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.