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The Sweeper of Dreams

April 1, 2012

A libretto by Scott Andrew Hutchins

based upon the short story by Neil Gaiman

official entry for the English National Opera’s MiniOperas 2012

Lights up on a sharp-toothed CRONE biting the face of the DREAMER. Raucous music ensues. The Crone opens the Dreamer’s shirt, and red worms crawl out and fall upon the ground.

Dreamer lets out a gasp on pitch.

With a sudden change in the music, the SWEEPER OF DREAMS appears and throws kindling at the feet of the crone, and lights it.  The Sweeper kneels, extending an exposed arm bearing a tattoo of a dragon, and lights a hand-rolled cigarette.

Crone (aria):
Convergence of horror and cruelty–
Is my crime worse than his?
Anticipation of a life without pain
Leads you to see a new hero.
He does not like you
Any more than he likes me.
Be on your guard.
Trust him not.

As she sings, the Sweeper pushes the whole pyre offstage with his wide broom, then reappears, the Dreamer astonished, but not taking anything the Crone said seriously.

Sweeper: You look lost.

Dreamer: I–

Sweeper: Don’t worry, it’s just me job.

Dreamer: –was looking for something.

Sweeper: Might it be this?

The Sweeper pulls out a lengthy research paper.

Dreamer: Yes, yes.

The Sweeper pulls it away.

Sweeper: You won’t be needing this anymore.

The Sweeper touches the cigarette’s lit end to the paper and tosses it off stage.

Sweeper: Don’t worry; it’s not the original.

Dreamer: What?

Sweeper: Let’s not talk about work.

Instantly, the Dreamer and the Sweeper are at a bar.  Only the bar.  The rest of the set has its dream-like imagery–flowers made of meat, nuns in the woods, butterfly-winged old sages, perhaps a sinking ship in the background.  Upstage is also a chorus, but they are completely ignoring the ensuing action.  They are simply garbed in drab, plain attire.  The Sweeper is engrossed in a game of football: QPR vs. Brentford.  The Dreamer obviously doesn’t follow football.

Dreamer: This?

Sweeper: Wot?

Dreamer: You just burn a witch and you relax?

Sweeper: What did I tell you?  (distracted) Christ! Černý, why don’t you go back to Prague?  Anyone could have caught that! (to the Dreamer) Did you see that?

Dreamer: I’m sorry.  I didn’t notice.  I don’t follow soccer.  I’m feeling really confused and distracted right now.

Sweeper: Wot, tha’ you’ve seen me?  I thought you could use a hand back there.

Dreamer: I think I’m back to talking about work. What do you think about this weather?

Sweeper: It’s fair enough.  It’s keeping the meat flowers growing.

The Dreamer doesn’t react favorably to that, at least not until looking at the scenery, for the walls of the bar are no more visible to the Dreamer than they are to the audience.

Dreamer:  I don’t want meat flowers.

Sweeper: So you’re asking me to sweep them away?  What did I tell you about talking about work?

Militaristic music ensues as a  soap box emerges, painted to resemble a tank as if a child had painted it.  It begins lobbing ball-like missiles.  The chorus approaches from the upstage shadows, singing phrases of mad and utter nonsense.  They bring to the dreamer a garb like theirs and force the Dreamer to wear it as they sing their chorus.

Chorus: The sages are not butterflies.
Nuns descend the ground in the woods
Cudgeled by arms breaking through bathtubs
In the reichstag of our muddled fantasies
In which libraries of toilet paper
Bask in the dread of our delusions.
Will the Lusitania sink tonight?
Or was that some ancient rime
That may pass through, or perhaps may not?

Seized and bound by the arms, and forced into being “one of us,” the Dreamer lets out one last cry of indignation.

Dreamer (aria): Soon I shall wake and all this will be gone.
You can take your witch-burning into someone else’s head. [Sweeper exits.]
Lest I forget that that this is illusion, I will return the next night and the next
All will be different, and only I remain the same.
Your power will vanish when I wake.
I need not concern myself with you.

The Crone we saw burned earlier has returned.

Crone (aria): What you saw, child, was the Sweeper of Dreams.
You drove him away, just as these others did.
Now you shall be one of them.
Their sanity is the least of their problems.
Their dream-life is not swept away.
Prepare yourself in waking life for a dark, forgotten place
Where no one need deal with your mad ravings.
You, like they, will live in the wreckage of your dreams;
For the Sweeper has left you, and will never come back.

One Comment
  1. This was written for a competition by the English National Opera. I was surprised to see the finalists in the “libretto” competition, which mine was not, all looked more like poems than plays. Perhaps I misunderstood the rules, but I don’t believe so. Seven year-old Alma Deutscher won the composition portion with another adaptation of “The Sweeper of Dreams,” which Neil Gaiman provided for adaptation, along with two other stories by two other authors.

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