A Ukulele Opera…Act #3.

Image result for Two lovers embracing.

Enrico and Rosaline.

[A surreal opening scene]:

The stage is depicted as the river’s edge…with the cliffs over the otherside..moonlit…Rosaline stands on the near bank while Tess is seen over the other side of the river…the river is narrow here so they both can see each other..there is a whisper of the wind in the gum trees and Rosaline starts to sing ( to the music of a ukulele) a lament to her sadness at leaving the river to go live in the city with her new lover, Enrico…simultanously, does Tess sing the lament as a sadness on the passing of the river out of the hands of her people…they both are losing something, but the one is sentimental, while the other is cultural…their voices mix and match in song and chorus…and their voices echo off the cliffs of the river..

Sung to the tune of “A Londonderry Air” ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgO0r0JBIRw

O’ River Flow.

O’ River flow, I hear your waters falling,

Tumbling o’er rock and rolling on to sea.

So many years I hear my name you’re calling,

While you’ll be here and I’ll be gone so far from thee.

xx

And never more will I return to hear you,

And never more your waters be my lover’s cue.

Tho’ you’ll be here with sunshine glistening brightly,

O’ River flow, O’ River flow for ever so true.

xx

When days are dark and my hopes they are failing,

And I am lost as lost, your child can be,

You’ll fill my dreams with hope and promise calling,

And through the nights your flow will carry me.

xx

Tho’ never more will I come to see you,

And never more your waters be a lover’s cue,

It’s you’ll be here in my thoughts shining brightly,

O’ River flow, so softly flow to my rescue.

xx

Tho’ never more will I come to see you,

And never more your waters be my lover’s cue,

It’s you’ll be here in thoughts shining brightly,

O’ River flow, my River flow, forever true.

To return to the story…

Joe, the narrator tells of Enrico’s story..:

“You see, he had only just landed at Outer Harbour in the year of 1939 when he was immediately informed that being an “enemy alien”, of Italian extraction he would be interned…but the company he gained work with as a stone-mason/bricklayer gave him a choice..; He could be interned with the rest of the Italians in the Riverland, or he could go to Darwin to do work that the company had contracts for there on the hospital and the wharfs…He chose the latter…but then when he was working there, Darwin got bombed by the Japanese and he had to make his way back down the centre to here with us other Italians.. as fate would have it…

“Guiseppi!…how would your luck be” Enrico exclaimed to me when he got here, “ I leave Italy to get away from Mussolini, and then I come here to get bombed out by Tojo!….where does one go for a bit of peace in this world?”

Anyway…here he was and here he would stay….at least for the duration…and ..like the rest of us, he wasn’t very happy with the option.”

Joe, the narrator continues..He reads from a sheet of paper….

“Now at last I am free!

Off through the scrub I run

Where sheep tracks only are seen

Nothing but bush and sun

Till all of a sudden I come

Out where an axe swings free.

Cutting, for love and money

The axe bites deep in a tree…”

“A passing moment does not a lifetime make, but a moment’s passion can be a lifetime’s mistake….or..good fortune.  A life brought into being by the strangest union in the most unusual chances and circumstances one could imagine. He from the north of Italy, in the Dolomites, she from the ‘heartbreak country’ of the Murray Mallee in Australia..

They met on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline. He there to collect a truck-load of water for the camp, she on an evening ambulation from Portee Station where she worked as a servant girl.

He being able to speak barely a word of English, she not being able to understand a single word of Italian..But they met and exchanged pleasantries as only such ethnically diverse  strangers could.”

He asked (in Italian) if they ate well at the big house…;

“Mangiano bene nella grande casa?”

She replied ( in English)..:

“ The evening light falling on the river spreads a certain calm over the waters…don’t you think?”

He was a stone-mason by trade.

She desired to be a poet.

They got on well, and in the intervening months, while Enrico’s English improved immensely, so did their congenial meetings..by now a regular, mutually agreeable thing. As the Summer evenings became more and more pleasant and the days longer, Enrico would linger at his duties of pumping water into the tanker longer than was allocated by his roster and he was questioned by Joe on his arrival back at the camp..

“What do you get up to there by the riverside to be away for so long?” Joe asked.

“ I listen to the birds sing and observe the calming light on the waters”..Enrico answered.

“And this singing birdy you listen to..what is her name?” Joe cynically responded..

“Rosaline.” Enrico smiled.

Indeed, They did eventually wed..the youthful composer of the above doggerel ; Rosaline Thomas and the refugee Italian ; Enrico Corradini (whom she would call; “Ricky”). And as she describes her running through the scrub to meet with her lover, I can now ask, knowing the ending of her story ; Was she running to embrace life, or running from a desolate lifestyle?..And Enrico, the refugee , HE we know was running from hunger and war, but did he realise then as he surely did later, what and where was he running to?”

Enrico arrived at the Charcoal camp a week after Artini’s attemped escape and drowning in the Murray River. So the whole camp was in the doldrums over that affair. There was little appetite for getting to know any new arrivals at the moment..the whole camp ran on “automatic pilot” and Enrico was given the easy job of just going to the river twice a week to get a tanker full of water. It was on one of these trips that he met Rosaline.

The “unofficial” story surrounding their meeting and courtship is recorded in the family circle..It seems the erstwhile Enrico was out trapping rabbits one day and he got lost..only to stumble onto the dusty bush camp where, coincidently, the young Rosaline was in attendance to her mother ; Grace Thomas, who was expecting her fifth child. Rosaline’s father, having difficulty understanding the gesticulating “eyetalian”, instructed Rose to show him the track leading to the presumed wood-cutters camp from whence he came.

In truth, the information on the whereabouts of that family’s camp-site away in the bush from another charcoal-burning camp a couple of kilometres from Fox’s camp, and the fact that Rosaline would be at that camp-site on such a time of the month was passed to Enrico on one of their “accidental meetings” at the river’s edge..the trapping of rabbits was Enrico’s own innovation.

A week or so later, Enrico turned up again, rabbit traps in hand and lost again..the same procedure as last time was followed and that was that, until again..another week later Enrico shows up again, lost while trapping rabbits…this time, as Rosaline is leading the gentleman away, Richard Thomas scratched the back of his head in thought…he turned to his wife..:

“You know..that eyetie must be the worst trapper in the world…he’s never got one single bunny!”

Joe continues…;

“The camp that Rosaline’s parents were at was a couple of kilometres from our camp and it was run by a Slavic man named Jack…It was a rough camp of desperates and opportunists, with many accidents at the charcoal pit heads..for if those burns were not attended to or done right, they could suddenly explode into a shower of flame and sparks and set the whole camp aflame…Here, I will let Rosaline explain it from this poem she wrote of everyday life there..

“Also down in the camp,

The man are up and about,

Somebody waves a flagon,’

And another raises a shout!

Then a glass of wine is downed,

To help one through the day . . .”

So you can see, there was not much disciplined routine over in that camp and that is why Richard Thomas moved his family away into the scrub and pitched tent away from the men, as Mrs. Thomas and the young girls were the only women and children in the camp…So when Rosaline told Enrico she was going to stay with her mother because of the mother’s pregnancy, that developed into the occurrence of her mother having a miscarriage and Rosaline had to stay longer to both help with her mother’s recuperation and the schooling of the younger ones..so Enrico got to know Rosa and her family quite well over that time, with the family sometimes coming to play cards at the Italian camp..and then when Rosaline went back to work at Portee station, he resumed his job of going to the river to get water..and there he continued his courtship of Rosaline.”

Joe continues..:

“Now, the war is coming to an end..it won’t be long before the camp will be broken up and all these men will be able to go back to their dreams…but I wonder if those dreams will now become something different?….”

One afternoon, on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline sit talking of the future…The war is near an end and the Camp is due to be broken up…The Italians will be able to go back to their former plans and dreams…Enrico says to Rosaline:

“Rosa..what are we to do?…I will soon be sent back to the city..what will you do?”

Rosaline sat quietly looking over the river waters…then she spoke..not exactly TO Enrico, but to the quiet atmosphere around them both..:

“There’s an old German hand there at Portee who, whenever he has to cross the river on the punt to go to work on the other side, would pick up a small stone, a pebble, carry it across and place it on the other side….I once asked him why he did it….he was at first reluctant to tell me..but I persisted…

“Well, girlie”…( that’s what they all call young women out here)….”it is my own little thing…I think of the small stone as my soul,…you see, I cannot swim..and so I take the stone, carry it, and if or when I reach safely the solid ground on the other side, I leave it dzair….when I come back, I do the same”

“What happens if the punt starts to sink?” I asked.

“Dzen I will try to throw it with all my might, to the other side….and I think if it reaches there , then  I feel I too will reach there…”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Dzen, I think I vill be lost in the waters of the river…” Rosaline stopped abruptly and looked to Enrico with a sadness in her eyes..“Will I too be lost in the waters of the river, Enrico?” she asked. “Will my life’s hope be as desperate as that little pebble..nothing but a hope of something better?”

Enrico took her hands and looked deep into her eyes…he then asked the question he had been wanting to ask for a long time….

“Will you come to the city to be with me, Rosa?…Come to the city and we can soon be married…if you will have me.”

“O’, Ricky..how can we marry?…you see where my family lives..how my family lives…in a bag tent in the Mallee..I have nothing, you have little as you have said yourself..How can we start a life together?”

Enrico clasps her hands tight..

“But, my love..soon I will be back in the city..I have a job promised to me by Joe..he is a builder there..I will make my money..if you can find work there, we can both start a new life together..”

Rosaline brightens up at the new prospect, this new hope…

“Dr. Hackendorf and his wife are good friends of the owners of Portee Station and the Doctor has said many times that I could work and board with them if I ever decide to come to the city to live…I’ll see if that offer still stands”…

Enrico moves to kneel in front of the sitting Rosaline takes hold of her hands and sings this song to her..:

“El canto della sposa”..:

“The house of my darling,

Is all made of bags,

But for me who wishes to go there ,

It is a palace of silk..”  (etc.see : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-KqXtc0CFo )

Afterwards, they both go back to the camp, where they find the men there in an uproar at the news that Gemano’s fiancé has survived the war and has written a letter to Gemano…He rushes toward Enrico when he sees he and Rosaline arrive back from the river in the water truck…The opening music of Verdi’s “Requiem Dies Irae “  strikes up in the background ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79tAD1UZ7m0

 Gemano is waving a letter and crying out to the sky..

“She lives!!…she lives!!…my love is alive!…ahh, ha ha! ..she lives..” he drops to his knees and sobs.. “We have won, Enrico..we have both beaten death…for now…my love lives..she lives”

And he holds the letter up to Enrico who takes it gently and reads it..:

“Oh Gemano…truly you are fortunate…yes…she lives..” Enrico pauses, his brow furrows as he reads on..” She says here she now has a child…born during the war…”

“Yes, yes..I saw that..and she says she will only come to me if I accept the child as well.. what say you, Enrico…what do you think..”

“Do you still love her, Gemano?”

“Truly…more than I could say…so much more than I could say..”

“Then you must accept them both, Gemano…for they are both needing you as well..and who can say what has happened to those we left behind in that war…both you and I remember the last great war…so much killing of the young and old and raping of the women…the armies went up and down those valleys taking and using everything in their path so that none were spared..or none would survive..”…and he hands the letter back to Gemano…who takes it tenderly, folds it away into the envelope and places it into a top pocket…he then stands and takes out the old photograph he has of her..the stage darkens with a spotlight only on Gemano…he sings his song to the tune once again of ; “O’ mio babbino caro”…(I would also like to hear the soft strains of the ukulele mixed in tune with the symphonic music) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f59v8r1CBIo&list=PLabSmKXr9e_dZYdM61YNlQ40pRjjBPjYR&index=2&t=0s

“Now I will see my Sophia, (he holds her picture in front)

I still hold her picture so dear..

We will kiss at the station once more,

And I’ll put a white rose in her hair.

Just like this one I see here, (touches photo)

Now she is back I will kiss her,

Now she is back I shan’t miss her,

Once I see my Sophia,

I can’t believe she will be here,

I so want her to call my name,

Now I will see my Sophia,

Now I will hold my Fidanza,

We will kiss once more at the station,

I will put a rose in her hair, (Gemano strokes the picture lovingly)

I can hardly believe she will be here,

I so want her near me,

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, My darling, my dear.”

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, my darling, my dear.”

The music continues as the light slowly dims on Gemano, standing with his head bowed …

Joe the Narrator takes up the story…

“Ah…Gemano and Sophia…they did get married…by proxy..he here, she there in the old country and they finally joined together later when the ship brought her and her child to a new life here in Australia…and they had more children.

The camp was broken up not long after, and the men went back to their trades and work in the city and elsewhere…and look (Joe points to a heap of sacks left in a jumble at the back of the stage set ) there..in amongst the left over rubbish and sacks on their old life here..(He bends to pick up Gemano’s ukulele..it is battered and damaged and a couple of strings are broken) and see here..Gemano’s ukulele…what brought so much song and joy to so many nights in the camp..left to decay away with their memories…(he tosses it onto the heap of sacks) ..oh well..perhaps best it be so…so many dark days to walk away from…best it be so…”

Joe walks briskly off stage, whistling as he does so to the background music of “O’ mio babbino caro”…..

A Ukulele Opera….act #2.

Image result for A woodcutter pic.

 

A Ukulele Opera.

Act #2..:

Artini the woodcutter and Tess, the Aboriginal girl.

The tragedy that happened with Artini was in disobeying the request of the young Tess, distressed at the wanton cutting down of so many trees, to leave his mighty axe on the other side and cross the river by himself..but he decided he would need the axe to cut and build a humpy for himself after he crossed..so he secretly strapped it to his back under his coat so as not to offend her and he would reveal it once across when it would be too late for Tess to protest..I first heard his name when my sister, who visited one summer, translated some letters between my father and his relatives back in the Dolomites village where both he and the young man came from. He told of the tragedy of how Artini drowned in the Murray River whilst crossing a ford on instruction of Tess, his accomplice, who whilst on curfew and not permitted to be across that side of the river after dusk, was to help him cross via a secret ford there.

The plan was for Tess to “sing” a song of a cockatoo to direct Artini to a secret ford in the river, unfortunately, on that very night of his crossing, the sluice-gates of Lock 1 just up-river at Blanchetown were opened and a surge of water came down the river to catch him whilst in the middle of the ford..He was swept away as he cried that it was his axe, his mighty axe dragging him down and he could not swim…Tess cried for him to throw the axe away, but it was tied too tight and he could not get it off…and he consequently drowned that night in the river..His body was later found and it was recorded as “death by drowning..an unfortunate accident “…But my father’s letters tell a different story.

But here is the mythological songline that has grown around the story..It goes like this :

Joe, the narrator tells the yarn..

“ Artini was the biggest, best, strongest Italian woodcutter in the Swan Reach district during the war years..The ‘ring’ of his mighty axe could be heard miles away through the mallee!  His axe was of the hardest steel special made from his own instructions by the blacksmith in the camp…the handle he cut and shaped himself from the hardest mallee wood..and it was so heavy, it could not be used by any of the other woodcutters in the camp. Artini was an “enemy alien” internee from the Italian Alps; The Dolomites, who used to cut wood for the charcoal burning camps in the mallee.

Artini could often be heard singing an alpine song “Ill tuo fazzolettino”(“Give me your bandana, my darling…”) in his dialect as he swung his mighty axe at the mallee trees ..His voice was so strong it would carry for a great distance through the tops of the mallee trees and it was heard by Tess one day as she fetched water from the river.

Tess was a young aboriginal woman who lived at the mission over the other side of the river near Swan Reach. She would also get some work at Portee Station just up the Murray a bit from the mission. The trees were a part of her life and of important significance to her people and every tree that Artini cut down was as a wound to her heart.

Artini was cutting wood a little way from the river, Gemano was his offsider, but Artini worked so fast and was so good that all Gemano had to do was to keep out of his way and play his ukulele as Artini swung his axe to the tunes…unfortunately, Gemano is still lamenting for his fiancé back home of whom he has yet to hear from because of the war.”

“Gemano!” Artini called “haven’t you a cheerful song with a faster beat..something I can really get stuck into?”

Gemano thought for a minute..then;

“What about Funiculi Funicula?”

“Anything rather than your sad laments…I have work to do..”

Gemano plays a lively version of the song on the ukulele and Artini makes words up as he works along with the rhythm.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW0W7j04iRQ

“Working, working all the live-long day!,

Working, working, for as long as they make me stay!

In the spring, in the Summer, every blasted day…

Cutting wood, burning wood till Foxxy gets his pay!. . . “

And:

“Rabbit, rabbit..it’s all they got for chow!

Rabbit, rabbit and potatoes stewed so slow…

No garlic,no onions, or polenta, and NO pasto..

Underground mutton is the only food they know.”

Tess creeps up from the river to hide behind a tree and watches and listens to the two Italians at their work. Gemano spots her from his laying against a log. He stops playing..

“Oh..hello….we have an audience”

Artini stops cutting and looks up..He sees Tess and calls to her..

“Hey there..are you one of the river people?”…Tess hesitates to reply, then she gingerly speaks…

“Why do you sing as you cut the trees?”

“I like to sing and it helps me to keep a rhythm as I work”. Artini replies.

“But you are killing the tree.” Tess says, “It can’t be nice for the tree.”

Artini makes a pout and a surprised twist of his face as he considers this different perspective..then he says ;

“Well..I’m afraid out here, I am a prisoner and I am also dying..but slowly, and there is no escaping my situation..so it is either the tree or me…and there is no-one to sing for me.”..he thinks for a moment..”unless YOU want to sing a song for me?” and he smiles to Tess.

“I cannot sing your type of song…and anyway, you sing beautifully…can you sing another?”

Artini smiles again and his vanity is flattered..after all, he IS a good singer with a strong voice..He calls to Gemano..

“Gemano…play us the tune of O’ Sole Mio and I will show this lass how we Italians sing.” Artini leans his axe against the tree and takes off his neckerchief..Gemano sits up and concentrates as he plays the tune of “O Sole Mio”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEqeB2_25Yo

(again, Artini playfully makes up his own words)

“ O’ solo mio,

I am here alone,

In another country,

So far from my home.

Working for the bastardi,

And the rotten food they feed me,

Without love, without hope and without fazooli!

O’ solo mio,

Will I ever be free,

Will there be a lover,

Come and rescue me?

But these bastardi Englandi,

Say I must cut the mallee,

Without love, without hope and I say ; ma fungooli!”

Gemano finishes with a laugh and a flourish on his ukulele.

“Bravo! Artini…never have sweeter words been sung for that song!”

Artini bows to Gemano and then bows to Tess who curtsies in reply.

 

After this song, Artini says that he must go back to work, and Tess also has to cart water from the river..But before they part, Tess asks Artini..:

“Why are you one of those prisoners?”

“Ah, signorina..because of the war between yours and my countries..and I am considered an enemy.”

“We are not at war with anybody” Tess exclaims….Artini has to think on this for a moment then he laughs as he realises Tess was referring to her aboriginal people.

“Not your people..but the government of your country.”

“This is our country” Tess says as she sweeps her arm out “But those white fellas are not OUR government”…she finishes in anger.

“ Then you and your people are their prisoners also” Artini finishes “And they demand I work for my supper..as bad as it is..C’mon, Gemano play another tune..I have an hour’s work yet to do…Addio signorina!”

Joe the narrator continues..:

“Tess sets about to lure Artini with friendship and to help him to stop cutting the trees, throw away his mighty axe and escape the internment camp to cross the river and be free. Several times when she hears his songs through the trees, she goes to where he works and brings him small parcels of tasty food from the station kitchen…They become friends.

It is indeed a strange irony..that there, across the river near Swan Reach, the aborigines are held in an internment camp also…of course, it is not called “internment”, it is called a mission, although their movements are strictly monitored and there is an after dark curfew in place…so those people, like us Italians are seen as some sort of enemy of the government..and this same government sends soldiers over to Europe to fight what they call “the fascist enemy” and so we Italians. Having been branded by our nationality as potential enemies must be held as an example that the government will keep the citizens safe…yet what is the reason for imprisoning the aborigine people but to prove that the government is as much a fascist regime as those they fight in Europe?…To the fascisti, all who are not fascist are the enemy…but also to the English colonists, it would seem that all who are not English are the enemy…an irony, surely?…because this province..this “South Australia” was started as a corporate state..and is that not the fascist ideal? ”

 

The light fades from Joe to light up Tess and Artini sitting on a log..

“Would you like to escape the camp?” Tess asks.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” Artini replies..Tess looks at him questionly..’Ah ha!..of course..not your faith…to your question..yes..if there was such a possibility”…and he continues to eat his food.

“I could help you.” Tess says.

“You?…what..you can overpower the guards? You can drive a car to take me out of this…” Artini makes a sweeping gesture with his arm…. “God knows where we are!!”

“I could help you cross the river and then hide you till you can get away.”

“Why?…..Why would you help me?”

Tess is silent for a minute..she looks intently at Artini…she then answers..

“Because as you say…I too am a prisoner here…myself , my family and people are held captive by these white people…I cannot leave..I cannot escape..but if I can help you escape, then just for that little bit, a little piece of me too can escape with you..and wish you luck as you go..”

“Then why don’t you come with me?” Artini asked.

“Can you not see what is so insultingly obvious to so many in this country?…my skin colour…it is black!…YOU, with your fair skin and blue eyes can slip amongst the white fellah unnoticed…but how would you hide me?….No..I am a prisoner in more ways than just a locked gate.”…..Tess then sings a soft lament to Artini..:

“Would that my spirit take,

A long trod path from thy gate,

Would that my dreaming roam,

Far from the white man’s cruel domain.

Far from the gaze of his wanton eyes,

Into the heavens bright sunrise.

O’ could that my dreaming would let me roam,

Into the vast wilds of my traditional home…..

No..we are held in ransom here, but to see you escape their domination would comfort me…”

Tess tells him of a possible escape from the internment camp ..he could be hidden in a secret cave known only to the aborigines of the river, and from there he could make his way when safe to the city. Artini likes the idea, but he cannot swim to cross the river and the ferry is guarded, so Tess says she will “sing” him a song one night to guide him across a secret ford in the river known only to the aboriginal people there, but on one condition…; he must leave his mighty axe behind and cross without it..She told him of the spot on the river bank where he should await for her song to call him to cross safely.

His friends tried to dissuade Artini from following through with his reckless plan and pointed out the difficulty he would meet being in the companionship of a native woman..But the more they tried, the angrier he got and finally he said angrily to them ;

“So what if Tess is of another people..am not I , are not WE despised only for our blood, our nationality?…and if she is “native” of this land, am I not also “native”of my land?..And I am a son of the Dolomites ..I am a man of the mountains of Italy and I..Artini, while I am yet a man, will decide who I will join in with, where I will live..not the guards of this camp nor anyone else.”…and that was the last he would hear of it..he was decided..The young have passionate hearts.

Her “song “ she would disguise as a lyrical call of a cockatoo that live in the trees along the river…and he must wait until she makes that specific call, as there is sometimes a surge of water comes down the river from Lock-1 at Blanchetown and it is dangerous to cross when that is happening..But Artini, coming from another land is not that familiar with the song of the cockatoo and mistakes another real bird calling in the night… the call of the Bush Stone Curlew..a native bird of the area..a call that the indigenous peoples regard as a harbinger of death!( hear it here.. ;  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi1GX_VRaM0 )

It is getting close to Christmas and the camp was making ready for celebration..even if it be a most humble one…A native pine tree of suitable size was cut and placed in the camp shelter and decorations of tinsel made of the silver-foil from packets of cigarettes shimmered upon the branches. On the night of the planned escape, the other men gathered to sing and make distraction to the guards.

The conspiracy was going to plan..Artini had crept away from the makeshift woodcutters camp in the mallee..These camps were temporal things and so isolated that the guards saw no great need to be severe in their habits..indeed, the Italians, using the grapes from the Loveday area near Loxton made their own wine which they smuggled along with them whenever they were sent to the wood-cutting camps..On the night of Artini’s escape, Some other Italian men conspired to distract the guards with wine and song..they sang their songs to the accompaniment of home-made instruments…in this case the ukulele.

[ Insert here a version of “Little Drummer Boy” played on a ukelele with drum backing struck up quickly by Gemano for cover to distract the guards suddenly wanting to do a head-count while Artini escapes.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-ZfJrmuqa0  ]

Artini had agreed to Tess’s demand , but at the last moment secretly straps his mighty axe to his back under his coat as he thought he would need it to cut wood for shelter once he crossed the river. .. but when he sets out to cross the river…The river spirits , seeing his duplicity and intent send a torrent of water down and he is threatened to be swept off the ford..Tess, on hearing his cry, realizes he is weighed down by his mighty axe and tells him to throw it into the waters..but he cannot untie it from under his coat and so he is swept away.

[ In reality, the plan was for Tess to sing a song of a river bird to direct Artini to a secret ford in the river, unfortunately, on that very night of his crossing, the sluice-gates of Lock 1 just up-river at Blanchetown were opened and a surge of water came down the river to catch him whilst in the middle of the ford..He was swept away as he cried that it was his axe, his mighty axe dragging him down and he could not swim…and he consequently drowned that night in the river..His body was later found and it was recorded as “death by drowning..an unfortunate accident “…But my father’s letters tell a different story.]

Artini cries out in despair a last cry!…

”Tess..sweet Tess..sing a song in memory of me!”

Tess cries out his name in anguish…

“Artini!!..Artini!!” ….much like the anguished wail of the bush-stone curlew…

( The ukulele is heard to play a soft lament for Artini..) Il fiore di Teresina .. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o8J5rBUiy4

Joe the Narrator continues..:

“We never did know if Artini and Tess had intention to join together as a couple of whether they were just partners in Artini’s mad dash to freedom..for we never saw Tess again and she never went back to work on the station where Rosaline also worked ….Whatever their design , one thing is certain..Artini did escape beyond the cares of this life’s burdens…”

And to this day, his cry of despair and her intermingled lament can still sometimes be heard as the call of the Bush Stone-Curlew blown in the wind through the mallee trees…”

(Song to be accompanied by a Ukulele )

Tess and the Woodsman.

I wake in the morning under spreading gum trees,

I wake to the murmur of the mighty Murray.

To the call of the cockeys in the leaves of the trees….

But the sweetest sound is my Tess of the Mallee.

Chorus:

Oh Tess..sweet Tess..sing a song for me,

Oh Tess of the mallee, how I love thee.

At the dawn of the day, on the evening breeze.

Far ‘cross the river, yet so close to me.

xxx

I am a woodcutter, an axe man by trade.

My song that I sing is sung with the blade

And did draw sweet Tess to my accolade,

Sweet Tess of the mallee is my pretty maid.

Across the river I hear her sweet voice,

She sings as the curlew to come and be close

But the river is wide and swim I cannot

With my mighty axe hidden under my coat.

Chorus…; ( Oh Tess, sweet Tess..etc.)

To swim I am not able but I must try

To reach my dear Tess on the far side

(Pause to change “person” and “talk” these last two lines )

But the stones they slip away from his feet

And the river takes him from her sweet embrace.

“My axe it drags me down” he cries,

“Cast it away my love!” Tess did advise.

But tight under his coat it was tied,

So too late to undo and there he did die.

Chorus : ( Oh Tess..etc )

The river it takes him and there he will lie,

So come to the river Tess to sing by its side

To sing him awake and sing him at night

Sing me dear Tess oh my mallee delight.

(only the next stanza ; slowly, softly)

Now in the dusk you can hear her sweet lullaby

As she sings to her woodsman the bush-curlew’s cry.

But in the early dawn she’ll sing him this song

And the ring of his axe follow in harmony along..

Chorus..

Oh Tess..sweet Tess..sing a song for me,

Oh Tess of the mallee, how I love thee.

At the dawn of the day, on the evening breeze.

Far ‘cross the river , yet so close to me.

 

Stage falls back into darkness…

( To be continued into act #3..)

 

A Ukulele Opera…Act #1.

Image result for Old pictures of person playing ukulele pics...

Introduction to a “reading opera”..

I have written this “opera” as a reading experience..in truth, perhaps more the story of an opera in three acts…I would have liked to do a “real” opera, with music and libretto etc, but was not able to find someone with both music composing capability or instrument playing skills to assist myself to that end…hence ; plan “C”…a setting with some songs both localised Italian folk and a touch of known Neapolitan arias and symphonic music with re-written words.

I know that time is of the essence these days and skimming of text is the usual habit of reading, but if you could take the time to play the pieces linked for the words and those songs that accompany a moment, it would be a better read for it and much appreciated by the author.

Thanking you in advance…

An opera in three acts..: One; Introduction and setting with Gemano…Two : The friendship and tragedy of Artini and Tess…Three ; The finale with Enrico and Rosaline…

You may desire, but you may not “want”.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-34.4194126,139.5208508,206m/data=!3m1!1e3

If you click on these coordinates above..it will take you to a place in the Murray Mallee where you will see several long rows of what look like little squares..these squares are in fact charcoal burning pits dug and lined with stone in the years of the second world war..The pits were to produce charcoal in lieu of the lack of petrol for trucks and cars in the war years…the charcoal was used in “gas-converter engines” in those trucks etc…Many Italians were held here and other camps in the Mallee for the duration of the war, some as “enemy aliens” others as lesser risk aliens..some as young as seventeen.

This is their story.

It is 1942, the Japanese have bombed Darwin and petroleum products have been rationed so that charcoal is in demand for the gas-converters used on cars and trucks instead of petrol. Many Italians, Germans and other nationals considered as “enemy aliens” have been rounded up and sent to camps in the Riverland for the duration of the war.

Act # 1..

Gemano.

Introduction and setting.

The stage is in darkness, only the faint but increasing depth of music of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” wafts out…and then a spotlight illuminates a youngish man sitting on and amongst a heap of sacks bundled and tied and some loose around him…He is fiddling with the tuning of a musical instrument..a ukulele..as he does so, he absently-minded sings bits and pieces of the above words to the music played…

We watch him for some time as he sings and fiddles with the tuning of the instrument..then another spotlight falls onto a man standing to the side of the stage…he is Giuseppe (Joe), the narrator of the story..He looks at the man with the ukulele and then turns to the audience..

“He’s a sight, isn’t he?…..there fiddling with his project while the world around him burns”..He calls to the man.. “Hey, Gemano!..when are you going to make a finish to that thing?”

“When it plays a tune for me”..the man calls back without looking up.

Joe laughs softly…then addresses the audience..

“He’s been making that dammed ukulele for more than three months.. He used to play in a band back in the old country…up in the Dolamites…there, we would be house-bound by snow for the deep winter so that there was little anyone could do outside…every source of water was frozen over including the communal clothes-washing troughs, so that even the washing had to be piled in a corner as the clothes would freeze solid on the line if placed outside..the houses had three levels : The larger animals stabled under the house so their warmth rose to the middle level where the people lived and the top floor was the store for the food for the animals which acted as a insulator above and the feed would be tossed down from an open door to the animals below.

So all they did besides the house chores and feeding of the animals, was to create and sing songs and tell stories…rest and recreation..and it was good…But now, in this new country, with the war, we are trapped and alone..and out here the Sun seems always to be shining!….so no rest for the wicked…

They’re all like that here…lost souls sent to this lonely place as enemy aliens in another country…They’re out here in the Murray Mallee cutting wood to “cook” in the charcoal pits to make fuel for the gas-converter units for the trucks and cars during this war…Petrol being unavailable to the average citizen, charcoal is used and we are here making the charcoal out of cut mallee wood and us Italian internees are held here to do the cutting and burning…I am in charge of keeping them in line..well..just keeping them in some sort of loose contentment…as much as I am able that is…while we get the job done…..I work for Mr, Fox…he is contracted by the government to produce so much charcoal per month for the war effort…Mr Fox lives in the city and comes here on occasion to inspect the operation. We all know when Mr. Fox is coming, as those cutting near the main road can see his car coming from a distance and they then call out in a relay one to another to all in the camp…: “Foxee!..Foxee!” ..so we hurry and get things in order before he turns up.

We sing this little ditty as we hurry .. :

“The Fox, the fox, he’s out on the track!
The fox, the fox, he’ll soon be on our backs!
Hurry! Hurry! .. the camp it must be clean.
All the chickens scurry, scurry,
For the Fox he can be mean!
Some men take the bagging,
Some men stack the racks,
Hurry, hurry, hurry, for the fox is on our backs!”

Not all the men are content to be here…some are just thankful to have escaped Mussolini’s wrath, but some came to this country for a better life and are not interested in the politics of the thing…I myself came here in 1927 on the invitation of an old friend who was here…Come over, he said..you’ll like it…Is there food there I asked…yes, he replied..plenty…so I came and I am fed rabbit!…they call it underground mutton…I just ate and ate…we were starving to death back home…Buono!”

[just at this point, Gemano strums his ukulele for the first time..it sounds pleasant to him]

The Narrator jerks his head toward Gemano and continues…:

“Take Gemano there..he left The mountains of the Dolomites to start a new life here in a new country…He left his fiancé back there while he intended to set himself up in this new land, then he intended to go back and marry her and bring her here to Australia..but the war broke out..and now he hasn’t heard of his beloved Sofia for many a month and he is stuck here in this camp broken hearted…he has a picture of her and he accosts every new man that comes here from the Dolomites and begs them if they have heard anything of his love…it’s painfully sad to hear him lament…

Look!…see there, a couple of new chaps now..see how keen he is to ask them…”

[ Gemano Filosi stops the two men and produces a photograph from his inside pocket and shows it to them…we do not hear their words, but we can see them shake their heads in regret…Gemano lets them go and stands alone on the stage…his head bowed..the music of “O’ mio babbino caro” begins..he sings his lament to the audience as he holds out the photograph..: ]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f59v8r1CBIo&list=PLabSmKXr9e_dZYdM61YNlQ40pRjjBPjYR&index=2&t=0s

“Has anyone seen my Sophia…..

Here is her picture..I hold it so dear…

We kissed on the steps at the station,

And I put a white rose in her hair,

There behind her right ear..

look, you can see it here! (he points to the picture)

And now she is gone I miss her..

And at night’s end I can’t kiss her.

Has anyone at all seen my Sophia? (Gemano pleads)

I can’t believe she’s not here….

I so want her near me…

Has anyone seen Sophia……

Has anyone seen my fidanza…

We kissed at the station and

I put a rose in her hair..

Now I can’t believe she’s not here..

I so want her near me….

Have you seen my Sophia?

My darling…my love…my dear.

Has anyone seen my Sophia?

My darling…my love…my dear…

Gemano then silently turns and returns to the heap of bags and once again attends to the ukulele…Guiseppe, the narrator nods his head in sympathy..he continues..

“Ah!…still he makes the best of his situation…Everyone here has lost someone or something in this blasted war..You wonder why these men have to be tortured some more by being isolated out here in the Mallee..”

Gemano Filosi turned the tuning peg to adjust the last string on his hand-made ukulele. Satisfied on the tension, he tapped the conical, wedge-shaped peg tight into its allotted hole and placed the small hammer on the ground next to himself….this was the moment…now was the testing time to see if all his skills as a joiner that he pulled together to make this musical instrument out of old tea-chest plywood, mallee-wood neck and fretboard with some old piano wire begged from the Blanchetown Hotel owner for strings would pay off….

Gemano settled himself gingerly amongst the bags with the ukulele cradled in his arm and strummed the first notes…

“Whallyo!” he cried in joy when the notes played out clear as a bell into the evening air…and he then strummed some more…

The spotlight on Joe fades and the stage lights up to reveal a group of men sitting around a table playing cards..they stop their game and look to Gemano..some men there turned their heads to the sound of the music..and they smiled..and some call out felicitations and congratulations to Gemano, whom many thought a little more than silly in trying to make a musical instrument out of such inglorious materials…

“Can you play a tune, Gemano?” they cry…several men gathered around him..

“Of course I can! “ Gemano responded “Was I not in a band before I was sent here?….what shall I play?” he asked the now small gathering of internees and outcasts..

“Play us some Verdi”…a wit suggested with a laugh..”Rossini!” another followed…Gemano thought for a moment then responded..

“I know…I will play a bit of Opera .. a song I picked up just before I came here ….are you ready..?” and he smiled his big, bright, broad smile for which he was nicknamed ; “The Bay of Naples”…or just “Naples” for short..

The men all clamour ; “Yes..play, play!”

So Gemano struck up the ukulele to the tune of George Formby’s ; “When I’m cleaning windows”.…He sings in a broken Italo/English manner…

“Now I go a cleanin’ windows to earn an honesta bob
Fora the nosy parker it’s an intrestin’ job

Now it’s a job that just suits me
A window cleaner you woulda be
If you can see what I canna see
When I’m cleanin’ windows”…Gemano stands and walks around the group of men singing some more of the silly song as he does so…

The men let out a raucous laugh at the cheek of Gemano and the ludicrous song…the first song they had shared to played music for such a long time..and just through that simple sound of music and singing a sense of joy and happiness spread over the camp for the first time in ages.

There follows several favourite folk songs…like : ”La Paganella”.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYJT9GeQw-o

One of the young men; Artini, was angry at his situation..he berates the men for their lack of anger at their situation..

“Why do we all just sit and accept our situation?…Why are we stuck in this lonely scrub working for nothing but food and thankfulness to our captors?.. and all we do is sing silly songs..I didn’t come all this way to waste my young years as a mule to these Englandi delinquents!…Look at us..they call US enemy aliens and lock us away..and then those aborigine people there who were the first natives of the land..I was talking to one of them today, and they too are locked away every night..they call them “enemy aliens “ too and lock THEM away in reserves across the river!…so now both of us peoples are captives to those bloody Englandi colonists who think they own the bloody place even over the first peoples!!…They lock everyone away who is not English..what are these people..bastardi?..and us, do you not remember the vow we made to our loved ones back home?..that we will make a life for ourselves and send help back to them?…”

Artini then goes to each man in turn as he encourages them to join in and sing a song about it…”Sul Ponte di Bassano” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3J4kY3Ov8A&list=RDc3J4kY3Ov8A&start_radio=1&t=0

To be continued into act 2…