A Braided Light

chamber opera, 2022
Duration: 20 minutes

Dramatis Personae

Leila [mezzo-soprano], 65, diagnosed the day before with early-stage dementia.
Mira [soprano], Leila’s daughter, 33, a rising star in the State Department; she has not seen her mother or brother for a long time.
Nate [baritone], Leila’s son, 28, lives in the same city as Leila, but not with her.



18 ½ minutes

A Braided Light was a winning entry in White Snake Projects’ competition for Let’s Celebrate (2022), an evening of short operas built on traditional religious festivals and rituals. The libretto was prompted by the observation that artworks about Alzheimer’s typically focus on the distress of family members’ at losing a loved one, rather than the loved one’s distress at losing themselves. Havdalah seemed an especially fitting situation for a sufferer’s feelings to find expression.
Havdalah is a ceremony performed in observant Jewish homes every Saturday evening when the third star appears in the sky, signaling the end of the Sabbath. The four Havdalah blessings offer compensation for the loss of Sabbath holiness by reminding celebrants of the pleasures of the senses that will continue into the workweek ahead. Each of the blessings involves a ritual object: a winecup symbolizing taste and touch, a spice box for smell, a braided candle for sight, and for hearing, the hiss of the candle flame as it is doused with wine.
A Braided Light is set in Leila’s living room on a Saturday at sunset. The morning before, a doctor has told her she has Alzheimer’s, and her two grown children have rushed home to be with her for Havdalah. They sing the traditional blessings in Hebrew and in English, intertwining them with reminiscences, games, and Leila’s anguished—and sometimes comical—musings. She is two Leila’s, she feels, her old self and a stranger whom she fears is overtaking her. Havdalah likewise is a hinge between two incompatible psychic states, spiritual uplift and workaday pain. The braided candle conveys this duality, as observants ritually note its ethereal light glinting off their humble fingernails. Recognizing her own split state in the braided candle and terrified of what is to come, Leila wishes Havdalah would go on forever. The opera ends with the obligatory hiss of the candle flame doused with wine.
This opera has now been named one of three finalists in the Dominic Argento Chamber Opera Competition, held under the auspices of the National Opera Association.

A Braided Light was commissioned by White Snake Productions , and premiered in Boston, MA, in December of 2022.

perusal score

audio excerpt - blessing over the wine

audio excerpt - Leila’s final prayer