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9 Thermidor

by Randall Smith

Program Notes and Libretto

9 Thermidor is a polystylistic rock opera based on the life and death of Maximilien Robespierre, a French revolutionary and chief architect of the Reign of Terror. In the libretto and the music I have sought to explore the life experiences and relationships that gave rise to the uncompromising sense of virtue that led a person of such political talent and moral rectitude to order the executions of thousands of his countrymen and -women, including 16 Carmelite nuns of Compiegne. 

Robespierre is himself portrayed by solo electric guitar, thus adding an immediate element of ambiguity and mystery to the narrative. As such, the piece is not so much about Robespierre himself as it is about the events surrounding him and caused by him, in other words: I have chosen to focus on the ripples more than on the stone that caused them. 

The text lives in a space between realism and surrealism, and is sometimes both simultaneously. It rhymes or doesnt, has rhythm…or doesn’t, is sung or simply spoken at different moments, and in general presents only an impression of things. It was critically important from the origin of the piece to its completion that I make or suggest no judgment or conclusion, only that I raise questions and present ideas. While everything presented herein is based on real events or on real people, the audience may have no idea whatsoever what any of it means, but by paying attention they may intuit meanings and arrive at a place some distance from where they began. 

The opening scene is portrayed from the perspective of the mob that arrested and executed Robespierre on the 9th of Thermidor, year II  (of the revolutionary calendar, July 27, 1794). The voice of the public is expressed through an archetypal Emcee who discourses on the grievances experienced by the public during the reign of terror and blames Robespierre. The following 17 scenes are vague flashbacks, beginning with the death of Robespierre’s mother and departure of his father following with his religious upbringing and education in Paris. We hear brief reference to his relationship with his sister, and portrayal of his early career and political ideals. Finally, the lens focuses on his sense of purity as justification for terror as we return to the present in which we began with the mob breaking in to put an end to this fated narrative. 

"Total Revolution"

EMCEE (voice of the people):

You said a revolution without total revolution

Can never bring to pass any lasting solution

Provoked our resolution toward final restitution

The only way to clean up all the human pollution 

You said it yourself, that  you’d be willing to die

To sacrifice your body to appease the mind

As the means to galvanize our sentiments

To the soul of what you meant it was a testament

A testament that seemed to be heaven sent

That’s how the board was set when we took the bet

Ours to get was the interest on the social investment 

But how we gonna wash all this blood from our vestments?

There’s no going back now

When justice is served nobody don’t deserve

The gavel is smacking ‘bout to fray the nerves

A revolutionary simpin’ for the bougie scourge

Becomes Collateral damage when society swerves

Brothers and sisters uncles aunts and cousins

Fathers and mothers carted off by the dozens

Folks fearin to live in the usual way

Say the wrong word and you won’t see another day

Moving up sounds nice but maybe we should stay

At the bottom we always know which game to play

Is it worth it? Now I don’t know what to say

When the blood flows like wine down Champs Elysee

There’s no going back now

The irony is in the name

Safety the intended game

Excuse yourself for thousands slain

What’s that you say? For justice’s sake

Order chaos, chaos order

All the same within our borders

We seen ten thousand lives cut shorter

By The people’s court of body hoarders

So now we here to say

We won’t take another day

You best  get down and pray 

in case it don’t go your way

We tired of livin afraid 

So this is the price you gonna pay:

A Coup within a coup like a play within a play

"Mommy has to go"

MOTHER (Jaqueline Marguerite Carault):

Max baby…mommy has to go now

I’m so sorry…..

It’s not my fault

The devil made me do it

The devil made me sick

I hope you can forgive me for leaving so soon

For leaving you alone like this

I know you’ll be ok

Cuz you’re strong

"Gotta get that milk"

FATHER (Francois Maximilien Barthelemy de Robespierre):

Sorry, son, I can’t right now I, uh…

I just gotta go, uh, go…into town

For…uh…milk and eggs

I might be gone a while

So…take care of your sister and…

If you need anything hit up your aunts….

"Ave Maria"

(Feminine influence/private spirituality):

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.

Benedicta tu in mulieribus,

et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,

ora pro nobis peccatoribus,

nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

(Masculine influence/institutional religiosity):

The boy is a prodigy! He must be educated. One does not leave silver in the mine! Oh, what marvelous good can be done for France and for all humankind by an apt and willing mind brought up and schooled in truth! Mathematics, philosophy, religion, literature, rhetoric, laws of man and the universe…All these and more will be yours, boy! Tools in able and cunning hands to shape your destiny how you will, and alter that of your Nation, no doubt! 

 

This young mind is like the fertile soil of Bordeaux! In it we shall plant and cultivate the worthiest vines of wisdom and all of France shall profit by its issue, by the grace of God!

"Dear Max..."

CHARLOTTE ROBESPIERRE (sister):

Dear Max,

I wish you could come home

It’s so boring here without you and everybody is so….old

And….

Boring!

I’d give anything to be at school 

with other kids 

instead of surrounded 

by all these *old people*

Complaining 

Complaining about the sun

Complaining about the rain

Complaining about the nobility

Complaining  about the youth…about me!

Complaining! All they do, I swear.

Gosh it’s getting old.

But we’re all so proud of you. 

I don’t really understand it at all,

But that priest made it sound like…

Like….

He wants you to change the world, Max.

Like God wants you to change the world.

Do you think he’s nice? God, I mean? 

They make him sound so scary in those stories,

The way he killed all the Egyptian children.

I don’t know much about things, but I don’t think anyone who would kill that many people would be very nice. Especially children. 

But I suppose it was to free Moses’ people…

I don’t know, it’s all very confusing.

Anyway…miss you!

Love,

 

Your sister,

 

Charlotte

"Ave Cicero"

(Masculine/institutional influence):

The danger is within 

The enemy is within

 

Modesty against wantonness

Chastity against uncleanness 

Honesty against fraud

Piety against wickedness

Consistency against insanity

Honor against baseness 

Continence against lust

"Real Lawyer (or, the barrister of Artois)"

(Establishmentarian opposition):

You’re a lawyer starting now

Good for you, hotshot, you got yourself a wig

Passed the test and took the vow

Stepping out about to shake down some pigs

Now it’s time to show us everything you know

Whatever you do be sure to give the folks a show!

 

Nothing to fear, oh!

Coming from zero-

You see yourself as some kind of hero

Make yourself a name

And even out the game

Expose the money-sins, bring them all to shame!

 

Rock the boat and rattle the cage

When they hit back don’t say I didn’t warn you

Aristocracy’s bound to rage

You’ll run out of friends to turn to

They’d take less offense if you hit ‘em on the nose!

Gettin hot in here but you can’t take off your clothes!

"Punishment: capitol"

CHARLOTTE ROBESPIERRE (sister):

Hey Max! How was work?

A murderer trial? Yikes! How’d it go?

Guilty! Oh…oh my…but that means….

….death?

Oh Max…Oh Max that’s terrible! I’m so sorry!

Is there no other way? No other sentence?

Then…I suppose

you’ll have to do it, won’t you?

Send that man to hang?

Or be shot?

Or thrown off a cliff?

Or drawn and quartered?

Or defenestrated?

Or buried alive?

Or fed to lions?

Or…guillotined?

Oh Max, I’m so sorry. This must be so difficult for you.

"Twitter, Ca. 1790"

ROBESPIERRE (channeling popular sentiment):

Let all of us who glorify ourselves with the title of citizen demand that laws be passed for all, that every injustice be made good, whatever the rank and condition of the person who committed the injustice.

No, never, no, never, no, never, no never, no, never, NO.

Under any pretext. Never!

No, never under any pretext whatsoever let us watch the oppressor defy the cries of the weak, oppressed man. May magistrates never afford society this spectacle, meant to encourage crime and instill the innocent with fear.

(Establishment):

He tears at the very fabric of society! 

Dissolves ordered absolutes to liminality

Abandons noble aspirations 

For classless agitations

Ignoring scruples 

How low will he stoop?

ROBESPIERRE:

I see this mob of unfortunates being smashed by a thousand similar cases—of a type one cannot divine—against the blood stained reefs that are the dangers in our criminal jurisprudence, and I feel the need to supply the strength of justice and humanity to the assistance of those who have been robbed by the imperfections of the law.

(Establishment):

How low he stoops!

Ignoring scruples

For classless agitation!

Abandoning noble aspirations

Exchanging boundaries for liminality

Mistaking justice for criminality!

How low he stoops!

ROBESPIERRE:

You who charge dearly for the help dragged out of you by necessity, through importunity; you who cry out constantly against the mass of unfortunate people who bore you blind, come and learn to blush for your lack of sensitivity.

Do you know why there are so many needy people?

It is because you hold all the wealth in your greedy hands. Why is this father, why are these children, exposed to all weather, with no roof to cover them, suffering the horrors of hunger?

It is because you live in sumptuous houses, where your gold command the arts to serve your soft way of life, and occupy your idleness. It is because your luxurious existence devours in one day the substance of a thousand men.

Establishment:

How low he stoops!

"O Pastor Animarum"

(Feminine influence; text by Hildegard):

O pastor animarum

Et O Prima vox

Per quam omnes creati sumus

nunc tibi, tibi placeat

Ut digneris

Nos liberare de miseriis

et languoribus nostris

"Election Rap"

EMCEE (voice of the people):

You wonder what we thinking; are you sure you wanna ask?

Cuz ain’t nothing we’d love more thank to take you to task 

Over your taxing and grifting, the way our money’s shifting

To your hands, make demands so high we cannot stand it

 

Remand it, we command it, to the people gotta hand it

The power, I mean, to ensure that justice sees a brighter light of day

It seems you lost the way 

Now the people gotta manifest it’s time to make you pay

(It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will)

We gotta cut through the noise

We gotta cut though the noise

We gotta cut through the noise

We gotta cut through the noise

We gonna raise our voice

We gonna raise our voice

We gonna make our choice

And cut through the noise

(Hypothetical townsperson):

This ain’t a the kind of thing that happens all the time

In fact, the last time anybody thought to ask us what we thought was over a hundred years ago

My grandfather’s father wasn’t even born yet!

Think about that. Our fathers never saw a States General, our grandfathers never saw a States General, even most of our great-grandfathers weren’t around for the last States General. And who knows when the last one was before that? 

Long time coming is the understatement of the century

MC:

Take a day have a say, stay away from foul play

And our future might light up like a scene by Michael Bay

If it seems high-stakes it’s cuz there ain’t no time to play 

When they call for our ascent, demand respect, enter the fray

 

And let us pray, give us courage and might

To secure our divine right to rule our selves

No longer serfs and pawns, no more to be your “pee-ons”

But peers, time listen if you got the ears to hear.

(It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will)

We gotta cut through the noise

We gotta cut though the noise

We gotta cut through the noise

We gotta cut through the noise

We gonna raise our voice

We gonna raise our voice

We gonna make our choice

And cut through the noise

(Hypothetical townsperson):

 

Used to be a man could make something of himself 

Now it’s all anyone can do to get by, except for the ones at the top

Who don’t pay taxes, who inherited their money, or who got their hands on the purse strings.

The rest of us gotta work overtime, our kids gotta work when they oughtta be in school, if you’re sick gotta work and just hope you don’t get sicker. And of course they still got forced labor on the manors, and better hope the local Count don’t take a liking to your daughter! They love to remind us we’re the richest country on earth but…looking around here, you ask me, ask my neighbors–where’s all that money? I ain’t seen it. I’m lucky to see two loaves of bread in the same week!

MC:

 

It’s their turn to fear a loss of power,

shed a tear in the  tower for the advent of this hour feels like a cold shower to your corner go and cower

Read the room, expressions dour, it’s your fault the mood is sour

 

But it ain’t too late, if you’ll just open the gate

Bring your buddy’s wigged pates to the table and debate

The major reality of the fourth estate

Don’t get jaded be persuaded, pay attention and relate

 

It’s high time we start to see your prejudice part

Like the Red Sea, it’s time to be one in our hearts

No more time to hide behind divine genetic lottery 

It’s imperative we learn to live as equal family

 

Stop and stew, get a clue, you see the onus is on you

To open the doors, our just desserts are past due

The labor of our hands, real justice we demand

Don’t confuse peace for quiet sword-imposed throughout the land

 

Get in on the feud, y’all, let’s end all this feudal

Machination got the nation in the grip of starvation

Tired system breaking down and they got the class clown callin all the shots, hence ain’t no stew in our pots

 

All thoughts on the future, just hoping we can suture these wounds, self inflicted by the beast of our creatures

Only get one chance the social fabric to enhance 

Liberty equality and brotherhood-our stance

(Hypothetical townsperson):

 

It ain’t right, you know? Everybody’s got grievances, even the king has bad days. But you take into account that all them in their palaces and abbeys got cash for days you start to wonder: what they got to be worried about? Got a problem, write a check. If the check don’t fix it, write another one, but this time to bribe somebody. Now they call a states general and you know who’s gonna come out on top? The nobility and the clergy, that’s who. You know why? Money. It’s always money. They got the funds to run the best candidates and pay them off to keep them in their pocket. Even if the people get a good man on the inside, what can he do against the church and all the lords that been lords for hundreds of years? I guess if we get just the right guy…maybe then we can start to change things around here. I dunno, maybe Robespierre’s kid. Seems sharp, always helping people out, and he’s hardly made a dime for it. Yeah, I guess If I was to vote today he’d be my pick. Hard to know for sure, but I’d bet he’d be the one to represent us right over anybody else. 

ROBESPIERRE! ROBESPIERRE! ROBESPIERRE!

"Fatal Purity"

(Instrumental)

"Cult of Terror"

(Instrumental)

"9 Thermidor (the end"

You said a revolution without total revolution

can never bring to pass any lasting solution

(Names of persons executed during the Reign of Terror):

Henri Admirat

Louis-Alexandre Expilly de la Poipe

Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour

Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville

Aimar-Charles-Marie de Nicolai

Antoine Barnave

Claude Basire

Charles Granfier de la Ferriere

Marguerite-Elie Guadet

Joseph Charlier

Madame Roland

Charles-Philippe Ronsin

Alexandre de Beauharnais

Jean-Antoine Roucher

Antoine Lavoisier

Augustin-Joseph de Mailly

Pierre-Ulric Dubuisson

Philibert Francois Rouxel de Blanchelande

Jean-Baptiste de Lavalette

Georges Couthon

Pierre Philippeaux

Pierre Quentineau

Emmanuel marie michel Philippe Freteau de Saint Just

Jacques Guillame Thouret

Armand de Kersaint

(Names of the Martyrs of Compiegne, Carmelite nuns executed in the final days of the Terror):

Marie Dufour, Sister St. Martha

Angélique Roussel, Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit

Julie Vérolot,Madeleine-Claudine Ledoine, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine

Marie-Anne Brideau, Mother St. Louis

Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy, Mother Henriette of Jesus

Marie-Anne Piedcourt, Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified

Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret, Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection

Marie-Claude Cyprienne, Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception

Marie-Antoniette Hanisset, Sister Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary

Rose-Chrétien de la Neuville, Sister Julie Louise of Jesus

Marie-Gabrielle Trézel, Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius

Anne Petras, Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence

Marie-Geneviève Meunier, Sister Constance of St. Denis

 Sister St. Francis Xavier

Catherine Soiron

Thérèse Soiron

Don't worry, Max...I miss you, Max....you're our hero, Max

The danger is within...the enemy is within...modesty...chastity...honesty...piety...consistency...honor...continence...sorry son, I gotta leave...you'll be ok...

Our incorruptible champion, our irrepressible advocate...How the mighty fall!

So the Incorruptible has become the universal accuser...

Incorruptible...champion of the people...Incorruptible...advocate of the common man...Incorruptible...murderer

Incorruptible...champion of the people...advocate of the common man...incorruptible...accuser

The Incorruptible. He spoke for us and won our hearts. Now this blood is on our hands. This blood is on our hands!

Salve Regina...

Modesty against wantonness, chastity against uncleanness, honesty against fraud, piety against wickedness, consistency against insanity, honor against baseness continence against lust...

The danger is withing

The enemy is within

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