A Dream Play by S J Pettersson – synopsis

2010-08-23 15;32;13

A Dream Play by S J Pettersson – synopsis

Composer and librettist

A Chamber Opera for small Orchestra And Soloists Words and Music by S. J. Pettersson – After the play by August Strindberg

The basic stage set consists of a background and two folded out sections. There are three large gilded mirrors that double as doors and windows depending on the current scene.

The drama of A Dream Play is formed by a series of tableaus, tied together not by a plot but by a common theme – the suffering of mankind. The main character is the Hindu god Indra’s daughter, who descends to earth to see how people live and everywhere finds pain and broken dreams.



A solo piano piece with a single spot light on the pianist alone, leaving the backdrop dark.


A female narrator dressed in a long plain white dress is sparsely lit by a spotlight from above. On the words “split in twain” the narrator’s voice is doubled by a second woman stage right, identically dressed and revealed by a new spotlight. On the words “multiply” another identically dressed third woman stage left is revealed by another spotlight doubling the words of the first two. After the words “again reunite” the main narrator again speaks alone. The other two spotlights fade out. After the last words of the prologue the spotlight briefly lights up the other two women and all three of them walk off the stage into darkness in three directions, disappearing into the openings of the three “mirrors”.

“Everything can happen; everything is possible and likely to happen. Time and space do not exist; on an insignificant foundation of reality the imagination spills out and weaves new patterns – a concoction of memories, experiences, improbabilities and utterly free improvisations.

The characters are split in twain, duplicate, multiply and evaporate. They condense, distill and again reunite. But one mind rises above them all. It is the Dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no consistencies, no scruples, no Law. He does not judge, nor gives out pardons but impartially relates the content of the dream itself. And as the dream often painful is, and much less often joyfully free-spirited, there is a tone of sadness and empathy with everything alive in this labyrinthine tale now beginning to unfold…”


Rapidly spinning and rotating falling stars are projected on the backdrop. The musicians in front are softly lit while the stage floor between them and the backdrop remains dark. After the last note the entire stage fades to black.

The Castle

The stage is lit up and the set is a castle wall with a man-sized black keyhole in the center of it. Large thorns line the edges of the walls and the two mirror openings are wooden doors. A large dark red rose is visible on top of a tower in the center of the stage backdrop set.

Seven Walls

There is a castle

And on it a tower

And on top of the tower’s a rose

The castle keeps growing

Its walls getting higher

As days pass

And seasons takes turns

Inside these seven walls

I wait for you to rescue me

I dream of being free

But fear the world outside

More than this place

Am I a prisoner here?

Or free to leave

Inside of the castle

A man sits a’ waiting

An Officer, sword by his side

He cleans out the stables

And ponders his childhood

And wonders how this came to be

Why me

Inside these seven walls

I wait for you to rescue me

I dream of being free

But fear the world outside

More than this place

Am I a prisoner here?

Or free to leave

Interlude 1(Solo Piano)

Lights on the pianist only while the set changes. When the lights come on the stage consists of a dark red open theatre curtain let down over the center stage backdrop. The tower and the rose have now disappeared. A wooden fleur-de-lie decorative edge rises over the three-walled stage set.

The Theatre

During the course of “The Officer and Victoria” the song text is dramatized by a man in a circa-1900 tuxedo including a shiny black hat. During the first verse he appears neatly dressed with a fresh bunch of red roses. In subsequent verses he is aged according to the text; his tuxedo becomes worn, dusty and the bouquet of roses is exchanged for one wilted and finally for one with just dried stems. For each verse his body language suggests that of an aging man.

The Officer and Victoria

In black hat and tails and with roses in hand

The officer patiently waits at the stage entrance

Door and he vows he will marry his love

Vic – to – ri – a

Vic – to – ri – a

For seven long years he has waited for her

In days when the sun reached the chimneys above and at night

When the darkness of evening has come

Vic – to – ri – a

Vic – to – ri – a

The roses have wilted and the hat’s full of dust

Has she come yet he wonders but the answer is no and he says

I should cancel the supper and wine

The evening time has come and no sign of my love

His clothing’s in rags and his hair has turned grey

The roses have lost all their petals to time and the

Summer is gone and the autumn is here, (spoken) he says:

The fall is my spring for a new season’s near

The Green Fishing Net

This instrumental piece is about one of the characters who has always wanted a green fishing net. Upon returning from his vacation he is asked how the net was and he says it was good, but not as he thought it would be; the subtext being that what we desire does not always live up to our expectations. There is no dramatization but the backdrop is being lit by green lights behind water tanks causing moving, rippled patterns to be projected on the stage set.

The Ballerina

During “The Ballerina” the song text is again dramatized while the musicians (apart from the soprano) are only minimally lit. The Ballerina and her Partner dance slowly and gracefully in the moonlight (a spotlight following them) and the starlight (stars projected on the stage floor). Towards the end of the second verse her partner disengages and leaves her alone, her hand holding on to his until the very last moment when he disappears into the dark while she remains dejectedly with her head lowered as the light fades out to black.

I still can feel your arms

Held tight around my slender waist

And when we danced

The Moon stood still

And the Stars would guide

Our feet

You’d whisper in my ear

I’ll be forever here with you

But then you left

And now I know

That you will not

Be back

The Star Quilt

Only the musicians are lit during this piece. The stage transforms by the theatre curtain being raised and removed. The wooden doors are gone and the original set of three large gilded mirrors is back.

Interlude 2 (Strings)

Only the musicians are lit during this piece. The stage is transformed in the dark by having an arched iron church gate covered in green vines and flowers replacing the center mirror. The mirrors are wrought iron doors. Colorful fresh flowers line the stage floor along the walls of the stage set.

The Marriage

Husband and Wife

You said the sweetest joy in life is also

It’s most bitter fruit

But I can’t deny I said “please do let’s try”

And take me as your faithful wife

You know the cliffs and the rocks

That we face

So you must know your way ’round

Them all

“I am poor I am old what I like

You might hate

Will you love me in spite of all that?”

We will both compromise

And if nothing else helps

Then a child will distract our pain

For beauty is free and in time you will see

That our union was meant to be

We will both compromise

And if nothing else helps

Then a child will distract our pain

For beauty is free and in time you will see

That our union was meant to be

The Promise

Behind the musicians a marriage ceremony is taking place. During the first part of the piece, the bride and groom slowly walk towards the flower-covered Iron Gate. During the second half a wedding ceremony takes place with the couple saying their vows and exchanging rings. At the end of the piece they briefly kiss as the lights go out.

Agnes Aria

A brief pause to express the passing of time. When the lights come up the backdrop is no longer lit and the church gate and flowers have been removed. The iron doors are large windows seen from the inside. Dirty grey torn curtains hang down from them. While the singer sings this piece, a spotlight is on a woman in a rag-like grayish dress sitting next to a grey cradle lit from below. She rocks the cradle and her face expresses more sadness than joy.

Hush my child; I hear your cries

Why do you greet the morning with tears?

Are you sad?

Are you cold?

Do you miss your mother’s breast?

Hush my child; I’ll come to you soon

Why can’t you smile at the gifts that life brings?

Where is the joy?

Where is the calm?

How can I still your wounded heart?

Hush my child; I’m here by your side

I’ll sing you a lullaby; open your ears

Try not to cry

Try not to sob

Rest in your cradle and sleep will arrive

Hush my child; my patience is frail Why are we born to a world that’s so cruel?


Trials & Tribulations

Interlude 3 (winds)

During the last instrumental piece the backdrop has changed and the backdrop shows a seascape with dark clouds. Two small islands are visible – one festively lit up, the other one dark and foreboding.

Lina’s Song

No dramatization is necessary as the emphasis is on the singer and the words. This being a piece with almost the entire ensemble performing, the stage should be almost fully lit.

My sister and I grew up happy and close

As two sisters should

But as we grew older the city called out

With its Siren Song

Our father said if you leave

You can’t come back

But she left

And I stayed

Ten years have gone by, five children I’ve had

You can tell I’m sure

Always done what I’m told, if I questioned at all

I’ve was beaten too

On Sundays’ in church

I get chastised as well

In God’s name

Is this fair?

Now my sister’s come back from the city at last

And joy is abound

A calf’s being slaughtered, a ball is prepared

For her happy return

But for me who have toiled

Every day of my life

There’s no song

There’s no dance

Only sorrow

Fairbay Tango

This piece describes an upper-class party at one of the islands – Fairbay. A choreographed tango by a couple dressed in 1900 fashionable clothes and hairstyles is performed, bearing in mind that the scene is played out in the Swedish archipelago as opposed to a Latin country, meaning that overtly Latin references cannot be used in the choreography.

Ugly Edith

The story told here is of a plain woman sitting on the stairs outside her parent’s house where a dancing party is being held. Her mother wants her to come in and enjoy herself but when she was inside no one asked her to dance making her feel humiliated. On stage a small set of wooden stairs protrude from the center backdrop while festive lights shine in through the two windows. During the sung verses a woman sits on the stairs, her body language reflecting dejection. During the instrumental waltz she gets up and dances a flowing waltz as she pretends to hold an imaginary partner.

The holidays are here

Each night’s a new affair

Mother says come in

Enjoy the song and dance but

I’ve sat three hours and

No-one has noticed me

Sitting there alone

Pretending not to care

My hair’s a mess and

I’ve no hat to cover it

I know that I’m not fair but

Beauty’s not for all

My only wish is that if

Only once in life

Someone would come up

And ask me for a dance


Quarantine describes two young lovers on a ship that get stopped by a quarantine master who insists they stay in quarantine for 40 days on a small island reeking of sulfur fumes. During the piece the woman’s dress (light blue) and her flowers (red) gradually fade to white by the end of the piece. It is a story about love and joy destroyed by powers we are all unable to control, even though we have not in any manner brought this on by our own doing.

I Will Fall

This is the emotionally deepest point of the opera, the two windows are covered by long white window curtains and backstage fans cause them to gently move in the wind. Light from the behind the windows insinuate dim moon-beams. During the instrumental middle section a female solo dance can be inserted.

Soon sweet darkness

Will cover me with beams of moonlight

And then, I will grow wings

White just like the falling stars, and I’ll fly

Over you

And I will fall


Into the ground

And wake up

Night, release me

Free me from my flesh and blood

And when, I have grown wings

Light just like a morning wind I’ll fly

Over you

And I will fall


Into the sea

And I won’t wake up

The Mirror

At the first note of this instrumental piece, three identically dressed female dancers appear standing in the “spaces” of the three large mirrors. They enter the stage through them and perform a choreographed dance based on the theme of the piece – that the world was created mirror-reversed and only appears correct when viewed in a mirror.

Psalm 419

This is one of two songs that steps outside the entire narrative, the other being “Hope”. They are sung by a different singer than the pieces within the opera and no acting or dancing should take place, the focus being on the words directly addressing the audience.

In case you haven’t seen by now

Our lives are less than perfect

Each day we strive to do good deeds

But somehow end up

Causing pain to others

We all have our duties

And mine I know is to be all

I can be

A woman and a wife and also

Mother of a child

That all in life can-not be fair

I realize but still

Why must it be quite so un-fair and

Why does he who works the most

Get least bread?

And if you pick a flower

Someone will come and tell you

That it’s not yours

But no-one can take from me all the

Love that’s in my heart

Dream or Poetry?

2 X 2 = 2

2 x 2 is a throwback to the dreams we have about being back in our old school again and the twisted logic that dreams in general can impart; since 1 x 1 = 1 then 2 x 2 must equal 2. Apart from a projection of a backwards running clock and the text of 1 x 1 = 1 and 2 x 2 = 2 on the center backdrop there is no other staging.

The Four Faculties

A piece performed by strings only. The title and narrative is about the four primary disciplines of the universities in 1900; theology, philosophy, medicine and law and their internal squabble regarding which holds the true keys to the nature of the universe.


Silence. The distant sound of wind blowing. The winds recite. One woman stands in center, narrating in full voice, the other two further behind and to the sides double her words but in audible whispers as if the center narrator interprets their words. The woman are equally dressed as the opening recitative.


The Lament of the winds.

Born beneath the skies of Heaven

We were chased by lightning of Indra

Down on the dust-covered Earth…

The litter of the fields

Stained our feet;

The dust of the highways,

The smoke of cities

The foul breath of man,

We had to endure…

But out on the wild seas

We roamed free

Filled our lungs,

Shook our wings,

And washed our feet


Lord of Heavens

Hear us when we sigh

The Earth is not clean,

Life is not easy,

Mankind is not evil,

Nor are they good.

They live as best they can,

One day at a time.

The sons of dust

In dust must walk,

Born of dust

To dust they return.

Feet to walk with were they given,

But not wings.

Covered in dust they became,

Is the fault theirs

Or yours?

We are the winds, children of the air,

We carry the lament of mankind.

Did you hear us?

From the chimneys of autumn,

From the cracks in the window panes,

When the rain cried upon the tin roofs?

It is us, the winds,

Children of the air,

From the breast of mankind

Who we have traversed,

Have learned these songs of lament.

In hospital beds, on battlefields,

But most often in nursery rooms

Where the newly born cry out,

From the pain of just being

It is us, us winds

Who howl and yell

Woe! Woe! Woe!

The waves sing.

It is we, the waves,

Who have cradled the winds to sleep!

Green cradles, us waves.

We are wet, and taste like salt;

Acting like the flames of fire;

Wet flames.

Extinguishing, burning, washing,

Creating, spawning.

It is us, the waves

Who cradles the winds

To peace and rest!

Fingal’s Cave

The only “pure” dance sequence in the Opera in which the three female narrators dance to a choreographed dance based on the theme of the Winds and the Waves, making use of large fans and the light of spotlights reflected through water tanks.

The Sacrifice

The final set consists of the two side windows covered by hanging white sheets. A simple altar with lit wax candles is placed against the center backdrop.

A Child Left Behind

The altar is set and the candles

Are already lit

And all of the windows are covered

With tall white sheets

And when I leave my heart

Will break in two

Tied to this Earth

By a child left behind

Now all that is left of the roses

Are only their thorns

The stage lights are out and the actors

Have all gone home

And when I leave

I will carry the dreams

Of all the children

That got left behind


A small fan placed where the altar stood blows lit strands of yellow, orange and red paper upwards to simulate a fire. Halfway through the piece the lights dim and stars are projected on the backdrop, only this time the stars appear to rise rather than fall.


The prelude revisited by piano and strings with minimal lights on the musicians only.



The second of the songs that steps outside the narrative. The stage is fully lit and the dancers/actors and any other participating musicians and stage hands should also be present standing on stage against the center backdrop.

My Dear, it falls on me to

Tell the tale

That no-one ever really wants to hear

About the ones who lost the love

They had, and also those

Who never even found a love to keep

Them warm

On lonely nights

But just a single kiss

Can start a fire

And you must know

The warmth that fire brings will also burn

And leave behind just ash

But still

As long as there’s love there’s hope

And until then

I will believe

That I am not alone

For those, who’s stood beneath

A winter night

And waited for a falling star to grant

A wish or maybe even two

Or three, I have to say

The seeds we plant and tend will

Always grow and strive

Towards the sky

But just a single tear

From those who’s lived

Will make a sea

A sea that swallows men without a thought

Of whom they leave behind

But still

As long as there is truth there is hope

And until then

I will believe

That I am not alone

And now, we all know how

The story ends

And yet we still go on in spite of all

Believing that our hearts will always beat

And never stop

But like a promise left out in the rain

We know

Somewhere inside

That just a single word

Can give us courage

In this cold world

This world that carries us through empty space

As black as darkest night

And yet

As long as there is faith there’s hope

And until then

I shall believe

That we are not alone


Filmerna är från en live konsert in juni 2010.

The Officer and Victoria från A Dream Play

Yhe Green fishing Net från A Dream Play

I will fall från A Dream Play till

Quarantine från A Dream Play

Interlude från A Dreamplay

The Ballerina

Fingals Cave

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