Babinagar

"It's easier to chase the sun,
to drown the sea,
and tear down heaven,
than to receive the love we're given."

I wrote this living-room opera on a folktale from Afghanistan.  It's a familiar story to anyone who knows what happened to Cupid & Psyche: a marriage, a breach of trust, and redemption through trials.  

 

Listen

Selected Performances

Texas living room tours with Alison Fletcher (Babi), Doug Balliett (bass), Mollie Marcuson (harp) – 2009-10

Columbia U. Remixing Opera conference with Caroline Shaw (Babinagar) and the Franklin Quartet – 2011

Lucerne Festival with Alison, Doug, Brad Balliett (bassoon), and string quartet and harp students – 2011

The Stone NYC with Alison, Geremy Schulick (guitar), Brad and Doug – 2013

Berkshire Fringe Festival with Alison, Geremy, Brad and Doug – 2013

World Cafe Live in Philadelphia with trio Marcel (guitar, clarinet, cello) and Charlotte Mundy (Babinagar) – 2013

Cornelia Street Cafe with Marcel and Majel Connery (Babinagar) – 2013

 

Lyrics

1.  Father's Song / Song of the Snake

I once had my very own daughter
She was a golden flower
Then one day 
she went away
in clothes and shoes of iron.

I broke my back for a living
to give her an honest upbringing
my one mistake 
was when that snake
Khastakhumar came singing:

"Sure as sky, 
sure as earth,
sure as death,
sure as birth,
sure as wells are full of water
I have come to woo your daughter fair"

 

2.  Stepsister's Song

When it comes, it hisses,
but behind her door he speaks.
All we see is black and small
but he is tall when my sister peeks.

It has no lips!  We've seen it
as it slithers through the dusty yard.
But once inside, without a hiss
we hear him kiss Babinagar.

Is he handsome?  Is he strong?
Why does he leave so early?
Is he Afghan like our mom, 
or is he blonde and curly?

She won't tell us anything,
though we her loving sisters are.
We are sick to death of silent
smiling Babinagar.

You must make him stay.
You must make him stay.
A good man would not leave you
every single day.

We are older, we are fairer
I sing, she plays the oud.
We expected to be married
long before our sister would.

For sisters we a sister had
but now this husband makes us four
and two of them a secret keep,
that serpent and Babinagar.

You must make him stay.
You must make him stay.
A good man would not leave you
every single day.

Wherever he may go all day,
I'm sure it is a woman.
Another family tucked away,
I hear that's not uncommon.

Make a tea of garlic
onion skins and vinegar:
serve it him and you will win
a constant man, Babinagar.

 

3.  Lament -- Duet

You 
You don't know what you've done.
You've done the forbidden thing,
and for this the snakes have won
and I must go be their king.

Oh husband no!            I told you no
Forgive me and do not go!        no vinegar in my home
I feared that you were not true    no garlic or onion skins
but I should have trusted you    oh why did I trust in you
Oh I should have trusted you

 

4.  The Challenge

I was honest when you married me
All I asked is that you trust in me
The spell can break
I'll shed this skin
and we can be together then

I must go, or they will come for me    I will follow
but if you think that you can set me free    Through sand and through snow:
I must share my skin with you        I will wear your skin with you
                        say the thing that I must do!

You must find:
7 sets of iron clothes
7 pairs of iron shoes
7 iron canes
and when you've worn them through

I'll be there for you

 

5.  Babinagar's Promise

7 sets of iron clothes
7 pairs of iron shoes
7 iron canes is all I need to prove my love is true.
I'll chase the setting sun and then
when I've worn them through
serpent spells are broken, Love I'm coming
I'm coming
I'll come running

for sure as buckwheat
sure as rain
sure as Abel
cares for Cain
I fear neither weight nor distance
infinite is my insistence

(and she began to walk)

 

6.  Round:  The Dowry Grows

The two become four and the four become eight
when the happy bull and the heifer mate.
Eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four,
with every mile her dowry's more.

The two become four and the four become eight,
the seasons are smiling on her estate.
Her courage grows thicker as iron grows thin
and she blesses the roads that lead her to him.

 

7.  Babinagar's Journey

I have seen the western powers
I have met Castilians
I have counted minarets
unfolding into millions and millions of flowers.

Through fields of water and through seas of 
sand I will carry his ring on my 
hand and as long as we two are a-
part I will marry his song to my
heart

I followed first the citrus road
to lemon merchants' distant lands
but much too soon that trail went cold 
so now I follow pelicans

I have breached the garrisons
the guard the grey perimeter
I have journeyed farther than
the Emirates of Jupiter

I have journeyed farther than
the pilgrims indeterminate
who separate themselves
and disappear into the firmament

Heavy the water, and heavy the 
sand with this ring weighing down my left 
hand and as long as we two are a-
part I will marry his song to my
heart

I have crossed the Hindu-Kush
I have crossed the Caucuses
I have asked in every place
if they know where my husband is.

Have your people any news?
Stories of a serpent king?
Everywhere I am refused,
even when I sing to Maronites, Berbers and Jews

and the Turkmen
and the Tartars
and the Aisors
and the Uighurs
and the Persians
and the Tajik
and the Pashtun
and the Magyars
and the Khazaks 
and the Dacians
and the Latins
and the Christians
and the Saxons
and the Lombards
and the Thamud
and the Siwans

and still this iron wearing thin will be my only news of him

 

Day will follow every night,
and soon the sky will clear;
journeying turns the
far to near and
everything
heavy

light

 

8.  The Dowry of Babinagar

Whose are these camels?  Whose are these sheep?
Who does these pastures and animals keep?
Whose are these everglades stretching so far?
    "They are the dowry of Babinagar."

 

Who lets these cows and these pelicans roam?
Who does these stables and boulevards own?
Whose are these looms that weave yard after yard?
    "They are the dowry of Babinagar."

Whose are these windmills with inlays of gold?
Who does this blossoming acreage hold?
Whose ivy and myrtle that cradle the stars?
    "They belong to Khastakhumar --
    they are the dowry of Babinagar."

 

9.  The Well

    I am thirsty --
    I am weary --
    The sun's getting hotter.
    I am thirsty --
    I am weary --
    Would you pull me some water?

Today I asked for water
to cut the dust and my
concubine poured on me
a bucketful of pus.

When I sent her back out
to check the well I had
dug, her bucket --
all it pulled up was
blood.

    I am thirsty --
    I am weary --
    The sun's getting hotter.
    I am thirsty --
    I am weary --
    Would you pull me some water?

 

She told me a beggar
sang a song of her
thirst -- I told her 
to go and see to that
first -- and when she
returned, a miraculous
thing -- yes, the water, but
in the jug was my
ring.

 

10.  End / Beginning

I -- I --
Darling I -- Hello! --
the iron -- the snakeskin I --
so long -- missed you --
-- who is that?
no one, I'm so happy you're finally here -- the well... oh husband
I'm sorry --
I'd given up hoping you'd come.

    I'm undone
    My own husband could not believe that I would come so many miles
    I traveled so far!  But was that all for you?
    Or was that just for me?

Look at me
now I'm the faithless one
I am yours but I
cannot believe I
deserve this
it's crushing
it's too much
it overflows and breaks
my cup

Do you love me?
Sure as the buckwheat I'll carry!
Do you love me?
Sure as the woman I married!
Do you love me?
Sure as the children we'll raise!
Do you love me?
As soon as I feel your embrace!

It would take more lives than one
to match the love that you have shown

It's easier to chase the sun,
to drown the sea,
and tear down heaven,
than to receive the love we're given.