The Adventures of Jonah
Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1977 and revived in 1984
Synopsis: The biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. A light-hearted approach to a classic story with a serious message about human nature and forgiveness.
|Librettist||Timothy Kraemer & Peter Dickinson|
|Music Director||Nicholas Kraemer|
|Soloists||Jonah, King, Mayor, Ship’s Captain, Ticket Collector, Whale|
|Groups||Queens, Angels, Sailors, Passengers, Goats, Ninevites, Slaves, Worms|
|Orchestra||2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Bass Guitar, Drums, Piano, 2 Percussion, Recorders|
Notes on Production: The story of the Old Testament prophet Jonah and his adventures told in a fun, lively style: would appeal to a younger group, not necessarily with musical experience. An assortment of groups (slaves, angels, sailors, belly dancers etc) offer scope for casting a mixed age range.
Musically straightforward, easy listening, with harmonies, jazzy rhythms, community singing and some spoken dialogue (the Whale is a bass part, off-stage only). There is potential for easily created, colourful costumes.
Running time 60 minutes.
The opera opens in present-day Nineveh, whose broken pots and a few old bones give no hint of its past glories. We then flash back to:
Scene 1: The arrogant and sinful Ninevites, led by their King, his queens and their attendant slaves, assert their claim to be top nation.
Scene 2: Alone in the desert Jonah is called by God’s angels to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. He is terrified at the prospect and determines to run away. The chorus reproach his cowardice.
Scene 3: In Joppa harbour, Jonah takes a boat for Tarshish, far from Nineveh.
Scene 4: A storm overtakes the boat. The crew are convinced that this storm has been caused by a curse on one of the passengers, and draw lots to find the culprit. The lot falls on Jonah who explains what he has done wrong. He suggests that they throw him overboard. They do so and immediately the storm ceases.
Scene 5: Jonah is swallowed by a friendly whale. Deep down inside the whale, he reflects on what he has done. He realises that however difficult his mission to the Ninevites may be, God will give him support. The whale then throws Jonah up on the shore close to Nineveh.
Scene 6: Urged on by the angels, Jonah approaches the town. Once again he is scared but timidly, he calls on the Ninevites to repent. At first they ignore him but then his message begins to sink in. The act ends with a rousing chorus on the nature of God.
Scene 1: The King of Niveneh is being pestered by his queens, who are bored by his switched off behaviour. Disgusted at the antics of the court, Jonah retires to await the downfall of Niveneh. Meanwhile the mayor rushes in to tell the King of impending doom. The King consults his reference book and he tells the Ninevites how they can try to avoid destruction.
Scene 2: The Ninevites obey the King. Begging for forgiveness, they start counting the 40 days to doomsday.
Scene 3: The angels have been observing all this and tell Jonah that God will forgive the Ninevites. Jonah is furious. The destruction of Nineveh that he has foretold will not now happen, and he fears for his credibility. He goes off to the desert in a sulk.
Scene 4: As Jonah sleeps in the desert, the angels pass by and plant a gourd near him. When he wakes, Jonah finds himself in the welcome shade. But no sooner has he thanked God, than two worms appear which bite the gourd and kill it. Once again Jonah is angry with God, this time for killing the innocent gourd. The angels urge Jonah to learn, from his own sympathy for the gourd, about God’s love for all people, including the Ninevites. At last, Jonah accepts God’s goodness.
Scene 5: Back in Nineveh, the Ninevites are still apprehensively ticking off the 40 days. But they reach Day 41 and realize that their repentance has saved them. All sing a chorus of relief and happiness. Even the Whale joins in.