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


I. The Awakening

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.


II. In Salvation and In Sin

(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.


III. Morphine

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.


IV. Tumbling

(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!


V. The Harvest Song

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.


VI. The Flower of Oblivion

(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.



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