The Priestess of Morphine


Rosśa Crean composer
Aiden K. Feltkamp libretto

Release Date: March 12, 2021
Catalog #: NV6343
Format: Digital
21st Century

On THE PRIESTESS OF MORPHINE, composer Rosśa Crean and librettist Aiden K. Feltkamp create a beautifully haunting portrait of a Gertrud Günther, a young Jewish lesbian caught between her two selves during the Third Reich, who bravely sought her inner truth and passions while forced to live in the shadows.

The monodrama’s unusual story is matched by a unique ensemble. Two sopranos represent each side of Gertrud’s life—one mature and narrative, the other youthful and poetic—as the instruments weave unexpected textures and moods. The vibraphone is pushed to its musical limits to create unusual sounds, and the violin and cello float between traditional and percussive styles. Rounding out the ensemble’s ethereal sound is a brief yet powerful scene with the mysterious waterphone. The opera lulls listeners into a sensual, dreamlike state to explore the young woman’s suffocating trauma with an eye towards healing.


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"The performance is very nicely rendered under the composer’s direction"

Gramophone Magazine

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 The Priestess of Morphine: Prelude Rosśa Crean Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone 4:27
02 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 1, The Awakening Rosśa Crean Jessie Lyons, soprano; Katherine Bruton, soprano; Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone 7:10
03 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 2, In Salvation and in Sin Rosśa Crean Katherine Bruton, soprano; Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone 7:53
04 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 3, Morphine Rosśa Crean Jessie Lyons, soprano; Katherine Bruton, soprano; Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone 5:07
05 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 4, Tumbling Rosśa Crean Katherine Bruton, soprano; Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone; Rosśa Crean, Waterphone 9:25
06 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 5, The Harvest Song Rosśa Crean Jessie Lyons, soprano; Katherine Bruton, soprano 6:46
07 The Priestess of Morphine: No. 6, The Flower of Oblivion Rosśa Crean Katherine Bruton, soprano; Alex Giger, violin; Stephen Hudson, cello; Ben Zucker, vibraphone 7:52

Gertrud Günther von Puttkamer
Jessie Lyons soprano

Katherine Bruton soprano

Alex Giger violin
Stephen Hudson cello
Ben Zucker vibraphone
Rosśa Crean waterphone on track 5

Music by Rosśa Crean
Libretto by Aiden K. Feltkamp
Conducted by Rosśa Crean
Recorded August 10, 2019 at Flashpoint Chicago in Chicago IL
Mixed and Mastered by Yuri Lysoivanov at Flashpoint Chicago
Recording Session Producer Rosśa Crean
Recording Session Engineer Yuri Lysoivanov

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Chris Robinson

VP, Audio Production Jeff LeRoy
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Sara Warner

Artist Information

Rosśa Crean


Rosśa Crean (they/them) jokingly says they “create music that they like to listen to when they are by themself, eating raw cookie dough in a dark closet,” but in truth, their music has been referred to as being “funny...and virtuosic” (Classic Concert Nova Scotia), having “exceptionally different, outstanding quality” (Download), and music that “stirs you deep, undertones of humanity” (Access Contemporary Music).

Aiden K. Feltkamp


Aiden K. Feltkamp (they/he) began their musical life at the age of 5 playing a quarter-size cello and now they’re “upending preconceptions about voice and gender” (New York Times) as a trans nonbinary writer and specialist in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Feltkamp’s operatic libretti center marginalized characters and include a queer sequel to Don Giovanni that deals with grief and rape culture (The Times are Nightfall), an homage to Clara Schumann exploring mental illness (Ghost Variations), and Holocaust remembrance art (Eva and the Angel of Death, Silver and Stars, The Priestess of Morphine). They also write science fiction, poetry, and educational non-fiction. Most recently, their work has been published in Crêpe & Penn, Bait/Switch, AADOREE Literary Magazine, and New Music Box.

Feltkamp began their career as a mezzo-soprano specializing in Baroque opera and new music. Now they serve as the Director of Emerging Composers and Diversity for American Composers Orchestra. They hold degrees from Hofstra University and Bard College Conservatory of Music, and a certification in DEI from Cornell University. They live in NYC with their partner, cat, and two parrots. On the weekends, they drink coffee and build robots.

Jessie Lyons


Jessie Lyons (Gertrud Günther von Puttkamer) is a Chicago-based soprano who has been enthusiastically received by audiences in the United States and abroad.  Described as “simply terrific” and with a “bright, youthful soprano” by Chicago Classical Review, she has become increasingly involved in Chicago storefront opera, and hopes to continue her engagement in the city’s burgeoning new-music scene.

Lyons has appeared in productions with numerous opera companies, as soloist with orchestra, and in recital.  Most recently, she was seen as Azrael in Rosśa Crean’s The Harbingers, Voice 1 in Thompson Street Opera’s Apart\ment, Serafina in New Moon Opera’s Il Campanello, Lucia/Lucia II in Chicago Fringe Opera’s production of Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner, Fiordiligi in Transgressive Theatre-Opera’s production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, and Voice 2 in Thompson Street Opera’s production of Cullyn Murphy’s Agony.

Recent seasons have also found her as Miss Jessel in Chicago Fringe Opera’s immersive production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Almera in Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters with Third Eye Theatre Ensemble; and performing Thomas Pasatieri’s monodrama Lady Macbeth. Additional noteworthy engagements have been with Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s Tosca, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and Puccini’s La Rondine with Des Moines Metro Opera. She has also partnered with her husband, Jordan Mandela, in presenting classical voice and guitar duo recitals.

Katherine Bruton


Katherine Bruton (Marie Madeleine) has a clear voice and vibrant characterization that brings opera and art song to life. Her musicality and vocal fireworks have earned her the roles of Beth in Little Women by Mark Adamo, Miss Silverpeal in The Impresario, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Le feu in L’enfant et les sortileges, and Virtù in L’incoronazione di Poppea.

She has also appeared with Chicago Opera Theater, Chicago Fringe Opera, Forte Chicago, Pasadena Opera, the critically-acclaimed Pacific Opera Project, and Thompson Street Opera Company, among others.

An advocate for new opera, Bruton has been a part of many operatic premieres. Recently, Bruton created the roles in world premieres of The Priestess of Morphine by Rosśa Crean, Cosmic Ray and the Amazing Chris by Eric Lindsay, Lost Daughters by Rosśa Crean, and The Dove and The Nightingale by Roger Bourland. She has also performed in the Chicago premieres of The Final Battle for Love by Philip Thompson, The Mouse Deer and the Crocodile by Hong-Da Chin, and The Rootabaga Stories by Yvonne Freckmann. She also appears on the original recording of The Great God Pan by Rosśa Crean, which is also released on Navona Records, and was a member of the original cast with Chicago Fringe Opera .

Bruton also has a passion for art song, especially new art song. She has given premieres of several art songs and art song sets/cycles, including the world premieres of Littles by Michelle Isaac, Personal Weather by Pin Hsing Lin, Twilight Lifts the Veil by Rosśa Crean, the U.S. premiere of Paper Fortunes by Timothy Ernest Johnson, and the Chicago premieres of Paula Kimper’s One Art for unaccompanied soprano and Timothy Ernest Johnson’s Simic Songs. She has also performed in concert with American composer John Musto. Her passion for art song also extends to Russian art song, which she has performed consistently since Russian baritone Vladimir Chernov introduced her to the language and repertoire during her undergraduate studies at UCLA. She also made her Chicago Opera Theater debut in the U.S. premiere of the Russian opera Kashchej the Immortal under the baton of Lidiya Yankovskaya .

Bruton studies with soprano Alexandra LoBianco and has her Master’s of Music degree from Chicago College of Performing Arts, where she studied with soprano Judith Haddon. She also received bachelor’s degrees in vocal performance and music education from UCLA, where she studied with Vladimir Chernov. She is also a proud OperaWorks alumna. In her non-work time, Katherine enjoys cooking (and using her friends as testers for new recipes), coffee, snuggling with her cat Sunny, and buying things on Etsy. Learn more about Katherine and her upcoming performances at

Alex Giger


Alex Giger (Violin) has performed internationally as a multifaceted ensemble musician, playing repertoire from Biber to Boulez. As its second violinist, the Melanson Quartet was awarded the Davey-Posnanski String Quartet Scheme while earning his Postgraduate degree in London at the Royal Academy of Music.

A Creative and Performing Arts Scholar at the University of Maryland, Alex regularly received honors for chamber music performances, including a select concert of the Mendelssohn Octet with faculty and members of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. For three summers, Alex has performed as a Violin Fellow with the Lucerne Festival Academy, including a collaboration with the London Symphony and Sir Simon Rattle, premiering works of Eotvos and Kurtag among others, and touring the halls of Hamburg, Paris, and Berlin.

A native of Rockville MD, Giger is currently based in Chicago, where he regularly performs with orchestras such as the Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Symphony, Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Ballet, Southwest Michigan Symphony, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and others, including recently principal second of the Dubuque Symphony. He maintains a small private teaching studio. In his spare time, Alex enjoys practicing yoga, exploring cooking, and health/wellness promotion.

Ben Zucker


Ben Zucker (Vibraphone) works with music as a hybrid practice of sound, composition, improvisation, multimedia, and theory, with an eye towards worldmaking practices for ethical, sensuous, and speculative spaces.

He has contributed to experimental music scenes of the Bay Area, Connecticut, London, Chicago, and beyond, performing and presenting work in places including the Banff Centre (Alberta CA), Vortex Jazz Club (London), San Francisco Center For New Music, Bard Summerscape, Trinity College Dublin, Southbank Centre (London), Indeterminacy Festival (Buffalo/Montreal), Westben Centre (Ontario), Switchboard Music Festival (SF), Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago), and the Darmstadt Ferienkurse (Germany). He has been called a “master of improvisation” (IMPOSE Magazine), was recognized as a “New Composer Talent” by the International Audio Branding Academy, and his work has won awards and commissions from the Chicago Composers Orchestra, Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Nucleo Musica Nova (Parana, Brazil), Constellation Men’s Ensemble (Chicago), Khorikos (NYC), San Francisco Choral Artists, and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. His interdisciplinary collaborations include The Last Days Of The Old Wild Boy with Rinde Eckert; music direction and sound design for the New York Fringe Festival; documentaries screened at the Environmental Film Festival (Washington DC), DOCNYC, and Sight & Sound Magazine; and the interactive audiovisual performances Baltic Art Form and London Roundhouse with the international Analema Group.

As a performer, Zucker frequently combines brass, percussion, voice, keyboards, and electronics in a variety of settings. He has been a founding member of groups performing free improvisation, salsa, experimental vocal music, noise, post-rock, and contemporary classical music, and he has performed with musicians such Anthony Braxton, Matana Roberts, Myra Melford, Karen Borca, The Crossing, The Vocal Constructivists, Vinny Golia, the San Francisco Choral Artists, and Rosśa Crean. His album projects—released on Amalgam Records, Dinzu Artifacts, Not Art Records, Verz Imprint, Weekend EP Project, and I Low You Records—have been acclaimed as “a testament to the power of restraint and arrangement” (Decoder Magazine) and “more than a little bit remarkable” (Free Jazz Blog). His most recent album, Fifth Season (Amalgam Records), explores long-form prose scores for improvisers with a quartet at the intersection of chamber music and free jazz. Zucker studied music, performance, and philosophy at Wesleyan University, Brunel University London, and currently as a doctoral student at Northwestern University.


Gentle Listener, please find a comfortable place to relax while you inhale this unique opera. Morphine and opium, derived from the poppy, are sedatives and this opera escorts us into the sensual sound world of this altered state and opens us to its extrasensory perceptions. The unconventional ensemble charms the ears and imagination with unexpected combinations of textures, moods, and sounds. The vibraphone fulfills the role of keyboard but is also played with many different techniques, lending a wide variety of unusual sounds. The violin and cello are played traditionally, but also used as percussion instruments. The mysterious and rarely heard waterphone adds chimerical sonic enhancement to the particular scene in which it briefly appears.

Be sure to read the libretto. Aiden K. Feltkamp artfully weaves scientific terms into lyrical poetry. It will be free to sweep you off your feet and out of the ordinary world. The two sopranos, so close and yet so different in character, are two sides of the same person. A mature Gertrud narrates the science and the story elements, while a youthful Marie-Madeleine, like a memory, soars off into the drug-induced erotic fantasy world of her own poetic imagination’s creation. They are sometimes vocally acrobatic and at other times hypnotic, merging and blurring, as when they exchange the line “Poppies are monocarpic…” like a mantra from another world.

For some in contemporary music, the term cutting edge is the ultimate compliment. I prefer to use the term leading edge. I do not want to be cut by any performance. I want to be moved emotionally, realize new things and learn interesting stories, and go places I’ve never been, with people I will never meet in real life. Rosśa Crean is at the leading edge of today’s opera field, as a composer, producer, and prolific artist with many gifts and talents. The way Rosśa uses this opera to reveal the effects of trauma is intended toward healing. Despite the tragic death of Gertrude at the hands of the Nazis, they ultimately failed to kill her. The voice of Marie-Madeleine lives on. – Paula M. Kimper

My father passed away on May 5th, 2018. He went into the hospital, and a week later, I was told his kidneys, heart, and liver were all failing, so I made the decision to let him go in peace. It is what he would have wanted; he said he ran out of purpose once my mother had passed away in 2014, and I think he wanted nothing more than to be with her. It then fell on me to clear out his house and take care of the remainders of his estate. The very first week of cleaning out his house consisted literally of taking boxes after boxes of books to the local bookstore to sell off. The third day of doing this, I sat in an empty chair at the store, sweaty, sad, and exhausted. I looked up from where I sat to find the book Priestess of Morphine: The Lost Writings of Marie-Madeleine in the Time of Nazis (Marie Madeleine, Ronald K. Siegel, Eric A. Bye). I opened the book and read about how this woman, born Gertrud Günther, wrote over 46 books, beginning at age 16. Her first book, Auf Kypros, sold over one million copies during her lifetime. She was a German Jewish lesbian poet and novelist whose eroticism and love for morphine was revealed in many of her shocking, sensational, and bestselling books of the early 20th century.

In 1900, at the age of 19, Gertrud married Baron Heinrich Georg Ludwig von Puttkamer, a member of the Pomeranian nobility who was 35 years her senior. It was Heinrich’s death in 1914 that led to Gertrud’s morphine addiction. During the Third Reich in 1932, Gertrud’s identity was discovered by the Nazis, who in turn condemned her work as degenerate. Her avoidance of the concentration camps during World War II was all due to her marriage to Heinrich, a Nazi official, as well as the fact that her son, Baron Jesco Gunther Heinrich von Puttkamer, had also joined that Nazi Party at this time. In 1943 she was committed to a sanatorium in Katzenelnbogen under the pretense of treating her morphine addiction. She died mysteriously on September 30, 1944 under the care of Nazis doctors.

Around the time of my father’s passing, I had been searching for an unconventional queer historical figure whose life I could present in a new work. Marie-Madeleine’s story immediately led me to choosing her as the figure on which I needed to shine a spotlight. I bought the book from the store that day and brought it to librettist Aiden K. Feltkamp, whom I had previously worked with on our opera The Times Are Nightfall, a queer sequel to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Aiden, upon reading her story, fell in love with Marie-Madeleine’s life and work as quickly as I. Their resulting text tells a beautiful and haunting portrait of the brave woman who, while forced to hide who she was, shared herself and her desires with the world.

THE PRIESTESS OF MORPHINE is a monodrama in the style of a song cycle, consisting of a prelude and six movements. While a monodrama usually has one singer, this piece is written for two sopranos who represent different aspects of our subject. one vocalist portrays the role of Gertrud Günther, the straight-laced baroness who soberly narrates the forensic information about morphine and her trials with the Nazis during World War II. The second soprano portrays Marie-Madeleine, the aspect of Gertrud that shows the audience the wild darkness and chaos of her life, of addiction and hidden desires that she so often sought to quench. Both vocalists eventually come together during the fifth movement, where the conflicts that arose as a result of Gertrud’s double life bring her drug-addled deliriums to a halt.

From the opium-inspired spectral beginnings in the Prelude and the awakening morse-code rhythms in the first movement, to the lulling tension and sleepiness of the final movement, I made it my mission to bring forth the realism and spectacle that was Gertrud Günther’s life: a farm girl who became a baroness and wrote about Sapphic desire with the strongest sense of self-awareness, who was a regular part of the lesbian subculture in Berlin, and a talented wordsmith who defied the Nazis at every turn. The Nazis did their best to destroy the work Marie-Madeleine had created, and they may have succeeded, if it were not for those admirers who never let her work fade into extinction.

It is such an honor to be able to pay tribute to a woman such as Marie-Madeleine, and bring awareness to the words of a woman who did everything she could to live an authentic life.

— Rosśa Crean


The Priestess of Morphine: A Forensic Study of Marie-Madeleine in the Time of the Nazis

A Monodrama
Libretto by Aiden K. Feltkamp
Music by Rosśa Crean
Inspired by the writings of Marie-Madeleine (Gertrud Günter) and Ronald K. Siegel, PhD All new translations from the original German by the librettist

Commissioned by the International Museum of Surgical Science for their exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race”

For soprano, electronics, and chamber ensemble

Forensic science is the art of resurrection,
recreating history through the magic of DNA and fingerprints
and handwritten secrets decoded from the particular curves
in “dear” and “do not leave me.”

See here, the ink-fossil of Baroness Gertude Günter von Puttkamer–
the Jewish lesbian erotic poet, Marie-Madeleine,
who taunted the Nazis with her bright red hardcovers
and incendiary turns of phrase.

That’s me.

The Nazis tried to burn me,
to bury my words, all memory of my existence,
in war-ridden soil.
They tried,
but they failed.

(Adaptation and translation of “Ich träumte von dir” from Auf Kypros)

I dreamt of you. — One summer night,
pale blue and trembling at the riverside
in all your golden-curled splendor,
you wanted my burning mouth.

I’ve known no fever, no hellfire burning so hot
as the sickness in my heart.
Your wicked eyes shone,
two abysses like cliffs at the waters’ edge – –
my soul sank into them.

The madness-making moonlight with its sickly pallor
splayed death over your face
as I pressed you to me.

With my yielding, lecherous mouth
I drank dry your heart’s blood
in the summer night, in the midnight hour
when the seacrests sing and surge.

— I dreamt only this.

The Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy,
evolved to defend itself.
Producing a thick, white milk,
it deters predators,
and those foolish enough to bite
kneel to its bitter, sleep-inducing chemicals.

Humans harvested the power of the poppy
and named it after the Greek god of dreams.

I first tangled with that seductive god
when the male doctors decided
I was too distraught at my husband’s deathbed.
I was too hysterical.
They shot me up
without my consent.

The cool calm crawled under my skin.

(inspired by “Das Fieber,” “Kokaïn,” and “Der letzte Rausch”)

In darkness, in this terrible place
completely removed from the world,
he approached without a sound, without warning…
this monster, my uninvited guest…

My tired heart drags hotter
until the dream-clouds about me are violent red.
Shine, ever effervescent,
fill me with a marrow-deep delight!

More! More!
Burn me inside
until wings sprout on my savage soul
and I fall
into the beckoning bottomless pit.

I am always — still! — so long! — stuck
in this cursed place,
this city so heavily damned
that it will never rise again.
I can only groan with desire —
take me down, Thanatos!

I can’t breathe in these streets,
I can’t find a living body,
they’ve all forgotten—-

My lips, worn down by fever,
cradle my last screech:
I need to get out!
I’m penned in all around–
these walls will outlast me.
I have nothing left but you:
my most beloved, my very last ecstasy!

Poppies are monocarpic–
they die after flowering.
Their showy petals are crumpled in the bud;
as blooming finishes, the petals lie flat
before falling away.

But I am polycarpic,
flowering again and again,
blooming ever brighter
until I’m corporal again,
sinew and fingertips and bone again.

The Nazis are real and they are here.
They will try to drive us
once more into the dirt.

But my soul persists,
after all my tormentors are dead.

(Adaptation and translation of “Die Blume des Vergessens”)

The sky was a poppy–
bleeding, torn to shreds, and falling–
and as the sunset fled like a soft dream,
the night tumbled onto the world.

Braided up into the night’s wings,
I sobbed out my heartache.
Only the wild beasts who die in howling torment
sink beside me to this loneliness so primeval.

You sunset, you fire, watch
the bleeding poppy embroiled in that seething mass of clouds–
I need oblivion’s shimmering bloom–
I rip it down from Heaven!

I’ll wind purple wreaths
around my heart to stop its weeping.
I’ll find the deepest dark
within that dream where we’re united forever.