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an opera in one act (In Progress)

Duration: 60-70 minutes

Libretto: English, by Kendra Leonard


JACOPO, a man from Naples, Umberto’s lover .. .. .. .. .. .. .. countertenor

UMBERTO, a man from Naples, Jacopo’s lover .. .. .. .. .. .. .. baritone

MARIA, Umberto’s mother  .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. soprano

SIBONA, a femminiello from Naples .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. tenor

MAMMA SCHIAVONA, the Black Madonna of Montevergine  .. .. soprano

FATHER NICONE, a priest at Montevergine .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. baritone

CYBELE, pagan Mother goddess .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. soprano

Three GALLI, eunuch priests of Cybele .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. SSA trio

MALATESTA, a pilgrim in Montevergine .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. tenor/baritone

INNKEEPER in Montevergine .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. soprano

RESIDENTS of Montevergine .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. SATB ensemble


Based on a Neopolitan legend from 1256.
Set in Naples and Montevergine.

In late January of 1256, Jacopo and Umberto, two young Neapolitan men, excitedly prepare for their pilgrimage to see Mamma Schiavone, the “black Madonna” at the Sanctuary of Montevergine. They plan to ask this Mary-of-the-people to give Jacopo’s ailing father good health, and to deliver embroidered garments for the priests, made by Umberto’s mother. The pilgrimage also gives them time to be together without others around, and as they pack, they fantasize about their upcoming time together, but they remind one another that they have to be careful on their journey—it would be dangerous if anyone knew they were gay. They say farewell to their parents, who have hired Sibona, a Neapolitan femminiello, to grant them luck on their way. Jacopo and Umberto promise to return well before the first leaves of Spring appear.

Sibona correctly guesses that Jacopo and Umberto are a couple, and they discuss the hypocrisy that celebrates the femminiello of Naples but decries other queer men. Sibona accompanies the pair to the city gates and tells them about Montevergine’s original shrine to Cybele. As they speak, Cybele and three of her Galli appear to them. The Galli, who are dressed in yellow robes, have long hair, and wear makeup, dance the Tammurriata, play tambourines and a drum, and sing of the coming Spring and the celebrations and theatrics that will take place at Cybele’s temples. Sibona, Jacopo, and Umberto are drawn into the dance as Cybele and her priests pass by, and then are left behind as the goddess and her galli disappear. Sibona is astonished by this appearance and suggests that Jacopo and Umberto make an offering to Cybele as well as Mamma Schiavona once they reach their destination.  

After a couple days of walking, Jacopo and Umberto stay overnight at a small monastery on the way to Montevergine. They offer prayers to Mamma Schiavona and, much more quietly, to Cybele. Realizing that there are no other pilgrims in their room for the night, Jacopo jokingly tells Umberto that Umberto can never become a gallus because Jacopo would miss Umberto’s balls too much. They laugh and kiss, but jump out of bed and break apart when they hear a noise, scared that they will be found out, but then relax and return to bed.

Amid a terrible storm and fierce wind, an exhausted Umberto and Jacopo arrive in Montevergine. They go straight to the Sanctuary, where they offer the vestments to Father Nicone and pray to Mamma Schiavona. As they leave, they duck around the side of the Sanctuary’s outer walls and place a package on the ground—it is a beef heart bought at a nearby butcher’s as an offering for Cybele. Tired of the cold, they decide to spend the night at an inn that will be warmer—and more private—than the monastery hostel. Left alone in the Sanctuary, Father Nicone recognizes the signs of young men in love, and it revives his own past, a past he entered the priesthood to run from.  

Later, Umberto and Jacopo are in bed at the inn when the door opens and a man enters thinking it is his room. The couple is startled, the stranger is appalled, the entire inn is awakened by the yelling and chaos. The stranger and the innkeeper drag Jacopo and Umberto out of bed and into the piazza. Father Nicone and the residents of the area are drawn out to the commotion. The residents call on their priest for judgement and Father Nicone says that the men must be tied to a tree and packed in with ice and snow and left to freeze. Jacopo and Umberto pray to Mamma Schiavona and Cybele, and moments after they have been bound and covered in ice and snow, a brilliant, warm light fills the space. Cybele and Mamma Schiavona appear. Cybele melts the ice with the light. Mamma Schiavona covers the young men with her cloak and unties their bonds. She admonishes the townspeople for their actions and declares that love is not a sin. “I give everything,” Mamma Schiavona sings, “and I forgive everything. I forgive your violence towards these pilgrims.” Cybele joins in, and together the dieties declare Montevergine a safe town for people of all genders and sexualities.  

In February 2nd, present day, the Candelora festival at Montevergine is in full swing. Cybele and Mamma Schiavona dance among their devotees—men, women, femminielli, nonbinary, many others—join from different directions. The modern-day Jacopo and Umberto greet each other with a kiss and introduce two people they've brought to the festivities, their friends Sibona and Nicone. They exchange greetings, “You look so familiar.” “You do too! I swear we've met before.” As the dancing swells, Mamma Schiavona and Cybele dance the new couple into each other.



Upcoming Premiere:

Opéra Queens

Montréal & Toronto, Canada
Summer 2025


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