Some Thoughts on Music in THE TRUTH: A TRAGEDY

Gustav Mahler

Music plays a major role in Cynthia Hopkins’ The Truth: A Tragedy. From sea shanties to Mahler, the play runs the gamut of musical forms and idioms. For an insight into how music operates within the production, FEED invited music writer and musicologist David Rubeo to weigh on on this subject.

Music, with its power to evoke emotion, allows us to reflect on our past from our current vantage point, to attach to significant persons and events those emotions we feel toward them now. In The Truth: A Tragedy, Cynthia Hopkins uses music to create a soundtrack for the life of her father, John G. Hopkins, and his suffering with Parkinson’s Disease. Classical music piped through the sound system, Cynthia’s own compositions sung and played on piano and accordion, her father’s one musical venture brought to life on electronic keyboard, are all scattered before us in the same way the various physical artifacts of John’s life are strewn about the stage. Even the lobby and downstairs region of Soho Rep have been transformed into a “cabinet of curiosities”, and we are left to piece these items together into a narrative that comes with a soundtrack.

John G. Hopkins’ life in music is composed of various strains: a note taped to the bathroom mirror reveals his youthful ardor for another fellow, interwoven with his passion for Dvorak and Brahms; he had a great fondness for sea shanties; and he wrote his own musical theater piece.

He loved the works of Mahler and Verdi, both of whom figure prominently in the emotional content of the evening’s drama. The Truth: A Tragedy begins with the hushed chorus of the last movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony “Resurrection”, portions of which are used throughout the evening. Beautiful in and of itself, it is even more significant because of Cynthia’s choice of this particular moment in the work. We begin with the ending, the salutation for John’s life, as the text expresses repose and heavenly reward, while Cynthia joins her voice with the angelic soprano:

Rise again, yea, thou shalt rise again,
My dust, after short rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life!
He who called thee will grant thee.
To bloom again art thou sown!
The Lord of the Harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us who died.

John G. also fancied himself a composer and set out to write one great musical in his life, the euphemistically titled “Onions!”, which received its one and only performance by his 10, 11 and 12 year old students. Bold and ambitious, and comically not great, the work is a lot like the composer: awkward, endearing, and, in its own way, brilliant.

Cynthia also uses her own compositions to punctuate her memories of her father, creating her own soundtrack of their relationship. She is an incisively talented singer/songwriter, with a voice similar to Carole King or Natalie Merchant, piercingly poignant; when she sings you cannot help but listen to her emotions. Her songs, mostly ballads, but also encompassing some of her father’s love for sea shanties (there is a Yo ho ho moment), allow her to express her growing and shifting relationship with her father, from regret to loss, frustration to acceptance, and eventually admiration and wonder.

Returning to classical music later in the evening, Cynthia shockingly, painfully embodies her father’s aged figure, in a dance of dyskinesia that is hard to watch but even harder hitting set to a full blast recording of the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem. Perhaps we sympathize with the torture John must go through, or perhaps Cynthia wants us to feel compassion, to see John presenting himself at the final judgment in his twisted form, evoking eternal sympathy.

The Truth: A Tragedy, as Cynthia explains to her brother, is about relationships, the truth about relationships. But the relationship explored here is one sided, in the best, most self-revelatory sense. It is about Cynthia’s relationship with her own feelings about her father, and through this process of self-discovery she realizes that what she used to find “infuriating”, she now finds “delightful,” and maybe the daughter is the one who can now rest in peace.

David Rubeo is a performing arts professional with a B.A. degree in Philosophy and Fine Arts from Fordham University. He has worked for the Metropolitan Opera, The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, Boosey and Hawkes Music Publishers, and is currently freelancing. He is also a marathon runner with three medals to show for it.

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