‘…brisk, and quick to change from humour to poignancy’
‘Warner’s libretto is well paced, funny and touching; it neatly finds new ways to tell old truths about love and bewilderment. Woolrich’s music, too, is brisk, and quick to change from humour to poignancy …’
Times Literary Supplement (Paul Griffiths), 12 July 1996
In a distant city famous for witchcraft, behind the front of a barber’s shop, Cosmo, a powerful old alchemist and wizard, pursues his arcane knowledge. His mysterious house has many floors and chambers, and he lives there with his ward, Corallina, whom he intends to marry as soon as she is old enough. Meanwhile, he keeps her disguised as a boy, so nobody else will notice her and take her from him. Corallina loves her uncle - guardian, who has cared for her since she was orphaned, but she also chafes against her captivity.
One day, Luca, a likely lad and a student of medicine, calls by the barber’s shop and sense and adventure. When he stays behind and peeps, he sees the mystery of the house of the crossed desires. But when the magical transformations begin, they draw the young people into a series of terrible ordeals.
In the House of Crossed Desires is inspired by the comic, metaphysical romance The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius in the second century, and a founding text of the fairy tale. Marina Warner has interwoven this Hellenistic story with masks and characters and motifs from the tradition of theCommedia dell’arte. Cosmo is inspired by the stock figure of Pantaleone the old man in love, Luca and Corallina by Harlequin and Columbine, Sloper by the figure Mezzetin, who serves his master, but never reliably, Greasy Joan follows in the footsteps of many a terrible bawd, or Ruffiana. The libretto plays with mistaken identities, mismatched lovers, lost children, poisonings, spells, improbabilities and happy endings in full, rueful commitment to the contrivances of art as the weapon of last resort.