World Premiere - Seattle Opera Commission
Libretto by Gardner McFall
Story by Stephen Wadsworth
ACT I - Scene One
A nine-year-old girl, Amelia, stands on her front porch. Her parents, Dodge and Amanda, are seen in separate rooms inside. Amelia salutes the sky: she wants to fly when she grows up, like her father, who is a Navy pilot. Dodge puts Amelia to bed, and a black car pulls up in the drive. As Dodge and Amelia discuss his imminent return to duty in Vietnam, two men get out of the car and tell Amanda that Dodge is missing in action. Amelia falls asleep and dreams of a woman crashing her airplane in the ocean. The girl awakens with a cry, and her mother runs in to calm her; her parents, separated from each other in time, stay with her until she sleeps.
ACT I - Scene Two
Amelia, in the final days of her pregnancy, awakens from a recurrent dream in which the ancient Greeks Daedalus and Icarus make wings out of feathers and discuss their impending flight. Her husband, Paul, answers the phone. As the Greeks, separated in time from Amelia and Paul, continue their ruminations, Amelia and Paul continue theirs—about her dreams of birds, her mother (who has died), and her need to know more about what Paul does in his top-secret work (Paul designs planes). As the birth of the baby nears, Amelia feels compelled to know what happened to her father.
Amelia has lived her life haunted and frightened by the idea of flight and conflicted about its simultaneous promises of freedom and tragedy. When Paul leaves for work, she relives the moment she learned of her father’s disappearance—Amanda appears in her 1960s clothes and, before sending Amelia off to school, tells her Dodge is missing.
ACT I - Scene Three
Amelia and Amanda have traveled to a village in Vietnam after being contacted by a North Vietnamese couple, Huy and Trang, who have information about Dodge. The women communicate with them through an interpreter. As Huy and Trang tell their story, pointing to where Dodge was shot down, the action they describe is played out around them.
Dodge arrives at their hut wounded, they allow him inside, and the North Vietnamese Army soldiers arrive and force the villagers to gather. Dodge is captured and interrogated. When he refuses to respond, the commander seizes a young girl from the crowd and holds a gun to her head—still Dodge won’t respond. The Commander shoots the girl and Dodge, and the NVA disperse to search the other houses. Dodge stirs, sees the dead girl, crawls to her, closes her eyes, and kisses her forehead. When he sees Huy and Trang, he searches in his pocket and hands them a photo. “Daughter,” he says in Vietnamese, pointing to the photo and to himself. Dodge also holds out an envelope but drops it as the NVA return. Huy hides it with his foot, and Trang quickly pockets the photo. Dodge is dragged away by the NVA.
“Why did you wait so long to write to us?” Amelia asks. A pause. “Because the girl was our daughter,” Trang says. He goes to the family altar, takes down a photo, and hands it to Amelia. It is Dodge’s picture of Amelia as a girl. Amanda asks about the envelope. “A letter for you,” says Huy. “Do you have it?” asks Amelia. “We burned it. We were angry.”
ACT II - Scene One
As Paul ends an office meeting, Amelia arrives, distraught, and clears the room. She demands that Paul give up work on his current project; she worries that it is a fighter plane. Her fear and anger over her father’s still unresolved disappearance are focused on Paul’s planes, the wars that inspire them, and the impossibility of bringing a child into a life so fragile. She grows more and more agitated in heart and mind, and suddenly collapses, unconscious.
ACT II - Scene Two
Three days later.
Amelia lies in a coma. A doctor tells Paul that Amelia’s vital signs are strong and that the baby is safe and should be delivered soon by C-section. In the next bed is a boy gravely injured after falling from a great height; he is attended by his father. The doctor suggests Paul take a break, and Paul leaves. Amelia’s aunt Helen arrives from the airport. As she speaks to Amelia, the boy in the next bed, delirious, tries to escape and is sedated by a doctor, who tells the boy’s father that his son will very likely not survive. Helen, who overhears this, prays for Amelia to come back to life.
Dodge enters the room and stands by Amelia’s bed. Father and daughter converse, unheard by the others in the room: she asks him about death and is reassured by his description of stopped time and the dissolution of human failures. When he realizes she is thinking about death as a haven, he also describes the dissolution of dreams and desires, of newness and risk—he cannot encourage her to join him. Amelia sinks back, and Dodge settles her, placing a letter on her chest under the covers before he leaves. She dreams again of the Flier, who now lands her plane on terra firma, near Amelia’s bed. The Flier expresses wry uncertainty about whether she is alive or dead but is proud to have completed her journey.
Paul and Helen lean over Amelia’s body. The Flier looks ahead to new beginnings as the injured boy’s heart monitor flatlines and doctors attempt to revive him without success. Paul watches the boy’s death with horror, spins to Amelia and pleads with her to live. His hands find the envelope under the sheet. He reads it aloud to his unconscious wife. It is the letter Dodge gave to Huy and Trang, before he was taken by the NVA, urging his wife and daughter to move on with life should he be shot down.
Suddenly, Amelia is awake and very lively—and insisting on natural childbirth. The Flier laughs.
ACT II - Scene Three
Amelia’s bed is rolled to the delivery room. A priest brings the dead boy’s personal effects to the father in a nearby waiting room. During the delivery the Flier reads a magazine, Paul steps out of the delivery room for a moment to breathe, the dead boy’s father looks sadly through his son’s wallet. The baby is born. As the father of the dead boy walks slowly towards the hospital exit, Amelia smiles at her child—and at the future.