Three Vignettes from Marie Curie Learns to Swim (2019)
Instrumentation: Orchestra (188.8.131.52|184.108.40.206|2|pno|strings)
Availability: Downloadable PDFs
Marie Curie Learns to Swim is a chamber opera by librettist Kendra Preston Leonard and composer Jessica Rudman. The plot centers on the interactions between groundbreaking scientist Marie Curie and her daughter (and fellow scientist) Irène during a short vacation. Irène has persuaded her mother to take a trip to the seashore, where she will teach Marie to swim. Marie is reluctant to leave her research, which is never far from her mind. Throughout the opera, Marie tries to convince Irène to return the the lab, while Irène attempts to get her mother to relax. Irène’s desire for a vacation is not merely a whim, however: she believes the radium with which they work is in fact harmful and is causing the women to become ill. As Marie reminisces about her relationship with her husband Pierre Curie and her career, Irène struggles to articulate her fear that radium is making them sick. After Irène finally confesses her doubts, Marie refuses to listen to her daughter and remains steadfast in her devotion to the healing power of radium.
The Three Vignettes from Marie Curie Learns to Swim begins with a brief introduction using two of the opera’s central motives: one a fanfare that accompanies announcements such as Marie’s Nobel Prize wins and the other a more free melody representing the ocean waves. Then, excerpts from three arias are heard. Though they are not presented in the order they appear in the opera, each represents a significant moment from the story.
First, the audience will hear a condensed version of Pierre Curie’s driving aria about the miracle of radium. This aggressive, rhythmic section is followed by a nostalgic waltz where Marie recollects trips to the country as a teenager. This leads to the final section, which is based on one of Marie’s most important arias in the opera. In it, she sings about her research and the vital medical work she accomplished during World War I. Though the aria begins with an introspective feel, the music gradually builds to a proud climax before the opening fanfare returns to close the work.