A Church Opera
by Gian Carlo Menotti
. It was commissioned by CBS
television in 1964
, but it was actually first performed at Bristol Cathedral
on June 3, 1964. Like his Christmas
opera Amahl and the Night Visitors
, this opera too deals with children
. Unlike Amahl, which takes a liturgical
tale and reworks it to fill the hearts of children (and adults) with wonder, Martin's Lie is indeed intended for adults.
Set in the 14th Century, in a time and place where "tolerance was considered weakness and creulty a necessity," the opera opens in the kitchen of a convent that has been converted into a home for orphans. The housekeeper Naninga tells the boys a nighttime fairy story but cuts it short and commands the boys to say their nightly prayers when confronted with Father Cornelius. However, it is Martin's turn to sleep in the kitchen proper and guard the food from rats. He settles in and then hears a violent knocking at the door. He answers it and is confronted by a man who swears that he is being tortured and burned because he "chooses to worship God in his own way." Martin accuses the man of heresy and the stranger abruptly declares Martin his saviour, as appointed by God.
Martin immediately tells the stranger that he was not waiting for him, he was waiting for his father. We learn that Martin's mother died while giving birth to him and he still waits for his father to come back to him. The stranger pleads with Martin to "realize" that God has sent him to Martin to be his father.
Suddenly, a commotion is heard and Martin hides the stranger. The Sheriff enters and explains to the adults that a heretic, sentenced to death, was seen knocking on the door of the convent. He accused Martin of harboring him. Martin tells the sheriff that the man is his father, faithfully come back to him. The Sherriff, along with his men, rebuff Martin and threaten him with violence and then death. Just as the Sheriff's man approaches Martin, he collapses and dies. At the moment of his death, the priest exclaims in a whisper, "Whoever he was, he was your father."
He then tells the Sheriff that "a lie is a little thing...love is stronger than any sin."