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Desire Under the Elms

music by Edward Thomas, libretto by Joe Masteroff


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Musical Selections

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Desire Under the Elms received its first workshop at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 1978 and went on to Central City Opera for further workshops and revisions in 1980. In 1985 the National Music Theater Network added Desire Under the Elms to its catalogue of recommended new operas and showcased excerpts in a number of their "Sampler" programs. NYORT did an extensive workshop of the opera in September 1986. The success of these ·workshops resulted in the company's decision to premiere the opera.



Scene 1: Eben Cabot calls his half-brothers Simeon and Peter to supper from their work in the barn. The two brothers stop to remark on the beauty of the sunset and dream of an easy life looking for gold in California. They complain to each other about the hard life working the farm for their father Ephraim Cabot, who has been gone now for months without a word.

Scene 2: After supper Eben tells his brothers that he has overheard their conversation about California. He belittles their plan and claims they will never leave as long as they have a chance to inherit the farm. As Eben is preparing to go into town to visit Minnie, a local prostitute, the boys taunt him.

Scene 3: The next morning Eben returns, rousing Simeon and Peter to tell the their Pa has married again. The brothers realize that the farm will now go to the new wife. Eben offers them money for the journey to California-money stolen from his father - on the condition that they relinquish any claim to the farm. Simeon and Peter agree and Eben is jubilant. Cabot arrives with Abbie, his new bride, and goes in search of his sons.  Abbie comes upon Eben and tries to befriend him, but he rejects her. Cabot returns still looking for Eben's brothers. When Eben tells him they have left for California, Cabot prays to the Lord to smite hi s sons. Eben and Cabot start the morning chores as Abbie goes into look at her new home.


Scene 1: Two months later on a hot Sunday afternoon, Abbie catches Eben sneaking away to see Minnie. She makes advances towards him, but they argue and Eben leaves Abbie, stung from the fight, asks Cabot if he will leave the farm to Eben. Cabot bristles. He would rather burn the farm to the ground before he dies than leave it to anyone. When Abbie asks about her right to inherit the farm, Cabot rejects the idea because the farm needs a man to work it. Abbie declares that she will have a son. Cabot is overcome with emotion, and they pray to God to bless them as Abbie plots her future.

Scene 2: That night, following an unsuccessful attempt at the creation of a son, loses herself in thoughts of Eben, while Cabot rambles on about his farm. Eben, alone in his room, thinks of the oppression created by the stone walls and senses Abbie's closeness. Cabot, feeling cold and lonely, goes off to the barn. Abbie appears at Eben's door and declares her love for him. Though confused at first, he plans revenge on his father through Abbie.  They passionately express their love for each other.


Scene 1: The following spring Abbie bears a child amid local gossip that Eben is really the father. Neighbors gather for a celebration and Abbie sings a lullaby to her baby. Eben arrives and together they look at their son. Cabot calls for Eben and tells him that now he will not inherit the farm. He describes Abbie's plot to secure the farm for herself and her child. Eben attacks Cabot, who overpowers him. Abbie, finding Eben beaten , admits that when she first arrived she had conspired against him, but that now ·she loves him. Eben calls her a liar , wishes their son had never been born, and vows to follow his brothers to California . Abbie, confused and alone, sings again to her baby as she tries to think how to prove her love to Eben.

Scene 2: A few hours later, while Eben prepares to leave, Abbie tells him that she has killed their child. Horrified, Eben rushes away to summon the sheriff.

Scene 3: Abbie waits for Eben to return with the sheriff. Cabot appears. When she tells him what she has done, Cabot tries to strangle her and she reveals that the baby was Eben's. Eben arrives and tells Abbie that while he was telling the sheriff , he realized how much he loves her and now hopes they can escape together. Abbie insists that she must pay for her sin. When the sheriff arrives, Eben tells him that he helped Abbie plan the killing, and the lovers are led away, leaving Cabot to work the farm alone.


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