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The Making Of Pilate’s Wife 4

The final section of Act I has been completed. Here is the action. Deborah departs and sends Darius, Pilate’s servant, to Procula. The final scene of this act includes the entrance of Pilate and his interaction with Procula revealing their relationship. I wanted Pilate to have something special in his music so I used a synthetic scale and worked to give him a military air. At one point in his interplay with Procula he expresses his frustration with the Jewish people. “I think this city is accursed! Why? Why can’t these people see Roman rule is fair and just. Roman rule is fair and just. Why? Why must they be so obstinate?” Click here for an example (remember that these are MIDI files without words).

I also want people to see the loving relationship between Pilate and Procula. Some of the music of the opening aria returns, this time cast as a duet. The couple reflect on Pilate’s appointment as procurator of Judea, Procula:” I remember that day when you told me your good news.” Pilate: “I had been appointed the Prefect of Judea. That posting was an important step in my career.” Both: “Best of all it meant we would marry.” Click here.

They sing of their wedding in Rome, Procula: “I remember our wedding.” Pilate: “I remember your flame-colored veil.” Both: “I remember our love fulfilled.” Click here.

They remember their honeymoon voyage to Caesarea, Judea’s seat of government, Pilate and Procula: “Then came our journey across the sea. Sunny days, warm nights.” Click here.

Then they recall the difficult times in Jerusalem and the possible results of the treason of Pilate’s mentor, Sejanus, and their fears of trouble at Passover time.

Deciding to turn from their somber thoughts and enjoy the evening together, they drift away to dinner as the curtain closes, Procula: “Ah, Pilate, let us not think about that tonight. Let us enjoy this evening.” Pilate: “Ah, yes, you are right, dear Procula. Let us enjoy our time together.” Both: “Our time together.” Click here.

The Making Of Pilate’s Wife 3

During the writing of the previously mentioned scene with Procula and Deborah I began to think about an overture and how it might set the scene for the opening aria. From her window in the Herodian Palace Procula would have been able to see the smoke rising from the Temple and also would have been able to hear the sound of the trumpets. However, she would not have been able to hear the voices of the Levites and their children as they sang during the times of the morning and evening sacrifices. I decided to use the time of the evening sacrifices (according to The Temple the time would have been about 3:30 p.m. Also on the fifth day of the week the Psalm sung was Psalm 81.) The singing of the Levites and their children was in unison accompanied by flutes, harps, and lutes.

A cymbal crash begins the service. A third of the Psalm is sung, then a special trumpet call is heard followed by the murmured prayers of the congregation. (I plan to use various phrases in Hebrew for the unseen chorus to murmur.) The singing of the next third of the Psalm and the final third continues in the same fashion. On the final trumpet call the curtain rises and we see Procula looking out the window at the city of Jerusalem. Her opening aria begins.

For the overture I again used Jewish melodies for the song of the Levites and their children. The offstage chorus that ends the opera will also use this opening melody. Here is the first section of the overture containing the first part of Psalm 81, the words of which are:

Be happy and shout,
Shout to God who makes us strong.
Shout praise to the God, the God of Jacob.
Shout praise.
Sing as you play tambourines and the lovely stringed instruments.
Sound the trumpets.

The overture is scored for harp, flute, cymbals and plucked second violins and violas representing the lutes. (This is a MIDI realization in which the choir is heard as “Ahs” instead of words. Eventually “murmers of prayers” will fill the silent measures.) Click here to play the excerpt.

The Making Of Pilate’s Wife 2

My next problem was how to begin the opera, how to present the character of Procula and reveal the problems that Pilate was dealing with that affected his actions later in the opera. Her opening aria would need to do all this as well as make the audience empathize with her.

A fellow composer with whom I shared this problem suggested that I emphasize Procula’s fears. Her suggestion led me to think about the real differences in Procula’s life that resulted from, first, her former home in Rome, second, her life in Caesarea which was Pilate’s seat of government, and third, their time in Jerusalem where trouble would often erupt. Thus the opening aria was entitled, “Jerusalem! Caesarea! Rome!”

One aspect of both Procula’s and Pilate’s fears was their relationship with Sejanus. Sejanus, who was very close to Caesar, had obtained this post for Pilate. Several years later Seneca tried to usurp the throne and was executed. There followed a bloodbath in Rome; anyone connected with Sejanus was killed. Of course, Pilate was far off in Judea and would have had nothing to do with this event, but Caesar had a long memory. There was always the possibility that a ship would arrive and Pilate would be taken to Rome for trial..

I programmed this opening aria for the Women in Music – Columbus Member Musicale, May 8, 2012 with me again singing the role of Procula, and Eileen Huston at the piano. Click on the play button below for the motives of the three cities and the ending of the aria which emphasizes her fears.

The scene following the opening aria presents the by-play between Procula and her Jewish maid, Deborah. This scene includes Deborah’s helping prepare Procula for an important dinner. Thus I had to research clothing, jewelry, hair arrangements, etc. for the Roman world of the first century. Other research included the layout of Jerusalem, location of the Herodian Palace (where Pilate resided when he was in Jerusalem) in relation to the Temple, and the worship in the Temple. More about that later.

This scene reveals Procula’s seeing Jesus in the temple and understanding more about the meaning of the Passover as Deborah responds to her questions about the festival. A duet highlights their different views of Jesus.

In several places I have used Jewish melodies, especially those of the Ashkenozic tradition. Most of Deborah’s music in this scene is based on these melodies. This scene was performed for Worthington Music Club in February, 2013, again with myself, Jan, and Eileen. Click on the play button below for an excerpt.

The Making Of Pilate’s Wife

It all began with the book, Pontius Pilate, a Biographical Novel, by Paul L. Maier. I read this book sometime in the late 1970’s and conceived the idea of a chamber opera based on the wife of Pilate as she was presented in the book. The book has over 20 pages of footnotes as well as a four-page chapter entitled “Historical Note;” thus it is historically accurate. Although I am not using any of the dialogue in the book, my “take” in the opera on the character of Procula, Pilate’s wife, is grounded in her character as presented in the book. (Side note: I wanted to put “inspired by Pontius Pilate by Paul L. Maier” under the title of the opera so I wrote to him and he very graciously gave me permission.)

Over the next 25 or 30 years I would occasionally work on a synopsis of the opera, a possible stage setting, the number of characters, the size of the orchestra, possible use of a chorus, all without writing a note. Sometimes I would spend considerable time with the idea and then neglect it for months, even years, but I never totally forgot about it. (Two other books I used in research were The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Edersheim and The Temple also by Edersheim. I also studied a number of “Mad scenes” from operas such as Lucia di Lammermoor.

In 2008 I hit a milestone (I won’t say exactly what that milestone was) that caused me to get even more serious about my composing career. In the next year or two I realized if I was ever going to write my chamber opera, I had better begin. So in the spring of 2010 I programmed the “Nightmare” aria for a Women in Music – Columbus Member Musicale the following spring.

I chose that aria and scene because it would be the centerpiece of the opera. The only Biblical reference to Pilate’s wife is one verse in the gospel of Matthew (I am quoting from the Contemporary English Version known as the CEV), “While Pilate was judging the case, his wife sent him a message. It said, ‘Don’t have anything to do with this innocent man. I have had nightmares because of him.’” The scene and aria were performed March 13, 2011 with myself, soprano, as Procula, Jan Nelson, mezzo soprano as her Jewish maid, Deborah, and Laura Benson, piano. Here is the ending of that scene. (I had been studying some of Messiaen’s music and had become enamoured with diminished octaves which you hear a lot of in this section.) Also this scene calls for an off-stage spoken chorus. I enlisted a few people from my church choir to help me record the crowd scene. They don’t quite give the effect of a big crowd, but you can get an idea. Click on the play button below to listen to a sample.

Currently the work is only scored for vocals with piano accompaniment. However, I will eventually be scoring it for chamber orchestra: Single winds, trumpet, horn, harp, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine and a small group of strings.