"The Stevedores"

A romantic opera in three acts, in the Italian language (translated into English).

Version   : 1.
Created   : 24 April 1998
Author    : Ross N. Williams
Email     : ross@ross.net
URL       : http://www.ross.net/
OperaURL  : http://www.ross.net/fun/stevedores.html
Copyright : Copyright (c) Ross N. Williams, 1998.
            All rights reserved. However, permission is
            granted to copy and disseminate this work
            verbatim provided that these notices are
            preserved. Performance rights reserved.
Libretto  : Ross N. Williams (ross@ross.net)
Music     : Not yet written
Scene     : Australia
Year      : 1998
Note      : This page is also available as a pure text file.


Disputo A stevedore (Tenor).
Chook His best mate, also a stevedore (Tenor).
Lorenzo The shipping magnate (Baritone).
Desperina Lorenzo's daughter (Mezzo-soprano).
Exporto The exporter (Basso cantante).
Recalcitro The union leader (Bass).
Howardo The Prime Minister (Basso profondo).


Scene 1: The Docks (Morning)

The opera opens with a chorus of stevedores who sing of the pride and of the joy they take in their work:

   We are the stevedores of the Australian waterfront
   Moving shipping containers is our mission
   But we are a modest and retiring group
   So we take great pains to hide our work
   The cat burglar's tread is not so slow
   As a shipping container on our crane
   We take great offence if you can see
   That a container is moving at all

The chorus breaks into a solo as Disputo, a newly qualified stevedore, sings of the proud stevedoring tradition of his family. He sings of how his great grandfather used to earn an average Australian wage, how his grandfather earned twice that, his father three times the average wage, and how he hopes to continue the tradition. But his best mate Chook, also a stevedore, breaks in and reminds them all of the hard life of the stevedore, the demanding physical work of operating crane levers, and of how they must work ten, twenty, sometimes even thirty hours per week.

Suddenly there is a commotion in the docks. The shipping magnate Lorenzo, accompanied by his beautiful daughter Desperina, arrives to inspect the new watertight shipping containers. Disputo sees Desperina and immediately falls in love with her. He takes her aside and declares his love for her and they sing a duet. Desperina declares her love for him but cautions that their love is doomed if her father finds out. They agree to meet in secret at the docks at midnight. Lorenzo and Desperina depart.

Disputo then has a duet with a chorus of stevedores in which the delicately intertwined nature of spiritual and carnal love is unravelled. Disputo sings of his oceanic joy at his discovery of Desperina, and the redemptive power of the pure love he feels for her, while the stevedores sing of Desperina's enormous knockers and her legendary sexual powers.

Scene 2: The Docks (Afternoon)

All is tranquil and quiet on the docks as the stevedores work at maximum capacity. Suddenly the menacing figure of Lorenzo appears before them once again:

   I know that moving containers is a chore
   But they move them faster in sunny Singapore
   All my life I have waited for the day
   Of extra productivity for even lesser pay
   So I wish you all to leave and not come back
   You see, I'm giving everyone the sack

The stevedores are outraged and mill around angrily. Lorenzo continues:

   The three-toed sloth of sleepy jungles can seem
   Speedy next to stevedores working at full steam
   The massive bulk of hefty shipping containers
   Is microscopic compared to your retainers
   Recalcitro always tells us to get on our bikes
   He thinks he can ask for anything he likes
   I know you will die fighting for your cause
   To up your salary; I upped mine; up yours.

Lorenzo departs. The stevedores are reaching flashpoint, but Recalcitro keeps a cool head and calms them down. He sings:

   What solid bedrock transmutes to shifting sand!
   Lorenzo's drastic course surely will not stand
   We will defend our salaries and our rorts
   To see him finally vanquished in the courts
   But to the pub for now; we are of similar minds
   We return at dawn to man the picket lines!

The stevedores cheer and head down to the pub, except for Disputo who lingers behind to end the scene with:

   The battle plans are layed; my mind is never keener
   But my thoughts return to my sweet Desperina


Scene 1: The Docks At Night

Fog. A huge open shipping container dominates the set. A lone night watchman in a trench coat walks slowly among the shipping containers holding a lamp aloft to find his way. A bell tolls through the mist. He sings

   Now is the blackest tunnel of the night
   Made blacker by the looming battle's pall
   The deserted docks portentious silence
   Echos the coming of tommorow's ghosts
   How heavily the mantle of these docks
   Rests on my stooped and weary shoulders
   Even the moist fog hangs heavy of lead
   Truly it is time for me to be in bed
   My watch ends at six and it is nearly one
   So it's clear that here my work is done

He leaves. Desperina and Disputo enter from either side of the stage. They see each other. They run to each other's arms. They kiss. They sing of the fiery urgency of their love. Desperina sings:

   My love life, so far one of freely giving
   Is flummoxed by you who moves boxes for a living
   I have the inclination and the time
   So please come quickly and help move mine

Disputo answers with:

   Now our love affair is just about to start
   Never was container moved as you have moved my heart
   Your voluptuous form has set my hormones honking
   So let us go and commence the frenzied bonking

They are about to depart when suddenly a chorus of jackbooted scabs enter, led by Lorenzo. They goosestep around the stage singing:

   Oh we are the fascist jackbooted scabs
   We care not for ancient union traditions
   Each worker writes a contract of his own
   And together we swarm like worker ants
   What we lack in ideological supremacy
   We make up for in manic productivity
   Wherever you find some economic rationalists
   Not far behind will be we socialist nationalists

Disputo and Desperina hide in the shipping container. The jackbooted scabs man the cranes and start working on the docks, moving containers. They notice the open container (with Disputo and Desperina in it) and seal it up to keep the night fog out.

Scene 2: The Docks (Morning)

The stevedores arrive in the morning to man the picket line only to discover the scabs hard at work inside the shipping yard. They cry out angrily in chorus:

   Scabs! Scabs! Working in the yard!
   Scabs! Scabs! Working very hard!
   Scabs! Scabs! Working for low pay!
   Scabs! Scabs! You will rue this day!

The chorus breaks into a solo by Chook who rouses the mob to action:

   The noble stevedores have spoken
   The docks should be as still as a lotus
   But suspended over our heads is a container
   Moving faster than the humble garden snail
   It truly piques my professional pride
   To see a container moved with such gusto
   So let us, this fence, breach in righteous anger
   And drop the tainted container in the drink

At this, the stevedores break through the cyclone fence and attack the scab crane driver just as he is moving the shipping containing containing Disputo and Desperina onto the ship. Chook takes control of the crane and releases the shipping container. It falls into the water with a splash and slowly sinks to the bottom of the harbour. The stevedores let out a cheer of delight.

  To the muddy harbour depths has sunk their cargo
  Now surely they will see the force of our embargo


Scene 1: Inside The Shipping Container

Inside the shipping contain at the bottom of the harbour, Disputo and Desperina lament their fate and sing of their love for each other. Disputo sings of his passion and of their certain doom:

   If this ocean was made of the stuff of souls
   My passion for you would boil it away
   But this watery tomb is uncompromisingly wet
   And the Grim Reaper does not require an aqualung

Desperina responds more positively by reminding Disputo that they will spend their last moments together:

   This harbour floor is the nadir of our destiny
   My millstone heart can sink no further
   So let us celebrate our brief remaining time
   With tempered joy for pleasures still at hand
   I have everything I need in my fading hours
   Just you, and five thousand Nintendo machines

Scene 2: The Docks (Afternoon)

On the docks, there is a standoff between the stevedores and the scabs. The two groups, led by Lorenzo and Recalcitro eye each other angrily. Exporto, who owns the sunken shipping container, arrives in his Mercedes and sings a touching song:

   Ants suffer and die when elephants have a blue
   The stevedores worthy cause is like an Amazon butterfly
   The container now proudly treasured by Neptune
   Contains Nintendo machines bound for Bragwando
   Which of you has a conscience that can stand
   The thought of Bragwando children without Nintendo?

Despite their passionate loyalty to their cause, the stevedores are swayed by this argument, and so Chook boards the crane and lifts the sunken shipping container from the bottom of the harbour. The shipping container is opened and Disputo and Desperina emerge blinking in the sunlight. Lorenzo sees Disputo with his daughter and punches Recalcitro. The whole waterfront erupts in a brawl between the stevedores and the scab labour.

Suddenly there is a shout. Everyone turns around and looks, for there, framed within the U-shape of the huge crane is the towering stern majestic figure of the Australian Prime Minister, Howardo. He makes a speech with echoes in history:

   I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble man;
   but I have the heart of a Prime Minister,
   and of a Prime Minister of Australia too;
   and I think foul scorn that the economic rationalists,
   or any academic theorist, should dare to threaten
   our Australian way of life.

then breaks into song, singing a touching solo in which he describes the transformation that has taken place in his heart:

   My advisors led me astray; my heart was cast of stone
   The waterfront I seeked to transform and make efficient,
   But soon, a way of life, I realize I was destroying
   We must preserve our great Australian heritage
   So your jobs I am restoring at quintuple salary
   All my life has been but a prelude to this moment
   And now that I have fulfilled my destiny
   I will appoint Recalcitro as the next Prime Minister
   And retire to the Netherland Antilles to count my pension.

With tears in their eyes from the moving song, the stevedores and the scabs hug each other. Everyone cheers for joy and the whole cast rallies around to join in the final triumphal song:

   Lift your hearts unto the sky
   Harmony has returned to the waterfront
   The happy stevedores joyfully sing as they work
   To create profits for the noble shipping company.

   From the four corners of the Earth
   Spirited over the shimmering sea
   Containers will arrive at this berth
   Moving slowly unto eternity.


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