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October 11, 2013 | Kentucky Opera
The King's Man
Composer:Paul Moravec
Librettist:Terry Teachout
Synopsis
SETTING:  1785 IN THE LONDON LIBRARY OF WILLIAM FRANKLIN

At dawn, Mary and William’s manservant are preparing their London library for a visit from Ben.

William enters, visibly anxious and distressed. Mary, who only knows Ben from his reputation and is young and naïve, doesn’t understand. She asks the manservant to bring in a bust of Franklin as a surprise. William explodes, singing an arietta in which he pours out his resentment of his father (It was my kite) and reads from Ben’s chilly letter suggesting a meeting in London.  Apologetically, William tries to explain to Mary that there is more to Ben than his public “statuarial” side and his proverbs, that Ben Franklin is in fact a worldly, self-interested careerist.  Ben arrives and the resemblance between the two men is striking. Here we see the public Ben, genial and ceremonial. Mary excuses herself.

The conversation between the two men starts out stiff but cordial, then Ben brings up the subject of William’s debts. Ben says, “I paid for everything.” William: “You loaned me everything. You were never a generous father. Always the Puritan prig—and hypocrite.” Ben’s arietta: “What could you have expected of me? I was born on a Sunday, born in the long shadow of God.”

Anger mounts and we discover the real reason for it—the two men tried to kill one another. A flashback to see Ben signing William’s death warrant as William waits in prison, mourning the death of his wife and expecting to be taken out and shot at any moment.

Present day: Ben reminds William that what has come between them is more than merely personal, that William was a traitor to the land of his birth and that Ben’s first loyalty is to America—even beyond loyalty to his son.

The situation is clearly hopeless and Ben storms out of the library and the house, slamming the two doors behind him. An angry, then despondent William sweeps the bust of his father off his desk and falls into his chair with his head in his hands as Mary tries to comfort him.

Ben has returned to Philadelphia. His manservant brings in the letter from Washington. Ben reads it, then reads the disinheritance portion of the will. Manservant, a faithful retainer, says, “You owe it to him to tell him what you’re doing.” Exits, and Ben writes three false starts on a letter—the first cold, the second angry, the third an attempt at reconciliation. He can finish none of them and tears up the three letters.

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