"Gift of Vision" Libretto in Poetry and Paintings*

"Gift of Vision: The Life and Work of Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865)"  

An Opera and Dance Drama   

Original Libretto by Maryclaire Wellinger, Music by Composer Jeffry Steele,  & Choreagraphed/Produced by Carl Thomsen,  January, 2001, Gloucester, Massachusetts

" . . . Maryclaire Wellinger's elegantly simple and direct libretto
is sung by five voices . . ."
(review by theatre critic Mort Kaplan,
Gloucester  Daily Times, January 25, 2001)


Libretto Cover, "Reflections"
An original painting in the digital medium,
an interpretation of the Transcendental
"quiet reflections in still waters"
and Lane's luminist paintings such as "Brace's Rock"

"Choir of Rocks"
original watercolor & study of Fitz Hugh Lane painting
by Maryclaire  Wellinger

Choir of rocks, clouds of sail
     in sky of milk-glass blue.
Flood of light, burning red
     is haloed in waves' warp and weft . . .
Ten-ton hulls sway on their moorings,
     shallops tethered to the harbor's seabed.
Masts, spindles
     uplift eyes skyward.

"Warm Breath of Sun -- Gloucester Harbor",
a Study of a Lane Lithograph (1855)
Watercolor by Maryclaire Wellinger

Warm breath of sun on timbered wharf and pier--
father sets me here among rows of casks,
     tumble of blocks, trellis of rope.
From saltant shore to Ten Pound Island--
my eye-shot is as sound as any.
From harbor-mouth clear past Baker's beacons
     to the south horizon,
I'll learn to strike the line with steady hand.
As father's sails are cut out cloth by cloth,
I'll come to know the breadth, know the depth
     of Gloucester's canvas and fair Cape Ann's!

"Let the River Pull Me Home" A Study of F.H. Lane's Oil Painting, "Done Fudgin'  "


Watercolor by Maryclaire Wellinger, 2000

"A tranquil earth receives the setting sun's corona.
Sky's burning amber burnishes the molecules of air.
My painter's eye sees coming twilight as silver,
a latent power emanating from breath of cow and oxen
     grazing in rocky pasture---
the light radiating silver
     beyond stile and stone fence
     to a cove's crystalline stillness of water.
Sublime silence in Nature's inland view!
Looking up Squam River from this pasture
     seamed with scrub and scattered stones,
     on sloping sandy bank,
     a fishing boat heels to starboard in repose.
With my brush---
     I part the river with her silhouette,
     I part the river with her mast
          aloft in hazy air,
     I part the sky with her flagstaff . . ."

"Dream Vessel":  A Study of F.H. Lane's 1855 Oil Painting

Finale -- Waves of Light
White sun burns through fog!
Cloud-banks gilt-edged gold!
Winged clouds sail past sun!
Cloud-whisps swirl in space!
Gold spars pierce blonde clouds!
Strokes from my brush fall,
     foam upon the sea!
I paint the light itself in all its aspects!
On the loom of light,
     sea is woven to sky in one seamless mantle!
Sails glow white-on-white!
My eyes raised aloft----
     vast light-filled sky-space!
Where quartz-blue melds to palest rose
     appears my vision!

*Libretto paintings & poems Copyright by Maryclaire Wellinger, 2002. Note:  all painting images appearing on this page are included as illustrations in the libretto chapbook "Gift of Vision"*.  The photos are of the performance and are not included in the Libretto. 

The Libretto is published in chapbook form.
Original poetry and illustrated with paintings
by the author, numbered and signed.
Published by Rosewater Press.  Cost $25.
Available through this website . . .


Jeffry Steele, Composer and Maryclaire Wellinger, Librettist
in Rehearsal Session  at Carl Thomsen's Studio, January, 2001


Poet's Notes on Creating Libretto for "Gift of Vision"
Poet's Notes on Creating Libretto for "Gift of Vision" by Maryclaire Wellinger, 
 January 15, 2001

As a painter, poet, and sailor of antique sailing vessels, I was thrilled with Jeffry's and Carl's proposal, the "Gift of Vision" project. Last February, on gray days I lingered at the Cape Ann Historical Museum. Lane's luminous harborscapes and seascapes are masterpieces, the painterly counterpart to Thoreau's and Emerson's transcendental poetry and prose. I fell in love with Fitz Hugh Lane, and immersed myself in his paintings which comprised the points of my compass directing me to where I found glimpses of his artistic vision "there on the invisible horizon-breath/ where sea is woven to sky in one seamless mantle."


I felt honored to work with Jeffry and Carl, and challenged-- the alchemical nature of artistic collaboration --how to proceed? Jeffry had begun to compose the music [Choir of Rocks, Vessels, and the Finale, Waves of Light] and I would have to "hear" through my muse the words to complement the music's complex moods, and tell the story of Lanes's life and work. Another challenge-- to write first the poetry which would move Jeffry's soul in such a way that he could imagine its music. I would need to create truthful early 19th century "Cape Ann speech", to build a vocabulary from words spoken by sailmakers, riggers, farmers, mariners and fishermen's wives, to create a very high level of poetic language, a singing language -- strong and graceful -- to build a vessel of words sound enough to carry our rich cargo of dance, music, and voice.


The Libretto's fulcrum is Jeffry's guitar music powered by Carl's choreography --the gesture, the pause, the leap, the reach. The rhythm of the poetry is the drumming of the dancers' feet on the bare earth-- this patch of "Fair Cape Ann" earth with its glacial moraines, perched boulders and serpent kames-- beneath what poet Charles Olsen calls "the sky of Gloucester, perfect bowl of land and sea." Maryclaire Wellinger January 15, 2001





Composer's  Notes on Creating Musical Score for "Gift of Vision"
by Jeffry Steele,  January 15, 2001


When Carl and I first met to discuss developing a work on Fitz Hugh Lane -- just over a year ago -- he cited two pieces I had already recorded that he felt lent themselves best to the subject: "Stream at Sunrise" and "Sunset Reverie" from Voice of Creation. The latter comprised sparse chords through heavy reverb with a very long decay, and he wondered how we might recreate that effect in performance. Agreeing that electronic effects or synthesizers were not appropriate for music about a nineteenth century painter, he suggested a choir. Carl then approached choir director Gretchen Longwell-Cooley, who met with me to look over my my initial ideas and is to be credited with the pivotal suggestion that I seek out a libretto -- one that stands on its own as a literary work. I then remembered that Marblehead poet Maryclaire Wellinger -- inspired by our show Clear Away -- had, not long before, inquired about the possibility of my setting her poetry to music. I counter-proposed that she write new poetry especially for our piece and the starting gate opened on the great relay-race that -- by the finish-line some seven months later -- was the completed Gift of Vision.


Working Backwards

"Stream at Sunrise" -- in Carl's mind at least -- had nothing to do with streams but, rather, large sailing ships "swaying at their moorings." I wrote a short choral introduction and we had our "Vessels" movement in short order. At the time of that first development meeting, I had just written a guitar piece titled "Heart Seeking" that was intended as a companion to "Stream at Sunrise" -- them both being in a special tuning of the guitar strings known as DADGAD. We quickly determined that this new piece would make a good finale, and that much of the material for the work as a whole could be based on its themes. ["Stream at Sunrise", on the other hand, had a certain completeness unto itself that did not compel me to quote it elsewhere]. And so A Gift of Vision opens with the Finale's "rondo" tune: "Choir of rocks..." heard once through. It's first half is intoned in the ensuing "Skipping stones", the introduction to the Garden Scene, and in the ["Loom of light..."] transition between "Waves of Light" and the Finale. One other complete rendition of the rondo theme is also heard in the guitar part of Garden Scene [at "My Summer is one fine nosegay..."]. The tune's first three notes [mi-re-fa] are quoted in the first two tenor arias [at " the south horizon. I'll learn to strike the line..."], toward the end of the Wharf Scene ["You're on my watch now William..."] and in the Garden Scene ["Tell us when!" as well as in the passage for guitar solo].

The Garden Scene accompaniment is derived from the conclusion of the first tenor aria. The "refrain" of the former ["Hops and barley" and "Fair Cape Ann"] -- which is later recalled in the Waltz of the "Cityscape" -- was derived from a harmonic progression introduced in the Wharf Scene ["See them sailing, sailing out to sea." and later at "Our women will be weeping with this news."].

The chord progression introducing the Finale is foreshadowed in the (immediately preceding) "Waves of Light" section -- which is also where I fulfilled, through the use of voices, Carl's request for a "reverb decay" effect. The minor key tune from the Finale ["Sky's flowing confluence of light and space..."] is prominent in the Fire Scene ["At the rear of Sawyer's block..." and "Cascading flames..."], and its first four notes [la-la-ti-do'] pepper the Finale through its conclusion -- echoed in the rhythm of the final words ["...appears my vision"].

As the tenor "Soliloquy" is intended as a summation of Lane's life, it naturally quotes other parts of the score: from"Tidal Pool" -- the 5/8 melody in the voice and then in the guitar; from the Garden Scene [at "Mirrored reflections of trees in river" and elsewhere] and from the "Shimmering water" intro [at "To this peaceful confluence I have come."]. The opening chord of "Waves of Light" -- which also functions as the final chord to this soliloquy -- is foreshadowed here as well.

The DADGAD tuning generated its own unique harmonic vocabulary which, along with practical considerations of not wanting to switch guitars or tunings during a performance, prompted me to compose the entire hour's worth of music within it. Though I might have included other instruments -- as I did in Clear Away -- I wanted to see what could be done with just this heretofore-unknown ensemble of guitar with five voices. At no point did my ears tell me to put a flute here or a cello there (much as the singers might have appreciated more instruments to cue off of). It is extremely challenging music to perform, requiring great self-sufficiency on each vocalist's part -- not unlike being an instrumentalist in a chamber ensemble.



The music wouldn't have come out anywhere near as well without Maryclaire's finely crafted and researched texts. Being caught between her poetic needs and Carl's choreographic needs, while holding the music to my own standards, required diplomacy and compositional skill in equal amounts. I hope the result inspires you as much as we three inspired each other. All of the musicians in this performance live in either Gloucester or Rockport, as do most of the dancers. I take pride in what our community can produce and am grateful once again for the spirit in our midst that can bring to life a show such as Gift of Vision.

Jeffry Steele, January 2001

To find out more about the music, click here for composer Jeffry H. Steele's website.