicly offers to pay for Kynaston’s release.
Outside, she and Kynaston are accosted by thugs who physically assault Kynaston. Peg notices Sedley in the shadows and realizes this has been his doing. She takes Kynaston to his rooms to recover.
Peg’s relationship with Kynaston grows deeper over time as she tends to his wounds. He talks to her of his traumatic childhood and she confesses her love for him. She also admits to her limitations as an actress, only capable of imitating what she learned from observing Kynaston. Kynaston challenges her to perform the scene her own way. Aroused by the intimate moment, Kynaston begins to make love to her.
At Duke’s Theatre, Betterton is desperate to save the Royal Command Performance in which Peg refuses to participate unless Othello is restaged—by Kynaston. Betterton begs Kynaston to rescue the show and Kynaston consents.
Once restaged, the audience sees a different version of Othello: Kynaston himself is playing the title role and Othello’s relationship with Desdemona, stripped off the old-fashioned histrionics, takes on stage realism that has not been seen before.
Synopsis by Jane Matheny
|Grand Guarantor||Guarantor||Grand Underwriter||Underwriter|
Houston Grand Opera Endowment, Inc.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. David B. Duthu
Cynthia and Anthony Petrello
Lynn S. Wyatt
Robin Angly and Miles Smith
Glen A. Rosenbaum