Music Anthony Davis
Libretto Joan Ross Sorkin
Adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton often wrote about unrequited love among the aristocracy and how love is easily smothered by the strict conventions of society. Her novel, The Reef, is a classic example. Wharton set her novel on a country estate in France, circa 1911; however, in the opera the setting is moved to a wealthy sugar plantation on the French-speaking island of Martinique where social conventions among the planters rivaled those of France and where the island's isolation, heat and light increase the intensity of suffocation to dizzying heights. Anna Leath, an American woman, trapped with her French mother-in-law on the plantation of her deceased husband, falls in love with an American foreign service officer whom she once knew in New York, but who unbeknownst to her, has had a brief affair with the young mixed-race island girl hired as the nursemaid for Anna's daughter. To add to the mix, Anna's infirmed stepson is in love with the nursemaid, who in turn cares more for the diplomat, so the complications of the affairs of the heart increase exponentially as their relationships are slowly revealed. Issues of race and class are paramount in the attempts to resolve this “menage à quatre.” In the end when escape from the island seems within reach, Anna is forced to choose between passion and conscience, molded by society’s rigid and unforgiving hand.