Mrs. President, the Opera
Victoria Bond, Composer
Hilary Bell, Librettist
Scene 1: 1846 Homer, Ohio. A carnival crowd congregates around a homemade banner announcing “See Psychic Child Victoria! Only 10 cents!” Victoria’s mother, Roxie, claims that although she is only eight years old, Victoria is “Wise as Solomon.” As the banner flaps apart revealing the child, adult Victoria recalls her miserable childhood. Three men emerge from the crowd: Henry Ward Beecher, celebrity preacher; James Blood, Victoria’s future husband and Joseph Treat, who would become one of her lovers. Although they are all fascinated with her, each will attempt to destroy her during her lifetime.
Scene 2: 1865 Plymouth Church, Brooklyn. Henry Ward Beecher gives an impassioned sermon to his adoring congregation, complete with a feverish auction to buy the freedom of a young slave girl. Henry’s younger sister Isabella is impressed with his effectiveness and tells him about her new friend, Victoria Woodhull. Henry demands that Isabella never see her again, warning that Victoria preys on innocent minds and will corrupt her.
Scene 3: In a dimly lit drawing room, a group of Spiritualists holds hands and attempts to contact their departed husbands, sons and fathers killed during the Civil War. Joseph Treat is the only man present. He is a sweet-faced youth who has once enjoyed Victoria’s affection but has recently been cast aside. As he waits for her, his desperation mounts, and he threatens to mutilate himself in order to regain her sympathy. Victoria bursts into the room, interrupting the séance with breathless excitement, announcing that she is founding a newspaper that can expose corruption. She incites her followers to create a new world by burning down the old. Someday, she tells them, there may even be a President-ess of the USA! Intrigued, her followers ask her to lead them in one final séance. Falling into a trance, Victoria has a vision of womankind, free to love anyone and free to break the chains of marriage. Isabella is enchanted with this idea and naively suggests that her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, could help this cause. Victoria reveals the scandalous truth to Isabella that her brother is secretly seducing his female parishioners. Isabella is shocked at the revelation, but one of his conquests assures her that it is true. Victoria convinces Isabella to bring Henry to her office. If he refuses to support her cause, she will expose him in her newspaper by publishing the truth about his transgressions.
Scene 4: The office of “Woodhull’s Weekly,” a hive of activity. Henry barges in, furious. He demands to speak with Victoria and the two are left alone. The more he tries to bully her into submission, the more she teases him. Although he is enraged and threatens to kill her, she is not intimidated and calmly informs him that the story of his sexual liaisons is ready to print. His anger turns to panic as he sees the possibility of his career crumbling in such a scandal. He begs for mercy, but she tells him that far from condemning his activity, she agrees with his passionate nature and suggests that he support her platform of free love. Stunned by this endorsement of what he has most feared, he boldly agrees to reveal himself for the hedonist that he is and to support her campaign. They abandon themselves to their passion, and as they strip off their clothing, Joseph Treat bursts in with a bouquet of roses for Victoria. He freezes. Victoria and Henry are oblivious. Treat hurls the roses to the floor and slams the door as he storms out.
Scene 1: Joseph Treat writes a letter to the New York Times alerting them to a pernicious force that threatens to tear apart the family: Victoria Woodhull. As he writes, the auditorium of Steinway Hall materializes around him, where backstage, Isabella and Victoria are preparing for a speech Victoria is about to give announcing her candidacy for president. Henry is supposed to introduce her and they nervously wait for him. Meanwhile, Henry is having second thoughts about his decision to support Victoria in her radical stance and her bid for the presidency. Filled with self-loathing, he admonishes himself for his sexual weakness until he concludes that it is Victoria who has made him a victim in this crime, and it is she who is to blame. In the auditorium, the crowd is restless, and finally Victoria makes her entrance on stage alone. She begins her prepared speech, announcing her candidacy for president, but a hostile crowd, led by Joseph Treat, heckles her. She sees Henry enter at the back of the auditorium and thinking that he has come to rescue her and join her on the stage, she hurls her prepared speech to the ground and speaks spontaneously about free love. Henry is silent, and then defiantly leads the crowd in opposing everything Victoria stands for, chanting “Mrs. Satan for President” and forcing Victoria off the stage. The crowd swarms into her office, tearing down a huge banner pronouncing “Victoria for President.”
Scene 2: The ransacked office of Woodhull’s Weekly. Victoria sleeps in Blood’s arms. He sings of his shattered dreams of a peaceful life together. As she wakes, she can think only of her own aborted dreams of a world where all are free. In his study, Henry and Isabella are arguing over Victoria. Isabella claims that Henry is murdering a saint, but he calls her a fiend from Hell. The four join together, each one locked within his disappointment. Finally, Henry threatens to commit Isabella to a deviates asylum for her “unnatural” affection for Victoria unless she abandons her friend. A police officer, led by Treat, enters Victoria’s office and arrests her for publishing a libelous account of Henry and creating a scandal.
Scene 3: A jail cell. Victoria reads a letter from Isabella who confesses that she has failed Victoria because of her lack of courage. Victoria casts the letter aside, proclaiming “It’s over.” A small girl enters the jail cell with a meal for the prisoner, and Victoria touches her face tenderly. “No, nothing’s over,” she says as the jail cell dissolves, and from the darkness emerge ghostly Victorias, one after the other, until there are dozens of them, dressed in successively contemporary costumes going to the present day. They sing softly, building in volume: “From my ashes a thousand more will rise. They will seize what I’ve begun, hold it high and carry it on. Arise!”