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Cordelia – a monodrama by Neil Rolnick for Deviant Septet and Mellissa Hughes

"Cordelia" is a three generation family story about control, obedience, disobedience, dependence and independence.


Deviant Septet’s mission and penchant for challenging and genre-breaking music has led to a new collaboration with composer Neil Rolnick. Rolnick’s Cordelia is a musical monodrama for soprano Mellissa Hughes and Deviant Septet in 3 acts, with 3 interstitial commercials. Working with librettist Larry Beinhart, Cordelia features Ms. Hughes in the title role, while the ensemble sings, acts, and plays.

A Brief Synopsis:

Act One:

We meet Cordelia, her two brothers and her sister.  Their Father is rich and powerful, convinced this makes him a great man. He sets standards for every aspect of his children’s lives. His oldest joins the military, against his father’s wishes. He’s sent home in a body bag. Cordelia mourns. To her father it’s a lesson that this is what happens when children disobey. Cordelia’s sister’s anger boils into hate. She runs off with the type of guy her father will most despise. Father disinherits her, and warns Cordelia and her brother that he’ll do the same to them if they don’t obey him. Her brother becomes his father’s subservient lackey. Sickened, Cordelia runs off. Her father howls after her, she is disinherited too!

Act One ends.

Obedience Commercial, brought to you by the Armed Forces, Catholic Theology, Christian Guide, the International Association of Imams, Mullahs, and Ayatollahs, and suffering parents everywhere.

Act Two:

Cordelia has built a life of her own, with a job, a husband, and two children. Her father’s lawyers come. She has been reinstated. Her brother is disinherited. She is the only worthy progeny. She is now the Heir. She goes to be reconciled with her Father. And to fix things with her brother. Her brother cracked under the strain of being the good son. He is institutionalized. Cordelia urges her Father to reconcile with him. Father refuses. Any more demands, and she can go back to being disinherited! He’ll leave it all to the dogs. He likes dogs. They understand obedience and love. Cordelia’s husband and children urge her to accept her father’s demands.

Cordelia accepts.

Act Two ends.

Accommodation Commercial, brought to you by the Chamber of Commerce, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the Hilton Hotel Chain.

Act Three:

Cordelia is now the Matriarch. Father left her half the money. He left the other half to the ASPCA. Her remaining brother and her sister come to demand their share. Cordelia tells them that the will forbids her sharing with them. Is she now greedy, keeping it all for herself? She doesn’t know. Her husband and children have grown to like spending. Her children are becoming spoiled, and worse, disobedient. She commands them to get their lives in order. They must live up to her standards. For their own good. The family gathers. Cordelia at the center. A cacophony of demands, while she cries out for order and demands control.

Act Three ends.

Family Values Commercial. The foundation stone of society. The source of love and happiness. The place for nurturing, support, safety and solace.

Project Media

“Numb” by Neil Rolnick
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This recording is a performance of one of Neil Rolnick’s previous works by soprano Mellissa Hughes. It was recorded at EMPAC, in Troy, NY on December 1, 2011. In “Cordelia,” Rolnick and Hughes will be joined by Deviant Septet, with text by writer Larry Beinhart.

“Gardening at Gropius House” by Neil Rolnick
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Features: Neil Rolnick

Todd Reynolds, violin soloist;
Alarm Will Sound with Alan Pierson conducting

“J’al Deux Amours (I Have Two Lovers)” by Josephine Baker
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A live performance from Candlelight Concert Series, April 7, 2016, Deviant Septet and guest soprano Mellissa Hughes perform Josephine Baker’s “J’al Deux Amours” in a new arrangement by Deviant’s own Doug Balliett. Here, the septet presents a new take on an old song, much like “Cordelia” is a new take on an old story. This work sample showcases some of the vast timbral possibilities afforded to a composer when adding the talents of Ms. Hughes to the Deviant palette.

Start and End Dates



New York City, New York

Project Created By

New York, New York
Deviant Septet has been hailed as “exciting” (New York Times), a “stylish new ensemble” (New York Magazine), “superb” (Washington Post), “exceedingly fun”, “led by new music veterans” (Time Out New York), “lively and accomplished” (Classical TV: The Drift), and “boisterously entertaining” (Lucid Culture).  WNYC called it “a brand new ensemble with a high concept… made…

In Collaboration With

New York, New York


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