Wednesday, July 31, 2013
An Opera in Three Acts
Scene: Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii 1887-1894
David Kalakaua, King of Hawaii
Esther Kapiolani, Queen of Hawaii
Lydia Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii
Mrs. Wilson, Lady in Waiting to Liliuokalani
Lorrin Thurston, American lawyer
Sanford P. Dole, American businessman
Colonel Volney Ashford, Commander, Honolulu Rifles
G. C. Wiltse, Captain, USS Boston
Tong Kee (Aki), Chinese planter
Fraulein Wolff, German medium
John L. Stevens, American Ambassador to Hawaii
Chorus of Hawaiians
Chorus of Americans
Reception and Grand Ball at the Iolani Palace, Honolulu, May 1887. Introduction of guests before King Kalakaua, Queen Kapiolani, and Hawaiian royalty, including Kalakaua's sister, Liliuokolani. Guests include foreign dignitaries and members of the American business community, led by Lorrin Thurston and Sanford P. Dole, descendants of missionaries, and Volney Ashford, a military adventurer. Thurston, Dole, and Ashford, in an aside, complain about Kalakaua's extravagant lifestyle, lack of restraint, and bad morals. In an expansive aria, the King expresses his vision of an inclusive, open society. Grand dance, mixing Western and Hawaiian music, with hula and chorus.
Law offices of Lorrin Thurston in Honolulu. Meeting of the Hawaiian League, a secret society of Americans opposed to the King's pro-Hawaiian and anti-American policies, led by Thurston, Dole, and Ashford. A Chinese planter, Tong Kee, aka Aki, asks the League for help. Aki gave the King $70,000 for a license to sell opium, he says, but the King gave the opium commission to someone else and refuses to return the money. The Americans seize on this issue to discredit Kalakaua. Thurston, Dole, and Ashford conspire to pass legislation imposing property qualifications disqualifying most Hawaiians from voting, and to limit the powers of the monarchy -- amid paeans to personal liberty, free markets, and American exceptionalism.
In front of the Palace. The King, after hearing that the Hawaiian League has organized a militia, the Honolulu Rifles, orders a curfew, and the ceremonial Royal Guard puts up barricades. The Hawaiian League defies the curfew and calls a public meeting to limit the King's powers. The Royal Guard cannot stop crowds going to the meeting. Kalakaua, outmaneuvered, asks Volney Ashford and the Rifles to keep the peace, thus sealing his fate. At the public meeting, Thurston, to great applause, lays down conditions that strip Kalakaua of most of his power and set the Kingdom on a new course, to be run by Americans. Patriotic medley by American chorus.
The Blue Room of the Palace. A chastened Kalakaua, although resistant, is forced, after bitter recriminations with the Americans, to sign the "bayonet constitution" presented by Thurston, Dole, and Ashford. The King confers afterwards with Queen Kapiolani and Liliuokalani; he designates Liliuokalani as his successor. He instructs her, should she come to the throne, to resist the arrogant Americans and their material culture and to carry out the Hawaiian vision of tolerance, open society, and a life in harmony with the earth. She accepts this new burden, seeing this redemptive mission as a transformation of her Christian beliefs.
Outside the Palace, January 1891. Kalakaua had gone to California hoping to restore his failing health. Honolulu is bedecked with garlands and flags in anticipation of his joyous return. Shocking news arrives of a ship draped in black rounding Diamond Head, bringing the dead King home. All are stunned. Grand procession bearing the King's body to the Palace. Chorus of the Hawaiian people, chanting, with songs of mourning. Lament sung by Kapiolani from the balcony, interwoven with chorus. Liliuokolani is acclaimed, with great sadness and love, as Queen by the chorus. She accepts the acclimation, with great humility.
The Palace. Queen Liliuokolani confers with her inner circle, including Kapiolani and a German medium, Fraulein Wolff, who prophesizes that one day the Americans will be punished for stealing Hawaii from the Hawaiians. Liliuokolani announces that she has drafted a new constitution. Her cabinet meets and she presents the constitution, which restores full monarchical powers. The cabinet refuses to support her. She dismisses them and bemoans the deviousness of men, but reaffirms her duty to realize Kalakaua's ideal society in the face of all obstacles.
Outside the Palace, there is the sound of gunfire. Thurston, Dole, Ashford, and the American businessmen, relying on the Honolulu Rifles, stage a revolution, occupy the palace, depose the Queen, and proclaim a Republic. Alternating choruses of foreigners and Hawaiians. The rebels enjoy the tacit support of John L. Stevens, the American ambassador, and G. W. Wiltse, captain of the USS Boston, an American warship at anchor in the harbor. The Queen abdicates to avoid bloodshed. Sanford Dole is proclaimed president of the new Hawaiian republic, amid triumphal singing by the American chorus.
Waikiki, January 1894. President Grover Cleveland refuses to annex Hawaii, giving hope to Liliuokolani and her supporters that she might be restored to the throne. Arms are smuggled into Waikiki from California, and an insurrection is planned. But the weapons are discovered, leading to a skirmish in which an official of the new Republic is killed. Hawaiians loyal to the Queen (chorus of the Hawaiian people) stage an uprising to restore her to power. After a brief struggle, they are put down by American troops from the USS Boston. The defeated insurrectionists (Hawaiian chorus), now in chains, bemoan their fate.
The Palace. The Queen is put on trial by the Republican government, and accused by witnesses of fomenting counter-revolution. The prosecutors, led by Thurston, make their case, accusing the Queen of duplicity and treason. Liliuokalani passionately proclaims her innocence, but is found guilty and sentenced to house arrest in the Palace.
The Palace. The Queen is imprisoned in a room in the Palace with Malia, a lady in waiting. They weave a quilt and sing as guards pace outside. The Queen reflects on the cruelty of fate, the paradoxes of history, and the persistence of hope and idealism. In a final aria, she invokes the dark prophecy of Fraulein Wolff that one day the Americans shall be punished for their sins. And rising up and looking to the future, she envisions, with deep hope, the eventual dawn of a golden age of universal tolerance and peace.
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