Isaiah Robb


Opera in one act and three scenes (revised 2013)

Published by Musik Fabrik (Paris)

Libretto selected and adapted by the composer from the following works:
Ambrose Bierce:  Vision of Doom (1892)
William Cullen Bryant:  The Future Life (1839)
Herman Melville: Apathy and Enthusiasm (1861)
Walt Whitman: Look Down Fair Moon (1865), The Mystic Trumpeter #1, 3, &6 (1872), Reconciliation (1865-66)

A young man volunteers for the duty in the war, but does not return home

Synopsis of scenes
Scene 1
A father reads about the broadening conflict in a newspaper .
His son Isaiah arrives to tell him that he has enlisted.
His father reluctantly gives him leave.

Scene 2
Margaret, Isaiah’s wife, learns that he has been killed and mourns him.
Two soldiers try to figure out how to dispose of his body on the battlefield.

Scene 3
Isaiah finds himself in the afterlife, perplexed.
He considers the world he has just departed.
He walks into the garden of heaven.

Dramatis Personae
Singing roles
Margaret Robb: Mezzo Soprano
Isaiah Robb: Tenor
The Father: Baritone
The Robb child (non-speaking role, beginning of second scene only)

Scene one
The stage is dark.  As the music begins, a spot (stage left) on ISAIAH ROBB fades in.  ISAIAH sings a bidding prayer to the moon. At the conclusion of his prologue, the rest of the stage is slowly illuminated.  The FATHER is seen at a simple table in a simple room with a daily newspaper in hand.  The news of the impending crisis is not pleasant.  He reads of war and casualty, yet his reaction is apathetic rather than one of outrage.  In the midst of his musings, ISAIAH, his son, enters and informs him of his recent enlistment in a local regiment.  ISAIAH asks his Father to care for his family in his absence.  The FATHER, knowing that his son may not survive, accepts this responsibility and reluctantly gives him leave.  His discourse continues, now more passionately rendered. ISAIAH, seen alone downstage center in a single spotlight, concludes the scene by detailing the carnage of the war.

Scene two
MARGARET (the wife of Isaiah Robb) receives news from the FATHER that ISAIAH has been killed in the battle of Jonesboro.  A young child, shy but animated, stands next to MARGARET. She sings a lament.

Scene three
The scene is gray, misty, ambiguous. ISAIAH finds himself in a place unknown to him. A trumpeter (heard only by him) is sounding in the distance somewhere and this contributes further his disorientation. As he begins to take in the landscape, he becomes aware that he is a ghost.  A voice speaks to him (also heard only by him), and he repeats what he thinks he hears, with growing sadness.  ISAIAH weeps.  The trumpeter is heard again and ISAIAH this time follows the sound.  The distant music leads him to a place that Isaiah calls paradise.  Finally, ISAIAH is seen right stage, spotlighted.  His epilogue tells of a mystic cycle in which “the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly wash the soiled world.”

Special note
This story, told in the words of period poets and authors, concerns itself with a fictionalized account of the death of an actual soldier in the American civil war, Isaiah Robb. He is described as being of fair complexion, modest stature (5’9”), grey eyes and black hair. His wife was named Margaret. He mustered as a corporal on August 31, 1861 at Camp Chase, Ohio in Company “I” of the 30th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was killed at the Battle of Jonesboro on September 1, 1864. By profession he was a brick maker and a journalist, it was noted in his final inventory that his knapsack contained among other things 20 sheets of paper, 20 envelopes, and 10 postage stamps. He is buried in Section E, site 6074 in the Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, GA.

the opera including musical score and spoken dialogues will run approximately 25 minutes

String orchestra & piano
Piano/Vocal score available

Read the complete libretto

See sample scores

Margaret:  The Future Life (How Shall I Know Thee?)

Father:  Apathy and Enthusiasm (O, the clammy, cold November)