All in the Mind

 

Opera in one act for community performance. Libretto by the composer.     2004       70’

 

Commissioned by W11 Opera and performed at the Britten Theatre, London in December 2004

 

What will life be like several millennia form now? Not on Planet Earth, of course, but on The White Moon, a planet with two suns, where it is always day and never night. Is the human race any wiser? All in the Mind is a cautionary tale in which our past, present and future is all mixed up. It takes its cue from the legend of Doctor Faustus - and several contemporary issues.

 

The action is set in the future on a planet called The White Moon where a company called Clever Clones makes human beings to order; it has also made an artificial Brain capable of great thoughts. When the company runs into trouble, the Emperor, Mighty Rich, and his Ministers persuade the company's Scientists to implant in a batch of new clones digitized thoughts, memories and dreams saved by people long ago. By this means, some Earthlings from an earlier age - our own, perhaps - are reincarnated. Amidst general rejoicing at having created eternal life, the company's fortunes soar, but the Brain, who has been consulted from time to time, suggests the Scientists must go on a mission through space and time to discover the nature of right and wrong.

Having run the gauntlet of Bouncers, the Earthlings encounter the Emperor again at a party in the Black Hole where Nic Night, a prisoner, sings about imminent oblivion. The Earthlings fondly remember their previous life on Earth but, when they express a desire to return there, find they are trapped: the Emperor has set his sights on their priceless souls which he wants to carry off into his underworld. The scheme to help Clever Clones was merely a means to the end and he now summons up the forces of infinite gravity to finish everyone off. When the Scientists enter, they find the Earthlings have perished and everyone else has vanished except for Nic Night whom they release and lead away.

Back on the Moon, the Earthlings awake from what they assume has been a terrible nightmare; the Emperor arrives at Clever Clones to take charge and a battle of wits ensues. Suddenly the Scientists appear with Nic Night: it turns out he is the rightful king of the Moon who was deposed long ago and sent into exile. So was the Black Hole real? If so, was there a 'deeper magic' - or a force greater than gravity? Or have dreams invaded the conscious world?

Nic suggests the people should decide who will be their leader - under him life will be more fun, but less certain. In the face of threats from the Emperor, the workers reject this idea, but when the Earthlings announce their decision to depart for home - and mortality - the people choose Nic. The Brain, who by now has worked out the difference between good and evil, laments its inability to join the human race; it will continue to do the thinking - while, under their singing King, the rest can make music.

However, with the passing of time the Brain becomes obsolete, and is consigned to the Museum of Ancient Science...

Score

Full Score

Characters

 

The Brain

Dr Neuron, Chief Scientist

Mighty Rich, Emperor (Empress) of The White Moon

Ancient Earthlings (3)

Nic Night

Bouncers (4)

Celestial Voice  (off-stage)

 

Employees of Clever Clones: Scientists, Telepathists, Bureaucrats & Engineers

The Court: Ministers, Courtiers & Guards

In the Black Hole: Waitresses & Partygoers

 

Clones

Press Corps

 

The action takes place far in the future.

Prologue: The Museum of Ancient Science

Scene One: The Laboratory of Clever Clones

Interlude: A Wasteland

Scene Two: The Black Hole

Scene Three: The Laboratory of Clever Clones

Epilogue: The Museum of Ancient Science

 

All in the Mind was written for a large cast of 10 to 18 year olds but could be performed by far fewer; the approximate numbers envisaged at the time of composition were Earthlings 6, Ministers/Waitresses  8, Scientists 12, Telepathists 12, Bureaucrats 4, Engineers 12, Clones/ Press 6,  Courtiers 14, Guards 14. With the exception of the 4 Bouncers, all the parts were intended to be taken by unbroken or female voices; although the treble clef is used throughout, the casting may be adapted to suit particular circumstances and it is left to the Directors' discretion as to whether parts are played as male or female characters. All the cast appear as Partygoers in Scene Two.

The story of All in the Mind is drawn from the Faust legend of medieval times concerning the learned Doctor who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers.

If we substitute scientific knowledge for magic – and much of what we can do today would appear magical to people of the past – we see how this story is still relevant to our own times. Science has brought us much that would delight the devil - destructive weapons, pollution and media manipulation, for a start  - yet opting out of this knowledge is not an option; we must use it creatively, for purposes that are good and, paradoxically, to get us out of the various muddles that science itself will lead us into.

It is evident that technological progress has brought with it a high degree of predictability in our lives. We have tamed nature to the extent that, in Western civilisation, the fulfilment of our needs is taken for granted. On the White Moon, where it is always day and never night, even human life itself is predictable because it is cloned. Knowledge, isolated in human cells, is implanted to order. A giant Brain - Artificial Intelligence -functions as a central source of reference. Is this a vision of the future that is absurd?

The state of the White Moon ensures its citizens are well catered for. The employees of Clever Clones evidently care about their company for they know of no life outside it. They have, we might say, sold their souls to it. The process of cloning is taken for granted: it is so much more convenient for citizens to take delivery of a ready-made person than having to contend with the unpredictability of birth and raising children. Clever Clones sorts that all out for its customers! Questionable practices - the workers are exploited  and the rightful king has been sent into exile - are excused by the fact that the consumer demand exists.

Just as certain dictators have lived in luxury while their subjects starved, so the Emperor is free to be inventive while his people live as automatons. When Clever Clones Corporation crashes, (the Emperor himself has initiated a sell-off), the Scientists can’t think what to do. So the Emperor’s plan to rescue the company seems a brilliant one: resurrect Ancient Earthlings from the ‘files’ they bequeathed to posterity. Despite the clinical circumstances of their re-birth, the Earthlings are seen to be truly human and everyone likes them; they are antiques. The irony is that the Emperor has sown the seeds of his own destruction, for the arrival of the Earthlings set the Scientists off on a course that will lead them to the truth. And the truth is that the Emperor serves another world, another universe even. Under his mask of geniality, he is dangerous.

In the Black Hole, the laws of space, time and gravity combine in a world that isn’t so much absurd as surreal. A sense of impending doom permeates the proceedings. The Earthlings have been naïve to follow the Emperor; they receive veiled warnings from the Bouncers, but are too caught up in the fun of their new life to understand. We meet Nic who appears to be resigned to his own oblivion, but when he hears the Earthlings sing about their previous life on Earth he is moved by their humanity, frailty, warmth, and passion. These qualities are exactly what the Emperor wants; it is now time to take their souls into the next world, and, whereas some gods call on thunder or fire to do their dirty work, Rich summons up gravity; everyone appears to perish in the crush. Only Nic seems to have escaped and is pulled out of the wreckage when the Scientists arrive on the scene.

When Nic, the rightful king, returns to the White Moon a balance is restored and humanity returns in the form of diversity, inventiveness - and music. First the people have to agree to this, and it is the departure of the Earthlings that sets the seal on the Emperor’s downfall. They are confused – as we are – whether the Black Hole was real or just dreamt about; in black holes space and time are curved so who can tell?

Either way, it’s an experience that serves as a warning. The thing that is true for the Earthlings now is that their past is haunting them and that’s where they head off to. It’s the past that we feel and that permeates our consciousness, whereas the future is meaningless because we can’t relate to it. It’s unknown, it’s dangerous, and we need rescuing from the brink. Scientific progress propels us forwards, but if there is any hope for mankind surely it lies in – scientific progress. Think on until the end of time!

Meanwhile, the Brain has considered the question of good and evil in relation to these events. But knowing about Ethics won’t save it from the eventual fate of most inventions - obsolescence. Can it be appreciated in a Museum? At least it can remember this story!