Opium: Diary of a Cure

A comic opera about
the tragedy of human character

Libretto by Tim FitzMaurice

Music by Aaron Seeman/Siegelbaum

About Opium

Tim Fitzmaurice first approached me with a version of his libretto in the spring of 1991, after he saw me play my “Four-Hands Piano” piece at a student composition concert. Eventually, after I was approved to write an opera for my Masters thesis, I began working on the music in 1993.

The performances took place on February 28 and March 1 of 1998. The concerts were sold out, a rarity for Masters compositions at least at the time. The work was very well‑received.

We think the work is due for a revival, and would welcome inquiries.

A review can be found here.

Performance info can be found here.

Tim and I are currently working on another opera. Stay tuned.


This opera presents a fantastic vision of the crucial eighth day in the cure of an opium addict in 1928. Inspired by the life story of Jean Cocteau, the opera does not present Cocteau's words or images of his cure but rather pursues and comments upon a vision of the process of addiction and cure itself. Focusing on the eighth day of the cure, the opera includes the romantic entanglements of the main character, Jean, and his Vietnamese lover, Ho, as well as the parallel love match of two attendants (the Nurse and the Orderly) in the sanitorium. The opera follows the efforts of a Doctor and Priest to wake Jean from his sleep and from his deluded reliance on the drug.

The opera is a nightmare in the sanitorium, St. Cloud, in December 1928. The room has oversized furniture, a rather dramatic window, some of the brooding qualities of Piranesi's Carceri, those underground caverns with high grated windows, block and tackle lamp-holders. The room includes a large armoire, victrola and a bust. During the opera this room will be transformed: the wallpaper will be removed in places to show ancient faces in bas-relief concealed under the formerly white walls. Other enlivening devices: tables made of human body parts, wall lamps held by human arms. Writing and sketches will be revealed under the veneer of chiffarobes.

In scene 1, the corpse-like figure of the protagonist Jean, lies on a pallet. It is the beginning of the eighth day. From the Mirror comes a duet of sopranos singing about the dark night. This mirror, as chorus, participates repeatedly in the opera. A nurse, Edith, while caring for the sleeping figure, sings about her own desire for love and about her own addiction to the orderly, Angel. After her first aria, the protagonist, Jean, emerges from the body of the figure. He sings about his own condition, occasionally in duet with the mirror, which acts as a chorus, echoing and amending his thoughts. Dressed in evening clothes, Jean climbs to the top of the furniture to watch and involve himself in the action of the opera.

Ho, a young Vietnamese man, also a patient, enters. Ho is Jean's lover and partner in addiction. He is there to comfort Jean and to say goodbye. Ho has decided to change his life. Jean becomes visible to Ho, and they exchange words about their love, about their addiction, and about their future. This scene will present a dramatic evocation of their past and their opium smoking. It could be a brief ballet of images, including the transformation of the room itself. Ho leaves. Jean continues to the end of the scene somewhat obsessive about his duel need for opium and for his lover.

The nurse reenters with the orderly, Angel, and they do a love scene in which she tries to woo this rather unaware man. Jean involves himself in their lovemaking, singing with them. Then they exit and Jean retreats again to the top of the furniture, opening an umbrella to assure his invisibility.

The second scene begins with the Doctor and the nurse trying to wake the corpse-like figure, by slapping him. The nurse is looking in the mirror and annoyed with the simple-minded doctor. The doctor is singing about his scientific approach to curing addiction while the nurse is sucked into the mirror. Jean is there to comment on this. Now the doctor is at a loss and gets the orderly, but cannot tell the simple Angel what is happening. Therefore, he sends for the priest.

In the third scene, the priest comes and looks the situation over. He decides that this nurse's dilemma is related to the sleeping corpse and that to release the one you need to wake the other. And he decides that the only way to get through to the corpse is to bring Jean's lover, Ho, to him and use that voice to wake him. They get Ho who refuses to help. Then Ho and Jean are alone to discuss nature of opium. Jean seduces a snake from the mirror and sings its charms. Ho sings its degradation. Ho leaves in disgust. Jean sings about opium alone on the stage.

In scene four, Jean moves downstage to sing about the feeling of emptiness he has. He is beginning to see that something is lost. The priest, doctor, and Angel reemerge to perform the first part of the exorcism. The doctor leaves the scene with some scientific horror at what is about to happen. The priest directs. Angel reaches into the mirror to pull the nurse out. Angel pulls out many things and finally gets the comatose nurse. They are jubilant, but need to do more to truly awaken her. They have to wake the poet.

Scene five brings Ho back again. Now he is ready to help. He sees that his own reluctance might be a kind of collusion with the addiction. It has to end. Jean is resistant, but he has to obey his lover's voice. The figure of Jean reenters the corpse and it comes to life. As it wakes, the nurse comes alive and she sings a rather annoyingly sweet duet with Angel. Ho is leaving. Jean is crushed by the loss of opium and his lover, but Ho tells him to make movies instead. This idea seems an adequate replacement for opium, and Jean grows in his enthusiasm. He becomes a part of the joyous crowd which leaves the stage. Then Ho sings the ending with the mirror. He is sick of the world and its self-delusions. He wants to change it. Now it is the ninth day.



Music Director and Co‑Producer
Rebecca Seeman
Stage Director
Rebecca Cress
Set Designer
Scott Cameron Reed
(Anonymous Bosch)
Technical Director
Chris T. Johnson
Set Painter
Sabine Freudiger


Todd Donovan
Craig O'Donnell
Natalie Widman
John Whooley
The Priest
Teresa Wiersbianska
The Orderly
Joshua Bongers