Diana and Michael arrive at a theater to audition for a play about Emperor Norton and are interrupted by the arrival of Marla, the play's author. Since her play is unfinished, Marla is astonished by their claims to have been invited to audition. She decides to use their talents anyway to work out several of the more difficult scenes in the play. The play opens with Emperor Norton's death on a San Francisco Street. A man emerges from the wings, dressed as a 19th-century emperor and protests that the scene does not resemble reality. He proceeds to restage the scene casting Marla as an older woman who places a wedding ring on the dying Norton. Marla becomes angry with the intruder for imposing his concept of Norton. The next scene is a meeting betweeen Norton and Lola Montez. Lola performs her Spider Dance, and Norton duels to defend her honor. The intruder enters and once again denounces the scene as inaccurate. He convinces Marla to allow him to restage his version which becomes a church wedding, in which Marla portrays the bride. During this scene, Diana and Michael come to realize that this intruder seems to know a lot more about Emperor Norton's life and they demand that he reveal his secrets. The final scene is set by the intruder and takes place on a dock in San Francisco. The intruder is now Joshua Norton, Michael is Captain Macondry, and Marla is his daughter, Julie. Norton enters with Julie searching for her father to inform him of their coup on the rice market and to receive his blessing for their impending marriage. Macondry crushes their financial dreams by announcing his own rice market monopoly and demands that Norton abandon his dreams of marrying his daughter. Through these scenes, Diana, Michael, and Marla come to understand the Emperor Norton and how he created a realm of fantasy to escape the miseries of his own life. Marla, totally entranced by Norton, demands that they go back and restage the scene on the dock. She and Norton return to that scene, and she joins him, the Empress to his Emperor, in the realm of fantasy, spirit, art, and love.
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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)
Number of Acts
Lyrical; post-romantic in the style of Richard Strauss
Vocal & Musical Forces
Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone; Piano, violin, cello
Original Cast: Diana, Evelyn de la Rosa; Michael, William Pell; Marla, Leslie Richards; Norton, Thomas Woodman