Having all the characters hashed out, I treated them as pieces to a puzzle. I knew that certain events had to take place in the opera. However, there were so many events that were significant in Sr. Dorothy’s mission and life that I had to pick and choose which events would be best. Also, I felt that there were so many “happenings” that a linear presentation of facts would be too repetitious and many of the images and ideas I wanted to convey would be lost.
I knew that the violence around her only escalated when her mission escalated. This is why I decided that a flashback would show that both violence and success of her mission were happening all the time, despite certain events occurring.
Sr. Dorothy died speaking the beatitudes. I knew that despite each plot event, the beatitudes had to come into play. So each scene is based on one of the beatitudes. Musically, I reinforce the idea with the playing or singing of the “beatitude” motive every time it occurs. The motive is even warped at times, when Sr. Dorothy’s words become twisted by the forces working against her. Again, the opera becomes more about the role she assumed, rather than the events that took place.
Character development was such a critical previous step. Knowing the characters in and out, made it easy for me to figure out how they would act/react in each scene. Much of the drama is built up through character interaction within a specific situation. Much the story, true to her biography, alludes to the story of Christ, including martyrdom.
I also used the symbols of the wet/dry season of the Amazon. In Dorothy’s letters, there were many references to how the wet season would wash out roads, giving protection from the loggers and ranchers invading her people’s lot of land. I was drawn to the idea of the wet season, and the Amazonian rain, to symbolize the waters of Baptism. Water, rain, the river are referenced throughout.
"Bring on the Rain" from Angel of the Amazon
While these writings might make the opera seem like a play with a religious message, that impression is far from the truth. Since Sr. Dorothy was a religious figure, I felt that these issues had to be addressed in the opera. However, as the story unfolds, we find that the poor people with whom she worked contain a much higher moral authority than an apathetic Catholic church, a misogynistic Brazilian culture, and a corrupt government.
Much of the message of the story becomes apparent through the characters and their interactions of events rather than what an audience member would expect from a character based on their occupation or social status.
How does the music drive that message home? Check back to find out in part three...
* From Idea to Opera: Part One