Natoma - The Inspiration Behind the Name

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From the August 1911 Outlook

The name for our delightful new PINK TALCUM came as a very happy inspiration from the first American opera that bears this title, the book by Joseph D. Redding, the music by the celebrated composer, Victor Herbert. The first performance of this charming opera took place at the Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, February 23, 1911. Miss Mary Garden in the cast as Natoma.

The romantic story is set in the early mission days of California, when the region was still under Spanish rule. The opening scene is on the Island of Santa Cruz, one of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.

In the afternoon of a summer's day, Don Francisco is awaiting the return of his only daughter, Barbara, who is just leaving the convent, where she has been under the instruction of the padre and nuns of the mission church in the town of Santa Barbara. He muses on the flight of time and the coming of age of his beautiful daughter.

His revery is interrupted by the arrival of Alvarado and three comrades, Castro, Pico and Kagama. Alvarado, a hot-headed young Spaniard and a cousin to Barbara on her mother's side, is anxious to marry Barbara and thus gain control of the vast estates left to her by her mother. Castro is a half-breed of low cunning; Pico and Kagama are hunters. They have all come to the island ostensibly for a wild boar hunt, but Alvarado has really come to be on hand on the return of his cousin Barbara.

Natoma has been the playmate and handmaiden of Barbara during their childhood. She is a young California Indian girl of pure blood, her name signifying "The Maid from the Mountains." Natoma is the last of her race and bears upon her face the mystery and sadness of her vanishing race. She is charmingly simple and unaffected.

Natoma Side Portrait - 1911

A warship from the United States has dropped anchor in the Bay of Santa Barbara, and Lieutenant Paul Merrill on one of his trips to the island meets Natoma, and is very much interested in her. He is the first white stranger Natoma has ever seen, and she is captivated by him He calls her his "little witch" and his "little wildflower." He sings to her:

     Gentle maiden, tell me, have I seen thee in my dreams,
         When above my pillow from the night fell starry gleams?
             Ever am I haunted by a pair of eyes so deep and gleaming,
                In whose wealth unfathomed lie the shafts of love asleep and dreaming.

She wears around her neck an amulet—a small abalone shell—hung upon a necklace of beads. He asks her to reveal the secret of the amulet, and in pathetic and dramatic recital she tells him the legend of her people.

"From the clouds came my first father; out he stepped upon the mountain over there upon the mainland, in the early dawn of morning, and his people followed after. Soon there came an awful famine, and his people paled with hunger and famine. Then he went down to the ocean, where the waters roll unceasing, and he prayed unto the Spirit of the mountain and the waters. And lo! his prayer was answered. At his feet in untold numbers he found, tossed up by the mighty ocean, the abalone rich with meat. With this meat he fed his people, brought the starving to life. He reverently thanked the Spirit with prayer. But in the old age of my father he lost all my brothers in battle with the stranger. Then my father called me to him and said, 'Natoma, thou the strongest, the eldest, shalt succeed to my dominion. On thy neck I hang the token; guard it in this bosom as a deed of gift and plenty from the Spirit to his people.' "

Paul salutes her as Queen and ruler of this far country, but she replies sadly:

"Vanished are my father's people, Now the stranger comes as chieftain."

He asks her whether Barbara is very beautiful, and in an outburst of affectionate emotion she describes the loveliness of Barbara. Realizing that when Paul sees Barbara he will forget Natoma, she begs him to take her.

As anticipated, when Paul and Barbara meet it is love at first sight.

Alvarado becomes jealous. He becomes enraged when Barbara rejects him, and threatens to take the life of the naval officer. His friend, Castro, the half-breed, advises caution, and suggests a better way. He tells Alvarado that tomorrow on the mainland there will be a great fiesta, the festival on the coming of age of Barbara, when the whole countryside will be assembled to do her honor. When the gayety is at its height, swift horses will be ready and they can bear the girl away to the mountains, where none can follow. Alvarado accedes to Castro's plan. Natoma in the arbor overhears the entire plot. The next day the fiesta begins at dawn in the plaza of the town of Santa Barbara. In the dim light of the early day can be seen the imposing towers and steps of the church, while in the background rise the mountains of Santa Inez. At the left is a red-tiled adobe inn. At the right a grand-stand and platform.

A milk boy playing upon his pipe, delivers his pigskin of milk. Market women appear. Soldiers with drums and trumpets deliver the flag of Spain to monks on the steps of the church and the colors are raised to the strains of the Spanish national anthem.

Women display their wares in booths—serapes, rosaries, beads, belts, blankets, fruits, flowers, etc. The scene becomes more lively and gay, and the Vaqueros are announced; they appear on the roadway gaily dressed for the occasion. The song of the Vaqueros is met with cheers. Alvarado comes on, wearing the dress of a grand cavalier, with a gorgeous serape over his shoulders.

To a triumphant chorus the Alcalde appears from the roadway. He is followed by the leading dignitaries of the town. Convent girls follow, strewing flowers before Don Francisco and Barbara, who enter on horseback, Natoma walking by Barbara's side holding her hand. They dismount and climb the steps of the grand-stand. Natoma remains at the foot of the steps with folded arms. A formal ceremony ensues, in which Don Francisco expresses his joy and satisfaction at the tribute to his daughter upon her coming of age.

Then Alvarado springs forward, pays a tribute to his cousin in lofty language, and begs the honor of a dance with her. She accepts, and together they begin to tread the dainty measures of the minuet. A cannon is heard off stage. Alvarado would continue, but Barbara hesitates. The booming is heard again. Kagama announces that the American ship is saluting, and that an envoy from the United States is about to arrive under escort. Don Francisco orders their fitting reception; Barbara returns to the grand-stand.

A chorus of American sailors is heard off stage. They come on followed by Lieutenant Paul and two brother officers. Paul, in salutation of the-flag of Spain, sings a solo in heroic vein, an ode to the great Columbus and to Columbia, fairest goddess of the land, which is, of course, an ode to Barbara herself. He is welcomed by Don Francisco upon the grand-stand, where formal presentations are made.

Alvarado, who has shown his agitation during this scene, again comes forward and demands that his cousin Barbara continue her dance with him. It is apparent that the crowd side with Alvarado, and Barbara, at the instance of her father, steps down and continues the dance. By a preconcerted arrangement many couples now take part in the dance. The minuet accelerates and breaks into the panuelo, or handkerchief dance. This is the dance of declaration, at the climax of which each gallant places his hat upon the head of his lady love. This is done by all of the men, including Alvarado. Each girl retains the hat upon her head except Barbara, who tosses Alvarado's hat to one side, and turning towards the grand-stand, joins her father.

The people are sullen, but Don Francisco tries to make light of the affair exclaiming, "Nay, nay, my friends, a dance is but a dance! On with the fiesta!"

During all this scene Natoma has sat upon the steps of the grand-stand motionless. Now Castro breaks through the crowd of Vaqueros in front of the inn door. He is in an ugly mood. He rails at the puny dances of modern times. Striking his dagger fiercely into the ground, he demands from the crowd if there be anyone who dare dance with him the ancient dance of the Californians, the dagger dance. Like a panther he makes the circuit of the assemblage, asking that his challenge be met. The people turn away with a show of fear, but Natoma rises slowly, draws the dagger from her belt, and strikes it into the ground beside Castro's. The crowds are amazed. Castro would refuse to dance with her, but she looks sternly at him and points with authority at the daggers.

All eyes are riveted on the dancers, whose evolutions become more and more wild and intense. Kagama and Alvarado slip to the front and untie the leather thongs which support the railing of the grand-stand in the angle facing the audience where Barbara is seated. Alvarado removes his serape from his shoulders and creeps up to the edge of the grand-stand near Barbara. Natoma and Castro simultaneously pluck the daggers from the ground and cross each other in the movement of the dance. As Alvarado smothers Barbara in the serape and is pulling her down off the grand-stand, Natoma makes a lunge at Castro, who parries her attack. She purposely passes him, and just as Alvarado and Kagama have covered Barbara with the serape, Natoma strikes Alvarado.

The dance comes to a stop with a crash. Alvarado with a wild cry falls. Don Francisco clasps Barbara in his arms. Natoma stands motionless. Castro would rush upon Natoma, but is held by Paul's brother officers. The people rush to tear her to pieces; Paul draws his sword and with his sailors and the soldiers holds the crowd at bay. Wild with rage they again seek to break through and get at Natoma.

The great doors of the church open and Father Peralta appears. He stands on the steps of the church, holding over his head the crucifix. "Hold!" he cries, "Hold, in the name of Christ!" The people turn toward the church, and seeing the crucifix, fall on their knees, making the sign of the cross. Father Peralta turns towards Natoma with a gesture of protection. Natoma drops the dagger, and, staggering towards the steps of the church, falls at the feet of the priest. Still holding his crucifix aloft, Father Peralta exclaims: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord!"

It is the afternoon of the same day. The scene is within the Mission Church and Natoma is alone within the edifice and is on the steps of the altar with her head between her knees. As if partly dazed by the situation she croons an Indian lullaby to herself. Gradually coming to her senses, she sings the injustice to her people in the coming of the white man. She becomes impassioned, and calls upon the Great Spirit to give her strength and power to join her people and bring down destruction upon the strangers.

At the height of her invocation Father Peralta appears from behind the altar and exclaims, "Peace! peace in the House of God!" She would defy him, but the benign dignity of the priest quiets her. He appeals to her, and would have her understand the beauty of the teachings of the church. She will not be comforted, but would go her own way. The priest again appeals to her to accept the protection of the church. In simple language he recalls to her mind her childhood days with Barbara and their mutual love. This strikes the one responsive chord in the heart of Natoma. She realizes that her life is ended, and that by putting herself under the protection of the church she will bring happiness to her idolized mistress, Barbara. She turns to the priest and says simply: "Love shall be repaid by love; I will do thy bidding; I have spoken!"

Father Peralta summons the acolytes and bids the church doors to be thrown open. He dons his vestments. Natoma stands upon the steps of the altar, facing the length of the church. While the choir of monks intone the ancient Gregorian hymn "Te Lucis ante Terminum," the church fills. Father Peralta mounts the pulpit and proclaims the divine word: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." From behind the convent garden door is heard the nuns' chorale of praise on the reception into their order of a new convert.

Now the doors of the convent garden open slowly as the nuns' chorus grows in Vol.. The nuns enter and form two rows from the doorway to where the main aisle intersects the cross aisle. The choir in the organ-loft takes up the theme of the nuns' chorus. It reaches a climax, with the nuns kneeling on either side of the cross aisle.

As Natoma's love-theme develops in the orchestra through the church music and the nuns' chorale, Natoma walks slowly down the main aisle, reaches the pews where Paul and Barbara are seated, pauses, and turns, facing the altar. Barbara and Paul, as if under the spell of some controlling power, come into the aisle and kneel before Natoma, who takes the amulet from off her neck, and gently places it over Barbara's head and shoulders. She then turns and continues down the main aisle to the intersection of the cross aisle, and passes between the kneeling nuns to the open door of the convent garden.

She stands there with her back to the audience, in the flood of light from the convent garden. The nuns rise and walk past her on either side. Peralta lifts both his hands in benediction. Paul and Barbara are still kneeling in the aisle. Finally Natoma passes through the doorway of the convent garden. The doors close upon her. The church music stops. There is a second's pause. The full orchestra plays fortissimo Natoma's Indian theme of Fate.

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