A Ukulele Opera…Act #1.

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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”.


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..


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 lyrics to the above 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..: ]

“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…

Come back to me, Sophia,

Don’t leave me here all alone,

Return and come back home…

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 fun .. 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!”

Tiptoe through the Mallee.

Come tiptoe through shed door,

By that rattlin’ door, that’s where I’ll be,

Come tip toe through the Mallee with me.

Tiptoe with your bag-pillow,

To the water-bag in the mallee tree,

‘Cause they let us all drink there for free.


Shades of..night they are creeping,

Mallee.. galahs they are shreaking,

Drunkards and lazzeroni sleeping,

The charcoal pits are glowering,

All alone I’m dreaming, when I’ll be free.


Come tiptoe through the scraping’ door,

On concrete floor, that’s where I’ll be,

Come stumble through the mallee with me.

Tip toe from your bag-pillow,

To the shadow of the mallee trees,

And tip toe through the bindy-eye with me.


Knee-deep…in saltbush we’ll stray,

Brushing…our eyes to keep the blow-flies away,

And if I kick you in the scrub-bush,

Won’t you please just a scusa me,

If I see a brown snake have a go at your knee!


So tiptoe through the ant beds,

Through the wombat’s dangerous digs,

Come trip over the mallee stumps with me,

Tiptoe with your bag pillow,

We’ll use it to swish the mozzies away,

While we stumble through the mallee today.


Knee-deep…in saltbush we’ll stray,

Brushing…our eyes to keep the blow-flies away,

And if I kick you in the scrub-bush,

Won’t you please just a scusa me,

If I see a brown snake have a go at your knee!


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”..

As the songs are being sung by the group of men in the shed, a spotlight suddenly shines down on a young man standing at the door to the shed..he is staring outside, presumably at the stars in the sky..he turns as he hears the men singing…he stands while they finish the song then strides in amongst them..he is angry and frustrated..Artini, the young man in question was angry at his situation..he berates the men for their lack of anger at their situation..

“Why do we all just sit here 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 Ostraliani delinquents!…Look at us..they call US enemy aliens and lock us away..and then those aborigine people there, the original natives of this land..I was talking to one of them today, and they too are locked away every night over the other side of the river..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 Ostrali’ lazzeroni…drunks and delinquints who think they own the bloody place even over the native 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 when we escaped from these same type of tyrants?..that we will make a life for ourselves and send help back to them?…come then, if we are to sing songs, let us sing of those we made a vow to.”

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”

To be continued into act 2…


2 thoughts on “A Ukulele Opera…Act #1.

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