A short opera with a libretto by Nat Cassidy, commissioned by the Washington National Opera as part of its inaugural commissioning project, American Opera Initiative. Terry Ponick, for The Washington Times Community, writes of Scott’s new opera, Charon: “Mr. Perkins . . . provides a score that both accompanies and foreshadows the gradual revelations in the story’s unsettling plot. The sound and the texture, modern yet not always discernably so, was remarkably complex in a chamber setting that involved very few instruments. Like a rising tide, the music ebbs and flows, punctuated at times by weird, skittering sounds emanating from the strings—those roiling swarms of mosquitoes, poised for their next attack—before building to a final climax and fade to black . . . ‘Charon’ is a terrific little set piece . . . In ‘Charon,’ both the composer and librettist have an uncanny ability to capture and project [our] barely-beneath-the-surface fear of the future. And in so doing, their short work does what a great composer like Verdi once did and what so many modern classical composers fail to do—make a visceral connection to their own times. And that’s what makes ‘Charon’ a remarkable and welcome musical surprise.” Under the baton of Anne Manson, members of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program premiered the work at the Kennedy Center on November 19. Read the complete review here.
Charon is the ferryman of the River Styx. It is his job to row the souls of the departed from our world to the next. Every day (though you cannot call them days—there is no time) he pushes his boat back and forth across the river until his bones ache (though you cannot call them bones—he has no body). He is eternally weary and increasingly apathetic. The only thought that allows him to continue is that the gods must know what they’re doing.
Worst of all, as he rows, Charon is subject to overhearing the petty remnants of each newly departed mortal. There are mosquitoes that thrive on the River Styx which eventually drain each soul of the emotional burden of his past life, but until they are able to have their fill, Charon must hear it all: the squabbling, the crying, the remorse, the rage, even the begging Charon to relent. Through four singers, we hear a sampling of what Charon dismisses as human pettiness—sometimes comic, sometimes tragic—before their past lives slip away. The quiet of the last leg of the journey is the only thing Charon enjoys.
However, usually Charon’s boatloads are relatively light. Suddenly, the numbers of dead are increasing. We overhear a politician ruing some decision. A suicidal mother reuniting with her child lost at war. An American couple discussing their confusion about the goings on in a far-off country. A voter yelling at a representative “I told you so.” And more. And more. And more. It takes longer and longer for the mosquitoes to do their job. Even the silence is different—Charon’s ears are still ringing. Soon, the cacophony is unbearable. The boat even threatens to capsize under the weight of so many people. Charon bears his burden as best he can—the gods must know what they’re doing—and finally, sure he can take no more of it, he pushes his way back to the living side of the river only to find . . . there is no one there. For the first time in his existence. Empty. There is some relief, though his apathy tempers the silence. The gods must know what they’re doing . . .
Finally, after some time (though, who’s to say how long?), a young child arrives at Charon’s dock. The child is quiet. Emaciated. Weary far beyond his years. Charon recognizes this weariness and attempts to make dialogue with the boy, but to no avail. They row in painful silence until they reach their destination. The child disembarks. Charon sighs, ready to go back to the other side of the river when the child stops and turns to Charon.
“It's okay,” the child says. “I was the last one.” Then turns and walks away.
Charon sits in his boat, suddenly trembling, and begins to weep.
Based on the story by fabulist Lord Dunsany, composer Scott Perkins and librettist Nat Cassidy’s CHARON is a study of the depths of one man’s eternal weariness, a eulogy for every life which must slip away, and most of all, an allegory for our contemporary society’s ambivalence in the face of inundation, as well as our place in a world clearly falling apart.