May 22, 2008 | Musical Traditions, Inc./The Paul Dresher Ensemble
Composer:Erling Wold
Librettist:Douglas Kearney
One of the weirdest and most melancholy stories of human deformity is that of Edward Mordake, heir to one of the noblest peerages in England. He never claimed the title, and committed suicide in his twenty-third year. He was a young man of fine attainments, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was graceful, and his face - his natural face - was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, 'lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil.' No voice was audible, but Mordake was kept from his rest by the hateful whispers of his 'devil twin,' as he called it, 'which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they speak of only in hell. In spite of careful watching he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the 'demon face' might be destroyed before his burial, 'lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.'

The story begins as Edvard describes the Mordake crest. Eventually, Brigit – the other face – makes herself heard, telling Edvard that he will never be rid of her, that she will bring him down. The doorkeeper comes and, hearing the two voices, asks what is happening but is told by Edvard that he is merely reading a play. Edvard discusses exorcisms and how that, after tonight, when the Doctor comes, he will finally be free of his demon. As they wait, Brigit taunts Edvard more, making him fear that the doorkeeper has sent the Doctor away and goading him into flogging the poor servant. He beats the servant too hard, however, seriously injuring him. Edvard, realizing what has done, accuses Brigit of guiding his hand. Brigit sings Edvard a song about how he destroyed his whole family, how he ate his sister in the womb, how his deformity killed his mother. Edvard grows impatient and decides to perform the surgery himself: the surgery that the Doctor had planned to remove the other face. Soon, Edvard has barricaded himself in and has begun to cut, Brigit is singing to him, and the Doctor finally arrives, shocked to find the servant attacked in the hall.

We cut back to a scene of Edvard’s birth, the parents accusing the Doctor of causing the deformity. When we return, the surgery is done and Brigit is quiet, but the conversation between the Doctor and Edvard through the barricaded door tells us that no one could ever hear Brigit – that the voice was just in Edvard’s mind. At this, we start to hear the lion roar again and we realize Brigit is still there. The Doctor finally breaks down the barricade as Brigit tells Edvard it was always just him. The Doctor announces that the servant has told him that Edvard was the one who beat him. Edvard accepts it all and collapses from the loss of blood against a background of fire.

Title Information

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John Duykers (Edward Mordake)

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