In a Mirror, Darkly


In a Mirror, Darkly

A Composite Opera

Libretto by S. O’Duinn Magee

Year composed: 2008-2013

Duration: 89 minutes

Roles: Lyric (or Light Lyric) Soprano, Lyric Baritone, Mezzo-Soprano, Lyric Tenor

Orchestration: 1(pic).1.1(bcl,asx).1(cbn)/

Availability: Rental only.


About the Opera


Each act of In a Mirror, Darkly is a complete story of a woman artist, but each is set in a different era and in a different location. Act I, “The Lady of Shalott,” is set in medieval England, near Camelot; Act II, “A Woman Scorned,” is set in 1890s Paris, in an artist’s studio; Act III, “That Dame,” is set in 1947 in post-war Manhattan. The main character is three women who are one woman: Elaine, the Lady of Shalott; then Elaine, an artist’s assistant; then Elaine, an aging but still famous actress. Each inhabits her own place and time, yet each struggles to escape the societal gender-chains that bind her.

Act I “The Lady of Shalott”: Ten years ago, the Sorceress Morgana imprisoned Elaine in the Tower of Shalott. Alone except for visits by Brother Johannes, Elaine is forbidden by Morgana’s curse to leave the tower or to look out the window. Instead, Elaine sits at her loom, seeing the world only as reflected in a mirror. Today, however, Sir Lancelot is jousting for her at Camelot and if he wins, the curse will be broken and Elaine will be free to leave the tower.

Lancelot wins the joust but Morgana tricks him into giving her the prize, not Elaine. When Elaine realizes that Lancelot will not save her, she chooses freedom—however briefly—and defies the curse. When Elaine rushes to her window to revel in the view, the mirror cracks. Though the curse is now upon her, Elaine is happy as she leaves the Tower in a boat that carries her downriver to Camelot. During the journey she sings of her euphoric rediscovery of the sights and sounds of life. As the boat grounds itself near the castle, she dies.

Lancelot and Brother Johannes hurry to the river’s edge to meet the boat. With Morgana hovering close by, the monk explains Morgana’s trickery to Lancelot, fearing that it is a harbinger of dark forces that threaten Camelot. Lancelot shares the monk’s concerns about the future, yet he is inspired by Elaine’s beauty and courage.

Act II “A Woman Scorned”
: Elaine, a painter and assistant in Lantier’s Paris studio, works in secret on her own painting. Late one night as Elaine is finishing work on her masterpiece—a painting of three nude figures embracing—she hears Lantier and his models, Jacques and Moira, entering her workroom. She hurries out of sight, standing behind a large folding panel. The three, seemingly startled by the painting, argue about it and Elaine’s merit as an artist. Jacques exits, and in full witness of Moira, Lantier signs his own name to the painting, expecting that it will revive his faltering reputation.

Stunned at Lantier’s duplicity, Elaine confides to Moira that the mirror now shows her only Lantier’s face, not her own, and that she feels she must leave and seek her path elsewhere. Moira pleads with Elaine not to leave, but in a burst of anger, Elaine smashes the mirror. Moira exits, but assures Elaine that she and Jacques will return to offer counsel.

Elaine begins to pack her meager belongings, envisioning the world as she wishes it could be—recognizing her as an artist, even though a woman. Carrying a small suitcase and a box of supplies, Elaine exits. Moira and Jacques return to find the room empty—except for Elaine’s painting, still resting on its easel.

Act III “That Dame”: Rehearsals begin in the morning for The Lady of Shalott: co-produced on Broadway by Lance and Jackie Bananas, and bankrolled by the mob. Elaine, once famous on stage and screen, believes she will play the lead in Lance’s play. But Lance, who needed Elaine’s celebrity connections to secure a venue, secretly plans to dump her and install his mistress Midge in the starring role.

When Elaine overhears Lance, Jackie, and Midge talking about their true plans, she confronts Lance. Lance tells Elaine she’s too old to play Lady Elaine so it’s her choice—yes or no—to play Morgana or leave the show. Just then Jackie Bananas realizes they’re late for a meeting with the mob at the waterfront. As the trio leaves, Lance slams the door behind him, causing a mirror to fall and shatter. In his hurry to leave, Lance has forgotten his gun. Picking it up and fondling it contemplatively, Elaine admits that she should have heeded Elaine of Shalott’s story—that the curse of the mirror is all too real. Tortured, uncertain, hoping that Lance will recant, Elaine decides to go meet him at the docks.

Elaine confronts Lance, but he refuses to change his mind. She draws Lance’s gun. Midge and Jackie plead with Elaine not to shoot herself, fearing it would ruin Midge’s own selfish hopes for success and will upset Jackie’s deal with the mob. Lance, however, is content to let her shoot herself, as he can find any other washed-up actress to play the part of Morgana. Elaine instead shoots Lance, killing him. She turns and walks upstage into the sunrise.


Cast of Characters



Lyric (or Light Lyric) Soprano

    Elaine, the Lady of Shalott (Act I)

    Elaine, an assistant in a well-known male artist’s studio (Act II)

    Elaine, a 40-ish actress in the twilight of her career (Act III)

Lyric Baritone

    Lancelot, a Knight of the Round Table (Act I)

    Lantier, an older, once-famous artist in whose studio Elaine is an assistant (Act II)

    Lance, Elaine’s stage-director husband (Act III)


    Morgana, an evil sorceress (Act I)

    Moira, a cabaret performer and artist’s model (Act II)

    Midge, Lance’s New York mistress (Act III)

Lyric Tenor

    Brother Johannes, a Benedictine monk (Act I)

    Jacques, a cabaret performer and artist’s model (Act II)

    Jackie Bananas, a smalltime New York mobster (Act III)





Full opera 89 minutes

Act I: “The Lady of Shalott” 29 minutes

Act II: “A Woman Scorned” 24 minutes

Act III: “That Dame” 36 minutes

Each act of In a Mirror, Darkly may be produced individually as a stand-alone one-act opera.


Performance History



January 9, 2015

National Opera Association

University of North Carolina Greensboro Opera Theater

North Carolina School of the Arts

David Holley, stage director

Bridget Moriarty (Elaine)

Emily W. Schuering (Morgana)

Jacob Wright (Brother Johannes)

Rachel AuBuchon, piano

Greensboro, NC

(Excerpts from Act I)

November 12, 13, 14 & 15, 2014

Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra

Kurt Severtson, conductor

Carleen Graham, stage director

Edith Grossman (Elaine)

Nicholas Boudreaux (Lantier)

Helena Waterous (Moira)

Daniel Kringer (Jaques)

Katrina Sheats (Elaine, understudy)

Potsdam, NY

(Act II)

May 8, 2014

Fort Worth Opera: Frontiers 2014

Tyson Deaton, conductor

Kerriann Otaño (Elaine)

Matt Moeller (Lantier)

Clara Nieman (Moira)

Ian McEuen (Jacques)

Emily Jarrell Urbanek, piano

Fort Worth, TX

(Act II)

November 8, 2012

New York City Opera: VOX 2012

Julian Wachner, conductor

Susan Caldwell, music preparation

Kerri Marcinko (Elaine / Elaine)

Jesse Blumberg (Lance)

Audrey Babcock (Midge)

Alex Richardson (Brother Johannes / Jackie Bananas)

New York, NY

(Excerpts from Acts I and III)

June 5, 2012

The Virginia Arts Festival:

    Masterworks in the Making

Alan Johnson, music director

Rhoda Levine, stage director

Mandy Spivak (Elaine)

Jeffrey Wienand (Lancelot)

Kirsten Sollek (Morgana)

David Tayloe (Brother Johannes)

Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, piano

Beverly Coulter, piano

Norfolk, VA

(Excerpts from Act I)

July 30, 2010

Christopher Weiss, conductor

Allison Stanford (Elaine)

Stephen Lancaster (Lantier)

Elizabeth Smith (Moira)

Sun Ah Lee, piano

Waterville, ME

(Excerpts from Act II)



Image credits (from top to bottom):

John William Waterhouse: The Lady of Shalott (1888). Vincent van Gogh: La Chambre à Arles (1888). Production still from The Big Combo (1955), dir. Joseph H. Lewis. Edmund Leighton: The Accolade (1901). Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891). Production still from Laura (1944), dir. Otto Preminger. John William Waterhouse: The Lady of Shalott (1916). Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance (1890). Production still from Gilda (1946), dir. Charles Vidor.

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