London during the Blitz and after: 1944 and 1946
On a rainy night, the writer Maurice Bendrix encounters Henry Miles, husband of his former lover, Sarah. Maurice is anguished and obsessed with discovering why Sarah abruptly ended their affair eighteen months earlier. Henry, who was not aware of the affair, confides in Maurice that he believes Sarah is being unfaithful to him and is considering hiring a private detective. Maurice offers to hire the detective, Parkis, for him. Henry refuses the offer but Maurice does it anyway.
Parkis, widowed during the war, is accompanied by his young son, Lancelot. The boy has been very ill since his mother’s death, and they are drawn to the kindness of Sarah. The detective reveals to Maurice that Sarah often visits a man named Smythe in private. He’s easy to spot due to a large, ugly birthmark on his face. He and Sarah discuss love, devotion, and passion. This is enough for Maurice to believe that there has been the “opportunity for intimacy” and he takes his report to Henry, wishing for him to be as miserable and unhappy as he is. After Maurice leaves, Henry begs Sarah not to leave him, to give him a few more years. Sarah promises to stay with him. Then, alone, she reflects on how trapped and unhappy she feels in her life with Henry. She longs to go back to Maurice, to “come alive again” or else destroy herself completely.
Maurice reflects on his last intimate encounter with Sarah: June 16, 1944, during the V-1 air raids of World War II. While they make love, a bomb explodes nearby and Maurice goes to investigate, leaving Sarah alone in the room. A second explosion shatters the building. Maurice staggers up the stairs, covered in ash and blood, and finds Sarah on her knees in prayer. Stunned that he is not dead, she leaves abruptly with the words “People believe in God all their lives and never see him. Just because we don’t see each other, love doesn’t end. Remember, love never ends.” The confused Maurice can only ask “Why?”
Parkis has stolen Sarah’s diary and brings it to Maurice, also informing him that she is very ill. Maurice turns immediately to the entry for the day of the explosions and discovers why Sarah left him. She believed that he had been killed in the bomb blast and in a passionate prayer, made a bargain with God: “If You let him live, I will give him up. Please let him live and I promise not to see him. I will leave him and believe in You.” Then Maurice walked up the stairs and Sarah had to face the reality of her bargain and the miracle she believes she witnessed.
Now that he knows why Sarah ended the affair, Maurice wants her back. The four men: Maurice, Henry, Smythe and Parkis, reflect on the hope and passion Sarah has brought to their lives. Separately, Sarah sings of her new lover: God. She has given herself over to belief and to the destruction of her human body.
The rationalist Smythe tries to talk Sarah out of her belief in God, but it is too late. His efforts have failed and she believes with all of her heart. She says goodbye to him and goes to a church to pray, where she is followed by Maurice. She is ill and exhausted. Maurice tries to seduce her to come back to him and she acknowledges that she has always loved him. He says he will come tomorrow to take her away; she nods and after he has gone, collapses in the church.
Sarah is on her deathbed when Maurice arrives to take her away. He is greeted by her mother, Mrs. Bertram, who tells him that she is dying. She reflects on what an elusive child Sarah had been, how close she’d been to her father, and how she’d seen her father die in a terrible balloon accident. Mrs. Bertram also reveals a secret she has kept all her life: when Sarah was two, she secretly had her baptized Catholic, against her father’s wishes. Henry descends the stairs and tells them that Sarah has died.
Following her death, a series of seeming miracles occur: Smythe’s birthmark disappears and Parkis’ ailing son is well again. Henry sees that Sarah kept her promise and Mrs. Bertram marvels at the miracle of having had Sarah as her child. Maurice sees no miracle for him and is furious with God for taking Sarah away. Alone in the church, he offers his first prayer: “Oh God, you’ve done enough. You’ve robbed me of enough. I’m tired, too old to love. Please, leave me alone.” The prayer is his first acknowledgement of something larger than himself and he leaves the church somehow a changed man.
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|GRANT NAME||YEAR||Opera Fund: Partnership ||2002||
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Cheryl Baker (Sarah)
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Maurice)
Peter Coleman Wright (Henry)
Katherine Ciesinki (Mrs. Bertram)
Robert Orth (Parkis)
Joseph Evans (Smythe)
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