Dark Genesis (libretto by Michal Imielski)
Dark Genesis (2016) is an original Australian contemporary sci-fi chamber opera about the last two human survivors hurtling through deep space on a small spaceship into the unknown abyss, having escaped an apocalyptic planet Earth. A chamber opera company is currently being sought to stage the work. Instrumentation: Soprano, Tenor, Flute, Trumpet, Piano, Violoncello, Double Bass, Spacesounds Soundtrack (real planetary sound spectra courtesy of astronomer Dr Paul Francis) with final show involving astronomical projections.
SCENE BY SCENE DESCRIPTION
Scene 1. Fragmentation
Scene 1 opens with total darkness and two sleeping characters: Nysa and Aten (named after asteroid groups in our solar system). On the soundtrack is a spaceship hum, then the nebulae and star sounds (from astronomer Dr Paul Francis’ collection of space sounds) fade in and out on the soundtrack. On stage there are vignettes in spotlights of Nysa and Aten’s body parts shaking on stage, e.g. a foot, a hand, a breathing stomach, synchronised in brightness with the space sounds’ crescendos and diminuendos. After approximately one minute, Aten begins to wriggle, toss and turn while his eyes are closed. His aria is to be performed as if sleep-talking, to the accompaniment of double bass, cello and nebulae soundscape.
Aten sings and speaks his aria: “What’s that? I can’t hear you…What do you mean, you have the plague? There’s no cure, no cure?! You’re saying I should leave Earth and save myself?! But I love you! My love is strong, is strong. My love is strong. Ahh..You are fading. Ah. I will miss you. Hmm.” This aria is an introduction to the dream-like fragmented mood of the work. It also introduces the audience to the idea that Aten and Nysa have left Earth as the human population is dying. The characters are on the ship grudgingly, and out of desperation rather than sense of adventure. The double bass and electric guitar continue their duet followed by more nebulae sounds fading in, as if confirming the distance of Earth and the stories left behind. Punctuating the end of the scene, a fortissimo cluster chord from all instruments using tremolo and flutter tongue makes a sudden entry as astonished characters wake up and spotlight is on their face.
Scene 2. Spaceship
As Scene 2 begins, the light comes up properly on stage to show Nysa and Aten on a small spaceship standing in front of large window (a projector screen with spacescapes, as if travelling slowly through space). There are two single beds and a toilet present on stage. The space sounds are no longer heard in this scene, only the spaceship hum on the soundtrack. Nysa and Aten discuss their predicatment. Nysa speaks, with some sung and some spoken notes: “How long have we been here? How long is it now? How long have we suffered? How long, how long, how long?!” Aten replies “Shut up! You’re not the only one suffering!” She retorts: “Don’t speak to me like that! All my savings to be trapped like this, trapped like this, on the last ship out from Earth!” The chromatic motifs introduced in this scene reflect their onerous situation, as if taking one difficult step forward and then stopping, as if walking through honey. Aten continues the dialogue: “Small price to pay for your freedom, Small price to pay for your freedom, small price to pay when Earth is dying, everyone is dying.” During this Nysa mutters to herself: “Trapped like this! Earth’s surface is dead, and the underground cities near dead too”. During this section tension is increased with a poco accelerando and with the addition of syncopated piano chords, ending on a cluster chord with G in the bass. This section represents a change in tone from dread to optimism and mainly concerns Nysa’s gradually more hopeful state of mind as she allows herself to dream about finding a new place to live. Optimism is reflected through the shift in tonality to C Major and a heavy use of primary triads. This section also uses many extended jazz chords which are subtly apparent. Nysa sits on the toilet and sings her aria to adding lightness and fun to the performance, it implies the cramped living conditions they are in, contributing to the sense of urgency and uncertainty.
As she sits on the toilet and gazes out the window Nysa sings, and occasionally speaks: “Maybe there’s a chance to be free. Perhaps there’s a possibility, a possibility, a possibility to live free!” accompanied only by piano. She then flushes the toilet and daydreams: “ Hm..a new beginning. No more underground cities, no more wastelands. A new home! Hm..” accompanied only by flute. Pregnancy is suggested as she places her hand on her stomach.
Scene 3 Black Hole Vortex Birth
Scene 3 commences with a large crash on the soundtrack just before the last chord of Scene 2 finishes. It represents a transformation of the mood on stage to shock, surprise and gives a sense being in the middle of a natural disaster. The stage directions are to simulate a crash. Nysa and Aten shake and look around wondering what’s happening. On the projector screen there is a swirling vortex, a montage of images past and present and future of Earth and planets, galaxies. On the soundtrack there is approximately one minute of a jumble of radio signals from Russian announcements to Chinese broadcasts to a dog barking, a hint of didgeridoo, Gregorian chant choirs, to distortion of unknown origin, Morse code signals and people talking in a crowded room. A trumpet solo begins over the cracking of the radio interference. The mood created with instruments evades steady beat suggesting de-stabilisation, as if one is swaying as if one is losing footing or about to tumble over, which is very apt for this scene of turbulence and chaos.
During the scene Nysa and Aten become weightless and confused – an impression that could be created through aerial ropes. Aten says “What the hell is happening? Where are we? Am I dreaming? I’m scared. I’m very scared” Nysa whispers “Me too”. They try to speak but they can't finish words or sentences: Aten continues: “I am numb. Ahh. I don’t know if I exist at all, exist at all. Saa Ah ee ya ya”. Aten then pushes words out as he realises what’s happening: “ Is it a, is it a…?” The pianist, flautist, cellist, bassist from the ensemble shout erratically while clapping “Black hole, black hole, black hole” as if echoing his thoughts. Aten continues to talk over the shouting: “A region of space-time with such strong gravitational pull that light, space and time deform.” Astronomer Kip Thorne writes (2014, p46) “Black holes are made from warped space and warped time...Black holes can spin, just as Earth spins. A spinning black hole drags space around it into a vortex-type whirling motion” Scene 3 is my sound representation of what might happen when entering a black hole. The slow speech represents time slowing down, the random mix of radio signals represents time not progressing in the same way. Following the realisation that the characters have entered a black hole, the double bass has sliding notes with double stops while Nysa looks at her stomach and notices her pregnancy is progressing abnormally fast. She says “Wha..Uh oh. Uh oh”. Aten continues: “Wha…Ah.. Ooo..ah-k” Nysa watches her stomach grow before her eyes: “Uh oh, Uh oh”. To build up to the climax of the scene, the ensemble play in rhythmic unison for ten bars. The effect is somewhat like Morse code, with instruments added every few bars and a prominent crescendo.
A dramatic “whooshing” sound is heard on the soundtrack, symbolising travelling across the event horizon of the black hole. Thorne writes (p47) “What happens at the event horizon of a black hole? Time is so extremely warped there that it flows in a direction you would have thought was spatial; it flows downward towards the singularity.” The singularity is the centre of a black hole, “a one-dimensional point which contains a huge mass in an infinitely small space, where density and gravity become infinite and space-time curves infinitely, and where the laws of physics as we know them cease to operate” according to astronomer Luke Mastin (2009). Following the “whoosh” there are seven seconds of eerie silence. Then comes a primal scream on the soundtrack while Nysa has her legs parted.
Scene 4 New Galaxy
This scene is the “calm after the storm” and uses much of the same musical material as Scene 1, but without the vocal line. On the film are calm scenes of a new galaxy forming. The implication is that Nysa is giving birth to a new universe. This is my interpretation of the multi-verse big bang theory. In 2014 the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics unveiled results from experiments with gravitational wave energy. Essentially, they concluded (paraphrased by Dan Vergano, National Geographic journalist, 2014) “that the process that inflates a universe looks just too potent to happen only once; rather, once a Big Bang starts, the process would happen repeatedly and in multiple ways.”. The end of Scene 3 and Scene 4 is Wilkins' visual musical and artistic embodiment of the recurring “big bang” notion.
 Thorne, Kip S. The Science of Interstellar New York: W. W. Norton, 2014
 Mastin, Luke. Physics of the Universe, http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/ (accessed 1/10/2016)
 Vergano, Dan. “The Big Bang Opens Doors to Multi-Verse Theory.” National Geographic Mar 2014.