Music by Mark Zuckerman

Act I Libretto






The court of King Saul is a tribal chieftain’s court. It is not elaborate, but the hangings are richly and finely crafted, as are the rugs. There are cushions piled and scattered about as if for seating.


[enters, struggling with the load]

So much damn gear.

[unloads some armor and a sword onto a pile of weapons]

                                    Lugging this stuff

up and down ravines, I thought we were screwed

there once or twice. But a blast of the ram’s horn

and Saul like some berserker. Mother of Thunder!

he cut & slashed, wading in guts, everywhere …

[realizes he has to hurry]

and here soon, finished divvying up the spoils,

Saul and then his highest captains—Jonathan

the Prince, but not his favorite son-in-law David,

another berserker but damn he can sing—or was

his favorite, don’t know what the devil’s happ’nin’.


It’s weird. They always spurred each other on

in battle, David like a second son,

fighting side by side.

[He’s distracted from his task]

And yet today,

today was different, as if Saul didn’t want

David around. Course he knew he needed

him to win the hurly-burly, but

otherwise it seemed….

Gives me a bad feeling

like when there’s no one in the streets as you

approach an enemy town, not even a dog.

Not good.

[suddenly, looks up, sees the sky]

             Ah, sun’s fading. He’ll be here.

I got to get a move on.

[sets the last stuff down and rearranges, tidying up]


                                    Here I’m talking

to myself, what the deuce, like Saul lately

pleading with the wind.

                                    I overheard him

last week, I swear, in casual conversation

with a ghost. Then he’d run his sword through the curtain, howling:

[mock heroic]

“… but fear has forty eyes before!”

Strange words, like a prophet’s. I saw him babble

when Samuel anointed him king but thought

this was behind us. Or hoped.

You never know

what’s next, like having a leopard on a leash.


If truth be told, the prophets scare me; he’s babbling.

again these days like I’m not even in the room.

[holds up a cup, dreamily]

When I was just Zerubbabel his servant, those days

were good. Who knew when his father sent me and Saul

to find the donkeys in the hills, we’d find

a prophet, and Saul’d come back a king. Who knew?


Go looking for one thing and find another.

That’s life; it’s funny, but it’s scary too.


At least I got promoted—weapons-bearer

is better than flunky for a rich man’s kid.

[pacing, trying to explain Saul’s weirdness to himself]

Past the babbling, Saul was given a gift

yes. But he had to give that prophet Samuel

something too—a promise.

By my beard,

it haunts him. Supposed to kill the king called Agag,

after smashing the Amalekites last year,

he brought him back instead, admired him I guess.


Well, you’d have thought he served Samuel pork

and cat guts.

                        Seething, Samuel gets sarcastic

with Saul, accusing him of disobedience,

then suddenly hacks Agag to pieces. Damn!

[gestures around and down]

Blood all over the carpet, his head rolling

right to Saul’s feet. I swear something snapped

in him that day. I never know if the sun

will shine or lightning strike.

Some days he shouts

right past me at the air. Some days he fears

a stand of trees. He thinks they plot his death.


Days I fear him. I’d do anything for him,

but now I fear he would do anything.

[looks offstage]


[he scurries across the room and stands rigid]

            He’s here.

[rolls his eyes]

                                    So what’s the weather now?

 <<SAUL enters in full gear, a brooding presence, strangely subdued for a victor; at the same time, HANNAGAIL appears in the background>>


My Lord, Saul! How the Mother of Thunder has smiled

on you this day, such brushes with bald-headed death!

[sincere but hoping to ensure that Saul’s weather is fair]

They call you steel-jawed corpse-maker son

of Kish; they call you General Desolation

sired by Thunder, chosen by the Whirlwind …


[interrupts as if not hearing Zerubbabel, mysterious, forceful]

“Do whatever your hand finds to do

for the Great Decider has decided.”


Those were the words of the one who let

not one of my words fall to the ground.


My hand is raised and then the striking down.

My hand is light, not turned aside from you.


Do whatever your hand finds to do.


[looks toward the voices but does not see Hannagail]

I can’t shake this she-voice, shrill or calm!


The sound of the dead like Samuel’s mother

or one who sees my very bones

like my wife, whose words are true as trees.


Carress or fist? What to call you?

Prophetess? Shadow? Destiny?


[instinctively responds, as if Saul is speaking to him]

Shadow? I’ve been in your shadow, always,

and you know your Zubal’s voice,

[as if offended]

                                                            not shrill …

[exaggerated deep voice]

the voice of one who pisses against a wall.

[Saul ignoring him, he realizes that Saul is not talking to him; confused, he talks to himself.]

I’d rather hear the Philistines’ war cry

than this creepy babbling with a ghost.


Anointed king, a wind surged through me, …


Sired by Thunder, chosen by the Whirlwind


and I was changed into another. …


The rising wind, and thunder striking down.


[triumphantly, letting his spear drop—an arresting, vicious-looking weapon—which Zerubbabel picks up and restores to its proper place, prominently sticking from the floor]

My voice was new. I was spoken through

as if I were a ram’s horn.


I was designed for greatness—chosen

by lot and lauded by the people.


[as Saul absently allows Zerubbabel to relieve him of his sword]

Whad’ya mean was.

[holds up his sword]

                                    Today with sword, O what

a smiting was yours!

[muttering to himself]

Mine still hurts like hell.


[Agitated, despondent, as if he does not hear Zerubbabel.]

I heard the people

call be their king,

a giant among them,

uncanny as call

of wolves for the moon.

Now dark and mute?


Like the parting sea, the people making

way for us and singing hallelujahs

for your victory today.

And now the feast,

… ah the wild honey, roasted goat and partridge

[rambling on, Saul half listening]

and crispy locusts drizzled with that stuff

that smells like sex. And music, songs like theirs

in the streets: “Saul has struck down his thousands …”


But David his ten thousands, ten thousands …


[half-listening to Zerubbabel, suddenly snaps alert]

Why do they sing of him? I raised

him up. My hand made him captain. I’m king.

[looks past Zerubbabel, gestures to what he doesn’t see]

The king! Approaches—

Agag with slow steps

clutching his severed

head in his hand.


[steps back from Saul, a bit frantic and muttering to himself]

Seein’ a ghost and babbling like a prophet,

not good. I’ve seen him like a nasty drunk

twitching with anger, unpredictable

and ugly as a scorpion, just itching

to strike the nearest unlucky bastard dead.

[begins to sidle as unobtrusively as possible away]

I gotta make myself, politely, scarce.


[ignoring Zerubbabel]

I obeyed my people

and soldier’s code,

yet Agag cut

down like a dog.


Now, what is not

possible? One

of my own is whispering

“no” in the ear

of the Great Decider—

great betrayal.


[to himself]

Not good! He talks betrayal, only me here.


Can the chosen be unchosen?


[confused, defends himself]

My Lord, I am one who pisses against a wall,

chosen to slay the sons of worthlessness …


Avenger, their Requested one,

yet the voices mock.

                                    Why can’t I

quiet doubts with clash of swords?


Does my hand hold nothing now?

Not the people who sing of David?

The people who put themselves in my hand

[Saul grips his spear sticking from the floor without lifting it.]

that gripped this spear and saved their asses.


My own against me,

guilty of nothing,

Just my weapons-bearer still

beside me.

Where are you?

[spies him, who’s going about busy work across the room to stay out of possible harm’s way]

Ah Zubal

let your chatter drown the voices.


[to himself]

What voices? I never hear the voices.

And as they say, who can put doors on a field?



Where are the voices naming Saul?

Where are the winds of yesterday?

Where is the thunder in my head?


Zerubbabel! Speak like thunder!


[a little desperate, exaggerated deep voice]

You are called Saul. The people say your name

singing, “Saul has struck down his thousands” …


[with forced merriment]

Saul has struck down his thousands sing

Sing in the taverns and the streets his praise



Saul has struck down his thousands sing

Sing from the hilltops and the wadis his praise


Saul has struck down his thousands sing …


But David his ten-thousands, ten-thousands.


[enraged by the last verse]

Ungrateful! David! Cunning upstart!

[Saul calms himself, musing aloud.]

David, beloved David, I swear

the men love him. …


Husbands of the beautiful women beware. …


My son and daughter

love him. …


Who are not the chosen must take care.


And the people love him.

[a sneer entering his voice]

O “but David his ten-thousands.”

[forceful, moved by the thought]

I chose him, recognized his duende,

as if I’d met myself as a boy.

I chose this ruthless, boon companion.


I love his danger and his love.


Saul has struck down his thousands sing

But David his ten-thousands, ten-thousands.


Why?! Why do the voices call

his name? Nights and days his name.


Whoever stands in his way dies.


I’ve heard the tales—the giant-killer,

the strangling-a-bear-with-his-bare-hands—

just stories, but my eyes have seen

him harvest the flesh of five at once,

Philistines screaming like dogs on fire.


I’ve seen him split a captain crown

to cock for insubordination.


I’ve seen him take a blow in battle for you.


I love his danger and his love.


He sings the blackness out of night.

He sings the demons from my depths.

[suddenly impatient]

Zerubbabel! I need him now

—my fearsome charmer, favorite one.


Gladly, my Lord, I go to bring your singer.

[to himself]

If  David can’t sing the demons out, I’ve fears

greater than any fear in the hunt or battle.

<<ZERUBBABEL exits, relieved to leave Saul and get David, hoping he can calm Saul>>


[back to brooding]

How rid myself of doubts unbidden. …


The Great Decider deals death and life. …


I wanted him to die, but thrilled to see him live.


Makes poor and rich, lifts up and brings down.


A man I chose to live, king Agag,

my chosen one hacked down by the prophet—


unchosen before my eyes, betrayed.


The Great Decider offering a hand and withdrawing.


[to no one, distraught, holding up his hand]

Who has this hand offended? What!? 

<<DAVID enters carrying his lyre, ZERUBBABEL follows>>


[Bowing, then prostrating himself]

I bend before you, lay down my hands.

I bow and bow a thousand times.


Day and night tell the greatness of Saul.

I lead the chorus of your people.

[Hannagail joins in.]

It is good to sing of King Saul.


I bow ten thousand times.

And when I bend, you straighten me.


Stand before me thorn of a son.

Perhaps I wronged you to right myself

or rightly wronged to forestall wrong,


but David, voices old and young

wrong me, and I need your song

to right me now.

                                    Rid me of phantoms.


[He assumes the “phantoms” are the Philistines.]

I strike the lyre and the Philistine

with my hand that it be well with you.


[David doesn’t hear the voice]

Mysterious my hand, beware the hand;

Revere the hand unseen and hand revealed.



Listen! Voices. …


                                    I hear the silence

of my lyre aching to be touched.

[He sits and caresses the lyre.]

Let it speak and tame the animal

caged in your ribs. Here’s a tune

that’s always soothed.


                                    And not too soon!


[He sings, accompanying himself on the lyre.]

In the hills we sleep with our swords,

The foe at rest forever.

The wind through the acacia

Caresses my face like her hand.

[Zerubbabel applauds, looking to coax approval from Saul]

In the valley we are lions

Returning home with our kill.

The wind through the acacia

Caresses my face like her hand.

[Zerubbabel applauds and joins in on the chorus, as does Hannagail on the last verse in a rousing sing-along.]

In our hearts we’re the falcon drawn

By a call and proffered hand.

The wind through the acacia

Caresses my face like her hand.

 [David, pleased with himself, takes a little bow toward Zerubbabel but then looks at Saul and is dismayed to discover his sour reaction.]


[He shudders, pained by the memories.]

How many cold nights in the hills?

[almost bitter]

How many Philistines to kill

and Ammonites and Jebusites

and all the “ites” swarming like mites?

[now angry]

Only blood in the wind, sing not of wind.

<<JONATHAN enters, a bow hanging from his shoulder>>


[coming in on the chorus, he echoes]

“… caresses my face like her hand.”

[Seeing David, excited, his voice savors David’s name.]


No man with a hand like yours that brings

the sword to blood, the strings to life.


Mysterious my hand, beware the hand unseen.



You test me with Jonathan my first-born?

Allow what I deserve of love

to overflow on David now?


[realizes his violation of protocol in greeting David first; remembers his obligation and addresses Saul, but in a ceremonial way]

Merciful father, your kindness embracing me;

I kiss you now, embracing my king.

[to David, somewhat abrupt change in tone]

Same battles yet no sight of you.


To find you here! And with my father!

He needed your hand for death, now life.


Again! Please.


[With loving admiration, he speaks gently.]

                                    You play the bow

like no man, Jonathan, piercing the eye

of our foe before we’ve heard his boast.


A gift from the king when I was a boy,

it sings like your lyre and stings like his spear.


Like we drink and we sing with the ladies by day

sting ‘em by night.


                                    So we share

the spoils in the rocky and downy field …


[caught up with each other, a bit silly]

cocked-at-the-nock companions forever.


[Sarcastic, he’s had enough.]

You should both go out and play together.


I have gone out, and I come back.



With ballads of your ten-thousands.


Ten-thousands to your honor.



Ballads to yours.


                                    Foolish people.



My people yet.


                                    Your people forever.


[Attempting to defuse the tension, he speaks tenderly to his father.]

On this day of victory why melancholy?

What desert wind parches your heart?


There is no wind

but whispering black

wings—what I did

and did not do.


Song to ban the whispering wings:

[He begins a lively drinking song.]

Lift up your cups

Heap up the hummus

For the hands of our foes

Are nosh for crows. …

[Jonathan and Zerubbabel clearly love this song, looking at each other happily, but then glance at Saul who’s distracted.]


[He interrupts.]

Your hand skitters across the strings

like a desert partridge flushed by hunters.


[David playfully mimics a partridge with his hand.]

Another song?


                                    No, go on play.


[He resumes the drinking song.]

… Lift up your cups

For the Judge’s hand

Will strike the man

The foe corrupts. …


The Great Decider deals death and life.

Decider makes the darkness and the light.


There do you hear?


                                    My aire on the air?


[He fingers his spear.]

The voices, man, beyond your voice.


The voices of the people? Yes.


The voices whispering that they lift

their cups to David in the taverns.


You sing of harvest—foe cut down—

but plant your seeds of doubt. I won’t

be my judge. You dare to judge your king?

[fidgeting with his spear]


It is the Great Decider measures you.



Comrade in arms, claiming me Lord

and yet conniving for this House.


[He starts playing as if believing that music has magical powers, desperately trying to calm Saul, which works to a degree. As he plays, it’s not clear whether David is stunned by false accusations, and the stanza to follow meant to answer Saul’s charges, or he’s determined to distract Saul, ignoring truth that he doesn’t want to face .]

You accuse me unjustly, my Lord.

I am your good and faithful servant.



I fight for faith you’re servant not serpent.


[hearing the first bars of “Lift up our cups …”]

O yes, my Lord, this one’s always cheered you …

[joins in, as does Hannagail, David smiling bravely as he sings]


Lift up our cups

For Saul is just

Less than God

Who made this grog.


[Ironically, the voices again as though from God.]

You could fly to the sunrise or to the sea,

But you would still be held in my right hand.


Do whatever your hand decides to do.


The voices! No wind.

[He picks up and holds his spear.]

                                                Damn the cups!


[He doesn’t hear the voices but quickly changes his song, knowing the situation is grave.]

How great your name throughout the land

Chanted in every street and strand.

[Saul calms a bit, thinking it’s his name.]

You reign over seas, each grain of sand.…

[Saul becomes restive, then greatly agitated, realizing it’s God’s name.]

I look to the heavens made by your hand.

[On the word “hand,” Saul boils over, stands to his full imposing height and shouts.]


My hand on this spear decides to do.

[He raises the spear and cocks it with murderous intent.]


One day the spear is raised in the hand of the mighty.


[drops his lyre and rises alarmed]

Lord. Lord. You sent me out.

Lord. Lord. I brought you count.


Saul. Saul. From blackest crack.

Saul. Saul. I sang you back.


Why? Why? Between us strife?

Saul? Saul? You seek my life?


Why? Why?

No cause. No cause!


[lowers his spears a bit]

Would    there    was    none.


Stay your hand.


[Cocks his spear again, as the phrases, “love betrayed”, “no cause, no cause,” and “whatever your hand” echo and re-echo, spinning faster until they stop just as Saul flings his spear at David.]

                        My love betrayed.


[desperate, starts to bow]

I bow and place my hands on …


[leaps up, addressing David as Zerubbabel fades to the side]

                                                … No!

David go! And save your life.

<<DAVID exits just ahead of Saul’s spear, which clatters to the floor>>


[uttering a prophecy as she exits]

One day the Decider shatters the spear of the mighty.

<< HANNAGAIL exits>>


[Horrified, torn between Saul and David, he moves as if to follow David but then realizes he must stay to defend David and mollify his father.]

He is my brother, yes your son.


[Relieved that Saul’s ire was directed at David, not him, he addresses Saul.]

You didn’t ask him to dinner anyway.

[nonsensical, but somehow apt in the charged atmosphere]

All the fleas in my bed should be so nice.

[Saul laughs, abruptly changes mood.]


Aye, let’s eat. I’m always starved

after the licking and the looting.

 [suddenly realizing, interrupts.]

The voices! Vanished! Gone with David.

The black wings lift and flap away

and a fine feast is fitting now.


I’m empty, but I have no hunger.


We wash our hands and wash away

the stain of shame—betrayal here.

[dips his hands in the basin]

How blessed it is to wash our hands.


[mechanically repeating, as if in a stupor]

How blessed it is to wash our hands.


How blessed that from us blackness passed.

[Zerubbabel bringing more food]

Pass the apple.

                        I’ll dip the honey.


No savor. No savor.


                                    We’ve earned it, eat!


Here’s honey

[addresses Saul]

                        my Lord, that’s made by conquered bees.

Can I bring anything more to the table before …


No, leave us. …

<<ZERUBBABEL exits>>

[to Jonathan]

                        Jonathan eat.

Our swords have gorged themselves today;

now we will feast.

[Saul tastes]

Jonathan eat

or you dishonor me this day

of victory. …


                        How can we eat

when David’s driven from the court

by you who chose him son? You chose him.


[moved, but still adamant]

O David, David my other son.

We’d stalk together and pounce like a lion.


I loved his danger and his love.

Why must I fear what I love?

[resolute, the ruthless king]

I refuse fear. So one of us

must die, and I am king—the king.


Have mercy on David your chosen son.


Seduced the people, so betrayed me,

he’s turned with the starry Order away.


He turns and flees because he loves.

He deserved his king’s compassion.


Does the blind

Decider deem

compassion? Does

the Order weep?


Agag, king of the Malachites

fought so bravely I chose him, brought

him back, obeyed my warrior heart.


Then Samuel hacking him to pieces—

out of my hands.

                                    Where is mercy?

Always, there’ll be those who act

on orders from the Order itself.


But do not make me weep for David.


David, David, you have decided.

Of this shame’s stain, I wash my hands

now bound to wash in beloved blood.


Why is it meant for me to destroy

whom I love? Where decided?


Did he love me?           

David is dead.

Let our hand be raised against him.

We must hunt him like a partridge.


David will die.

                        Pass the salt.



I won’t destroy the one who’s loved!

I’d give up kingdoms sooner than

pursue my brother like a beast.


Seduced you too? Will you betray me!?

Treacherously try the king?


Leave me! Go! And take your bow

[Fingering his spear, his voice begins to echo, and layered phrases whirl into a climax.]

before my demon lifts this spear.


I go with aching emptiness,

[Saul’s voice echoing, “Seduced you too? Will you betray me?…”]

for my own self is bound with David’s.

The bow is broken. I go now.


[raging, grips his spear]

Go! Go! Let my spear fly, follow David.

<<JONATHAN exits>>

[composes himself, slowly releasing his spear, and intones over a cup of wine, which he raises, as if to pass around, but he is alone]

Do whatever your hand finds to do

For the Great Decider has decided.


This site was last updated 03/05/09