“A Ukulele Opera…” by Joe Carli

 

 

A Ukulele Opera…Act #3.

Image result for Two lovers embracing.

 

Enrico and Rosaline.

Joe, the narrator tells of Enrico’s story..:

“You see, he had only just landed at Outer Harbour in the year of 1939 when he was immediately informed that being an “enemy alien”, of Italian extraction he would be interned…but the company he gained work with as a stone-mason/bricklayer gave him a choice..; He could be interned with the rest of the Italians in the Riverland, or he could go to Darwin to do work that the company had contracts for there on the hospital and the wharfs…He chose the latter…but then when he was working there, Darwin got bombed by the Japanese and he had to make his way back down the centre to here with us other Italians.. as fate would have it…

“Guiseppi!…how would your luck be” Enrico exclaimed to me when he got here, “ I leave Italy to get away from Mussolini, and then I come here to get bombed out by Tojo!….where does one go for a bit of peace in this world?”

Anyway…here he was and here he would stay….at least for the duration…and ..like the rest of us, he wasn’t very happy with the option.”

Joe, the narrator continues..He reads from a sheet of paper….

“Now at last I am free!

Off through the scrub I run

Where sheep tracks only are seen

Nothing but bush and sun

Till all of a sudden I come

Out where an axe swings free.

Cutting, for love and money

The axe bites deep in a tree…”

“A passing moment does not a lifetime make, but a moment’s passion can be a lifetime’s mistake….or..good fortune.  A life brought into being by the strangest union in the most unusual chances and circumstances one could imagine. He from the north of Italy, in the Dolomites, she from the ‘heartbreak country’ of the Murray Mallee in Australia..

They met on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline. He there to collect a truck-load of water for the camp, she on an evening ambulation from Portee Station where she worked as a servant girl.

He being able to speak barely a word of English, she not being able to understand a single word of Italian..But they met and exchanged pleasantries as only such ethnically diverse  strangers could.”

He asked (in Italian) if they ate well at the big house…;

“Mangiano bene nella grande casa?”

She replied ( in English)..:

“ The evening light falling on the river spreads a certain calm over the waters…don’t you think?”

He was a stone-mason by trade.

She desired to be a poet.

They got on well, and in the intervening months, while Enrico’s English improved immensely, so did their congenial meetings..by now a regular, mutually agreeable thing. As the Spring weather became more and more pleasant and the days longer, Enrico would linger at his duties of pumping water into the tanker longer than was allocated by his roster and he was questioned by Joe on his arrival back at the camp..

“What do you get up to there by the riverside to be away for so long?” Joe asked.

“ I listen to the birds sing and observe the calming light on the waters”..Enrico answered.

“And this singing birdy you listen to..what is her name?” Joe cynically responded..

“Rosaline.” Enrico smiled.

Indeed, They did eventually wed..the youthful composer of the above doggerel ; Rosaline Thomas and the refugee Italian ; Enrico Corradini (whom she would call; “Ricky”). And as she describes her running through the scrub to meet with her lover, I can now ask, knowing the ending of her story ; Was she running to embrace life, or running from a desolate lifestyle?..And Enrico, the refugee , HE we know was running from hunger and war, but did he realise then as he surely did later, what and where was he running to?”

Enrico arrived at the Charcoal camp a week after Artini’s attemped escape and drowning in the Murray River. So the whole camp was in the doldrums over that affair. There was little appetite for getting to know any new arrivals at the moment..the whole camp ran on “automatic pilot” and Enrico was given the easy job of just going to the river twice a week to get a tanker full of water. It was on one of these trips that he met Rosaline.

The “unofficial” story surrounding their meeting and courtship is recorded in the family circle..It seems the erstwhile Enrico was out trapping rabbits one day and he got lost..only to stumble onto the dusty bush camp where, coincidently, the young Rosaline was in attendance to her mother ; Grace Thomas, who was expecting her fifth child. Rosaline’s father, having difficulty understanding the gesticulating “eyetalian”, instructed Rose to show him the track leading to the presumed wood-cutters camp from whence he came.

In truth, the information on the whereabouts of that family’s camp-site away in the bush from another charcoal-burning camp a couple of kilometres from Fox’s camp, and the fact that Rosaline would be at that camp-site on such a time of the month was passed to Enrico on one of their “accidental meetings” at the river’s edge..the trapping of rabbits was Enrico’s own innovation.

A week or so later, Enrico turned up again, rabbit traps in hand and lost again..the same procedure as last time was followed and that was that, until again..another week later Enrico shows up again, lost while trapping rabbits…this time, as Rosaline is leading the gentleman away, Richard Thomas scratched the back of his head in thought…he turned to his wife..:

“You know..that eyetie must be the worst trapper in the world…he’s never got one single bunny!”

Joe continues…;

“The camp that Rosaline’s parents were at was a couple of kilometres from our camp and it was run by a Slavic man named Jack…It was a rough camp of desperates and opportunists, with many accidents at the charcoal pit heads..for if those burns were not attended to or done right, they could suddenly explode into a shower of flame and sparks and set the whole camp aflame…Here, I will let Rosaline explain it from this poem she wrote of everyday life there..

“Also down in the camp,

The man are up and about,

Somebody waves a flagon,’

And another raises a shout!

Then a glass of wine is downed,

To help one through the day . . .”

So you can see, there was not much disciplined routine over in that camp and that is why Richard Thomas moved his family away into the scrub and pitched tent away from the men, as Mrs. Thomas and the young girls were the only women and children in the camp…So when Rosaline told Enrico she was going to stay with her mother because of the mother’s pregnancy, that developed into the occurrence of her mother having a miscarriage and Rosaline had to stay longer to both help with her mother’s recuperation and the schooling of the younger ones..so Enrico got to know Rosa and her family quite well over that time, with the family sometimes coming to play cards at the Italian camp..and then when Rosaline went back to work at Portee station, he resumed his job of going to the river to get water..and there he continued his courtship of Rosaline.”

Joe continues..:

“Now, the war is coming to an end..it won’t be long before the camp will be broken up and all these men will be able to go back to their dreams…but I wonder if those dreams will now become something different?….”

One afternoon, on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline sit talking of the future…The war is near an end and the Camp is due to be broken up…The Italians will be able to go back to their former plans and dreams…Enrico says to Rosaline:

“Rosa..what are we to do?…I will soon be sent back to the city..what will you do?”

Rosaline sat quietly looking over the river waters…then she spoke..not exactly TO Enrico, but to the quiet atmosphere around them both..:

“There’s an old German hand there at Portee who, whenever he has to cross the river on the punt to go to work on the other side, would pick up a small stone, a pebble, carry it across and place it on the other side….I once asked him why he did it….he was at first reluctant to tell me..but I persisted…

“Well, girlie”…( that’s what they all call young women out here)….”it is my own little thing…I think of the small stone as my soul,…you see, I cannot swim..and so I take the stone, carry it, and if or when I reach safely the solid ground on the other side, I leave it dzair….when I come back, I do the same”

“What happens if the punt starts to sink?” I asked.

“Dzen I will try to throw it with all my might, to the other side….and I think if it reaches there , then  I feel I too will reach there…”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Dzen, I think I vill be lost in the waters of the river…” Rosaline stopped abruptly and looked to Enrico with a sadness in her eyes..“Will I too be lost in the waters of the river, Enrico?” she asked. “Will my life’s hope be as desperate as that little pebble..nothing but a hope of something better?”

Enrico took her hands and looked deep into her eyes…he then asked the question he had been wanting to ask for a long time….

“Will you come to the city to be with me, Rosa?…Come to the city and we can soon be married…if you will have me.”

“O’, Ricky..how can we marry?…you see where my family lives..how my family lives…in a bag tent in the Mallee..I have nothing, you have little as you have said yourself..How can we start a life together?”

Enrico clasps her hands tight..

“But, my love..soon I will be back in the city..I have a job promised to me by Joe..he is a builder there..I will make my money..if you can find work there, we can both start a new life together..”

Rosaline brightens up at the new prospect, this new hope…

“Dr. Hackendorf and his wife are good friends of the owners of Portee Station and the Doctor has said many times that I could work and board with them if I ever decide to come to the city to live…I’ll see if that offer still stands”…

Enrico moves to kneel in front of the sitting Rosaline takes hold of her hands and sings this song to her..:

“El canto della sposa”..:

“The house of my darling,

Is all made of bags,

But for me who wishes to go there ,

It is a palace of silk..”  (etc.see : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-KqXtc0CFo )

Afterwards, they both go back to the camp, where they find the men there in an uproar at the news that Gemano’s fiancé has survived the war and has written a letter to Gemano…He rushes toward Enrico when he sees he and Rosaline arrive back from the river in the water truck…The opening music of Verdi’s “Requiem Dies Irae “  strikes up in the background ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79tAD1UZ7m0

Gemano is waving a letter and crying out to the sky..

“She lives!!…she lives!!…my love is alive!…ahh, ha ha! ..she lives..” he drops to his knees and sobs.. “We have won, Enrico..we have both beaten death…for now…my love lives..she lives”

And he holds the letter up to Enrico who takes it gently and reads it..:

“Oh Gemano…truly you are fortunate…yes…she lives..” Enrico pauses, his brow furrows as he reads on..” She says here she now has a child…born during the war…”

“Yes, yes..I saw that..and she says she will only come to me if I accept the child as well.. what say you, Enrico…what do you think..”

“Do you still love her, Gemano?”

“Truly…more than I could say…so much more than I could say..”

“Then you must accept them both, Gemano…for they are both needing you as well..and who can say what has happened to those we left behind in that war…both you and I remember the last great war…so much killing of the young and old and raping of the women…the armies went up and down those valleys taking and using everything in their path so that none were spared..or none would survive..”…and he hands the letter back to Gemano…who takes it tenderly, folds it away into the envelope and places it into a top pocket…he then stands and takes out the old photograph he has of her..the stage darkens with a spotlight only on Gemano…he sings his song to the tune once again of ; “O’ mio babbino caro”…(I would also like to hear the soft strains of the ukulele mixed in tune with the symphonic music) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f59v8r1CBIo&list=PLabSmKXr9e_dZYdM61YNlQ40pRjjBPjYR&index=2&t=0s

“Now I will see my Sophia, (he holds her picture in front)

I still hold her picture so dear..

We will kiss at the station once more,

And I’ll put a white rose in her hair.

Just like this one I see here, (touches photo)

Now she is back I will kiss her,

Now she is back I shan’t miss her,

Once I see my Sophia,

I can’t believe she will be here,

I so want her to call my name,

Now I will see my Sophia,

Now I will hold my Fidanza,

We will kiss once more at the station,

I will put a rose in her hair, (Gemano strokes the picture lovingly)

I can hardly believe she will be here,

I so want her near me,

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, My darling, my dear.”

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, my darling, my dear.”

The music continues as the light slowly dims on Gemano, standing with his head bowed …

Joe the Narrator takes up the story…

“Ah…Gemano and Sophia…they did get married…by proxy..he here, she there in the old country and they finally joined together later when the ship brought her and her child to a new life here in Australia…and they had more children.

The camp was broken up not long after, and the men went back to their trades and work in the city and elsewhere…and look (Joe points to a heap of sacks left in a jumble at the back of the stage set ) there..in amongst the left over rubbish and sacks on their old life here..(He bends to pick up Gemano’s ukulele..it is battered and damaged and a couple of strings are broken) and see here..Gemano’s ukulele…what brought so much song and joy to so many nights in the camp..left to decay away with their memories…(he tosses it onto the heap of sacks) ..oh well..perhaps best it be so…so many dark days to walk away from…best it be so…”

Joe walks briskly off stage, whistling as he does so to the background music of “O’ mio babbino caro”…..

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A Ukulele Opera…Act #3.”

  1. Thanks for this link, Joe:

    I like this music very much. And my intention is now to study all three parts of your Ukelele Opera. Some of it I read already and it makes me want to read and understand more! And there seem to be lots of refernces to great music . . . .

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    1. Hello, Uta….it was late last night when I saw your comment..now I have time to answer better…Yes, the music is the thing..I wanted to orignally join in with someone who could read and write music to do a real opera rather than a “reading opera”…but coming from the trades, I had no reliable contacts to work with…so I had to borrow music and songs where I could and re-write words for them…But the story of those people is the thing, as it happened to some of my relatives in that very camp I write about..indeed, some of the “players” in the opera are my rlatives…It is a tale that had to be put down for posterity…good or bad, it had to be put on paper…Thanks for yours and Peter’s support, Uta..it is much appreciated

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  2. Thank you so much for this answer, Joe. Yes, I thought that the story is based on some of your relatives experiences. My impression is, that Australia does produce a great number of very talented people in the arts. Joe, that you put your story not just on paper but also on the internet, may inspire some people to use it in a creative way as for instance in a ‘real’ opera! You did well, to try to put this story down for posterity. 🙂

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  3. That generation were tenacious buggers…but I suppose coming from a great depression and two WWars, they had been through so much that a little more was not going to break them all…The ‘Gemano” in the story lamenting for his fiance back in Italy was a true event…where he came tto Aust’ with my father to get established but with the war, he didn’t hear anything of her for the duration..he didn’t know if she was alive or dead..so you can imagine the relief at the news…ah…I wonder if this new generation coming on has the “dig in and hold ground” tenacity of those of the past…I think there are going to be a lot of very lonely people around in the years to come…

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