A Coffin in Egypt
A Chamber Opera in One Act
Libretto by Leonard Foglia
based on a play by Horton Foote
MYRTLE BLEDSOE (Singer/Mezzo Soprano) At 90 years old, she still very handsome. Her skin is clear and still quite unwrinkled. Her snow-white hair is worn on the top of her head, accentuating her long, graceful neck and the firmness of her facial structure.
JESSIE LYDELL (Non-speaking role) 30s – Myrtle’s companion
HUNTER (Actor) 30s – 60s Myrtle’s husband
CAPTAIN LAWSON (Non-speaking role) late 30s – 40 – A dashing man from Myrtle’s past
ELSIE (Actress) 50s – Myrtle’s sister in law
CLERK (Actress) 30s – A female clerk in a Houston department store
CHORUS (4 Singers/Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, and Baritone) Members of an African-American church
Instrumentation: Flute (Picc.), Clarinet in B-flat (B.Cl.), Horn in F, Piano/Celeste, Strings
Premiere: March 14, 2014, Houston Grand Opera
Commission: Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and The Wallis Ammemberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, CA
A Coffin in Egypt is a chamber opera in one act by composer Ricky Ian Gordon. The work uses an English language libretto by Leonard Foglia which is based on a 1980 play by Horton Foote. Set in Egypt, Texas, the work tells the story of Myrtle Bledsoe, an embittered 90-year-old woman who sifts through the memories of her past in a quest for self-forgiveness. The opera had its world premiere at the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) in March 2014.
A Coffin in Egypt was jointly commissioned by the HGO, Opera Philadelphia, and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The work was specifically written as a starring vehicle for mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. While the work includes a cast of nine, it is essentially a monodrama in that the heroine is the only role with a substantial amount of singing. The other parts are spoken rather than sung lines apart from a few moments when a gospel quartet is used to “underscore key moments, rather in the manner of a Greek chorus”. Von Stade reprised the role of Myrtle for performances in Philadelphia in June 2014 and with the Chicago Opera Theater in April 2015. The work was performed by von Stade in February 2016 in the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.