Judith Fein: When composer/conductor Henry Mollicone asked me to write the libretto for Hotel Eden, he said it had to be based on the Bible. I had one immediate thought: it has to be from the point of view of the women. No, that isn’t entirely true. I also had a second immediate thought––it has to be funny and moving, just like the women I know. I was a Hollywood screenwriter at the time, and I would push my film and TV scripts to the side of my desk, and plunge into the world of those women who sometimes hide and sometimes leap off the pages of the Hebrew Bible.
I heard, through the rumor mill, that Adam had a wife before Eve. Really? My days became consumed by #1, whose name was Lilith. She sometimes wanted to be on top, and she certainly wanted equality….so Adam got rid of her. She became demonized as an evil spirit of the night who steals babies. That was a hard demonic lump to swallow. What happened next, we all know: Adam was sleeping and Eve was born from his rib. Hmmmm. So I thought: what happens if Adam and Eve are newlyweds, and they check into the Hotel Eden for their Honeymoon? All is romantic, lovely, cutesy, and then Adam goes out to kill a snake he has heard is slithering around in the garden of the hotel. He wants to protect his lovely Eve. And then, Lilith shows up. She wanders into the room, where she once stayed with her husband a long time ago. She asks Eve if she is married.
What ensues next is a duet between Lilith and Eve. Lilith sings about her abusive, cruel, punishing husband, and Eve sings about her hunky hubby who loves and adores her. And then the door opens, and Adam walks in. OMG. Double OMG. The women look at him and at each other. It is a terrible moment for all three of them. And guess who gets the boot?
Next, I started thinking about Noah, who was the first drunk. When that ark landed, the first thing he did was plant a vineyard. Well, he had children, so he must have had a wife. What about her? What was it like to be married to a drinker? Back to the Hotel Eden we went, where a middle aged couple, Noah and Mrs. Noah, have checked in to celebrate the former’s abstinence, and the latter’s relief at having her husband back from the clutches of alcohol. What happens, sadly, is that this was before AA, and, when Mrs. Noah is out of the room, Noah takes to the bottle, falls into the bathtub, turns on the water, and floods the hotel. When Mrs. Noah returns, she has had it. She sings her breakout number to the staff of the hotel: Please don’t call me Mrs. Noah. Enough of Mrs. Noah. In Spain I’m Señora Noah. In France, it’s Madame Noah. For Pete’s sake, call me by by real name. And then she cuts up with the hotel staff. So what happens to their marriage? Does Noah see the light? Does she stay or go? And what does the hotel Director (aka the boss of the universe) have to say about that? You can be sure that Henry went to town with the music, which whisks Mrs. Noah around the world in her extravagant #MeToo aria.
It was natural, then, to think of advancing years, and that led me to another complex couple: Abraham and Sarah. They sing in lyrical astonishment about how fast the years have gone by, and how gray they are now. Throughout their marriage, Sarah couldn’t conceive, and so she now suggests that Abraham sleep with Hagar, her handmaiden, who was purportedly Egyptian. By doing that, there would be an heir. Abraham (affectionately called Abie) sleeps with Hagar and they have a baby—Ishmael. All seems calm in the Hotel Eden in Abraham and Sarah’s room, until….Sarah starts feeling nauseous, and then they find out that, at age 90, she is pregnant. They immediately start thinking about what they will name the child—and they decide, in a comic sequence, to call him Isaac. Sarah’s birth takes place onstage (don’t worry, she’s covered up to protect the innocent) and little Isaac is born to much joy and celebration. Except for Hagar. She has a sense this is not going to bode well. And she is right. Sarah wants Hagar and Ishmael gone…and Abraham bows to her request and banishes Hagar and Ishmael.
Maybe, in this third and final act, the adults are too anchored in their positions to change things. But luckily, there is a younger generation—Ishmael and Isaac. And through them, there is hope for the future of Jewish/Arab relations and for peace.
When Henry and I finished the opera, we took a very deep breath and wondered how it would be received. We were grinning when the audience howled with laugher, grew very silent and pensive, and then bounded to its feet… and the critics were very kind and positive. Thank you, Opera America, for funding the development of Hotel Eden.
Now I am a travel journalist, and, lucky me, I get to travel around the world (like Mrs. Noah, but my husband, my soulmate, is the opposite of her mate who has lost his bearings) writing about (and my husband photographing) other cultures. I also write about opera, and live in the bosom of the Santa Fe Opera. Last summer, we went to the entire Ring Cycle in Bayreuth, and I got to write about it for the Santa Fe Opera blog. It was an experiential guide for first timers.
I am very excited that Henry and I now have a very timely opera—it’s part #MeToo, part comedy, part serious, about Arabs and Jews and how the separation began, about complex relationships…and it’s very physical and entertaining. We avoided everything strident. Arias are available from E. C. Schirmer, and each act of the opera can stand alone for performance. Of course, if we have our druthers, it will be performed as a whole—three couples, three periods of life, three acts.
Let me know if you have any thoughts, reactions, anything. We live in such an interactive world that it’s great to hear from you. Happy days and nights of opera to you all.
Henry Mollicone: I am writing about what it was like to compose the music for Hotel Eden, but I really feel that that in any work for music theater, the marriage between the words and the music is completely essential for its success. Judie gave me a wonderful libretto filled with humor, and I had no choice but to compose the kind of music I did, according to the mood of the story/libretto. For me, some of the essential musical moments are the rock song that follows the Mrs. Noah aria, the song “ Yesterday,” which is sung, nostalgically and wistfully, by Abraham and Sarah, and Hagar’s aria. In terms of musical style, Hotel Eden is a crossover piece that uses jazz elements, and it is closer to Sondheim and Bernstein than to an opera. And as I look back at my musical career to date, the grand quintet at the end of act two is definitely some of my best ensemble writing.
Read on to see what the critics say, and watch the complete opera!
What the critics say…
“… a beautifully crafted work of consummate joy”– OPERA GUIDE, Los Angeles
“…clever, highly original, musically engaging…great fun. Each intermission leaves one anxious for the next act to begin. THE SACRAMENTO BEE
“…glitzy, hip, sometimes tender… a feminist reading of three stories from the Old Testament….
“… a lark of an opera….reminds us poignantly that today’s implacable Middle Eastern antagonists spring from common progenitors…
— MUSICAL AMERICA
“… there is nothing tentative about its idiom, its writing for voices or for the aptness or inventiveness of the instrumental writing.”
— OPERA, London
“… simple love melodies…hard-pop…sticky-rock diversions… show-biz routines as well as old-fashioned operatic procedures.”
— LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Upbeat, provocative and craftily conceived, the Hotel Eden is destined for bigger houses… SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
“Hotel Eden is a hit…Unorthodox. Sexy. Sassy. Jazzy. Exuberant.
— SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Watch the full production below: