Apollo 14

A Space Opera

- - - orchestration - - - scene list - - - audio excerpts - - - ideas - - - synopsis - - - performance history - - -

libretto & music by DC Meckler

dedicated to my brother Al and my wife MaryLouise, who have supported me in many ways


Space Spirit 1    soprano
Space Spirit 2    soprano
Alan Shepard     tenor
Edgar Mitchell   baritone
Stuart Roosa     spoken
Houston            bass


Various mission controllers (roles doubled by the sopranos, tenor and baritone)


(The Roosa and Houston roles may be performed by the same person.)


The Scene of the Action

At the base of the Saturn V; inside Mission Control;
inside the Apollo 14 Command Module Kitty Hawk.


Inside the Lunar Module Antares and on the moon.


 On a golf course, at NASA, and an office at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.


The score calls for a medium-size orchestra (2222 422 2 perc timp 2 pno str).  The five soloists can function as the chorus in the first and last scenes, or a chorus could be used.  At the other extreme, a lean band of 4-5 keyboardists & percussionists could be used to present the opera.


Act I
Go Chorus  
Liftoff Thoughts  
Orbital Business  
Docking Trouble 

Act II
Toccata di Luna 
First Words  
On the Moon (Extra Vehicular Activity)  

The Turning of the Great Vehicle  
Savikalpa Samadhi  
       The Altruistic Astronaut Is Not Enough 

Audio Excerpts

from Climb (synthesized demo from the short score, 1 min, < 1 MB) a marching song and a close canon.

- - - orchestration - - - scene list - - - synopsis - - - performance history - - - 

The ideas that got me started

Apollo 14, A Space Opera, is about the dramatic contrast between the reactions to the experience of space travel of the Apollo 14 astronauts, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa. Traveling back from the moon, Mitchell began to rethink the potential of human consciousness. Shepard’s reaction was more about satisfaction and achievement after years of work and frustration, all topped off by the first golf swing on the lunar surface. Roosa said he was unchanged by the experience.

Shepard is a terrific character for an opera. He had to persevere through a long period of waiting (from being the first American in space to the only astronaut from the original 7 to go the moon). The theme of waiting--and fierce determination--is an important aspect of the Shepard character.

Mitchell as well is an engaging character. His trip to the moon greatly deepened his interest in parapsychology, and, on returning to Earth, he founded The Institute of Noetic Sciences, to “expand knowledge of the nature and potentials of the mind and spirit, and to apply that knowledge to advance health and well-being for humanity and our planet.” On the return trip from the moon, he experienced an epiphany, a state he later described as “savikalpa samadhi,” a particular state of enlightenment.

There is plenty of drama in the mission. Following Apollo 13 by only four months, every Apollo 14 mishap was charged with a double load of anxiety. A crucial docking failed several times. When landing on the moon, the radar went out. Finally, in triumph, Shepard tried a golf swing on the surface of the moon. (Mitchell threw a javelin.) 

Shepard and Mitchell are a tenor and baritone, respectively. Two prominent vocal parts will be sung by sopranos. These aren’t characters, but rather are “free-floating space spirits” that comment on the action and express the hidden emotions of the astronauts. They function both as Rheinmaidens of Space and as adjuncts to the vocal characters of Shepard and Mitchell. A bass voice sings, from off-stage, the communications for Houston/Mission Control; he also appears on stage in a speaking role, Stuart Roosa (the Command Module pilot).

The opera follows a straightforward narrative account of the Apollo 14 mission. It begins with an extended representation of the idea of the countdown to the launch, a very austere introduction. It includes “holds,” the pauses in the countdown, that bedevil the waiting astronauts. The countdown resumes and naturally leads to a “Lift-off.” Little windows appear in the musical texture of “Lift-off” that let us in on the pre-launch thoughts of Shepard and Mitchell. These include recollections of test pilot experiences, the Mercury 7 astronauts, President Kennedy, and Shepard’s agony of being medically grounded for so many years. The busy activity of the launch and the tension of problems with the spacecraft yield to the slow drift from Earth’s gravitational field to the Moon’s gentle tug.  The landing on the moon, uncertain until the last moment because of radar and computer problems, is followed by an aria based on Shepard’s first words spoken on the moon (“It’s been a long way, but we’re here.”)  On the return to Earth, Mitchell experiences a sublime state of emotion and enlightenment. The epilogue presents the crew a few years after the mission: Stuart Roosa, declaring himself to be unchanged; Edgar Mitchell, embarking with a new vision; and Alan Shepard, expressing satisfaction in having achieved his ambition.

Musical Style

As is most of my music, Apollo 14 is eclectic. Apollo 14 begins with extremely basic musical materials that evolve, and associations gradually develop. The opening is austere; just the two pianos playing descending chromatic scales at varying rates. While this description makes it sound too simple, this iconic material soon begins to develop individual motific character and real musical vitality. The music is without a doubt contemporary, while it is definitely singable. 
Stylistic eclecticism is used to make points in the various scenes.  Coherence emerges from a strong reliance on traditional uses of motives (musical themes) associated with the characters and aspects of their personalities.


Act I

The opera begins with the countdown in progress. The countdown is soon delayed by weather.  The weather clears and mission controllers declare all systems "Go."  The scene moves from the exterior of the rocket through the interior of Mission Control to the interior thoughts of the astronauts waiting for liftoff.  After these flashbacks by Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell, the countdown resumes and “we have liftoff.”  The third astronaut, Stuart Roosa, then checks out the spacecraft and begins to dock with the Lunar Module.  The docking mechanism fails and Shepard declares his eagerness to engage in heroic actions to save the mission.  After several attempts and advice from Houston, the docking is successful.


Act II

The spacecraft drifts to the Moon.  As Shepard and Mitchell prepare their spacecraft for landing on the Moon, there is an intermittent electrical failure.  Programmers back on Earth create a software patch to work around the problem.  Mitchell enters the new program into the spacecraft's computer while Shepard takes over the job of flying the spacecraft (originally this was Mitchell's assignment).  This software fix creates a third problem, causing the spacecraft's radar altimeter to fail.  Shepard declares his intention to disregard procedure and land the spacecraft manually.  Houston and Mitchell think of a solution simultaneously – switch the radar off and on, hoping that it will function properly.  It does and the landing is successful.  Shepard steps out on the Moon.  The Space Spirits comment on his first words in a “lunar madrigal.”  Mitchell joins Shepard on the Moon and they set about working.  Shepard is interrupted by an emotional moment.  Shepard and Mitchell return to work and the Space Spirits comment on this extension of human knowledge.  Shepard and Mitchell continue to work, and then they try to sleep. After not getting much rest, they attempt to climb to the top of the rim of Cone Crater.  After their attempt, they "do the other things"— Shepard hits a couple of golf balls and Mitchell throws an improvised javelin. 

– intermission –


As the spacecraft drifts back to Earth, Mitchell is mesmerized by the image of the Earth rotating past the spacecraft windows.  He has a moment of feeling connected to the entire cosmos.  After splashdown and a Welcome Home parade, Shepard expresses his satisfaction at accomplishing the mission, Roosa recounts a story about traveling to Tibet but insists that "Space changes no one," and Mitchell contemplates his new view of the universe.  The astronauts recede in our memory as the Apollo program is dismantled.


- - - orchestration - - - scene list - - - audio excerpts - - - ideas - - - synopsis - - - performance history - - - 


Performance History

About half of the opera has been presented to the public in one form or another.  Eight excerpts have been presented in the course of 12 performances.  These performances have employed all-out operatic, musical theater, and early music vocal approaches, and I have found all these different approaches very satisfying.  The work has been heard with full orchestra and in chamber reductions.

New York City Opera

9 May 2002 brought a presentation of excerpts from Apollo 14, A Space Opera by the New York City Opera in their Showcasing American Composers series, Vox 2002.  The selected excerpts included On The Moon, Climb, and The Altruistic Astronaut aria. The work was presented by the New York City Opera orchestra and singers from the New York City Opera.  This work was funded in part by the Copying Assistance Program of the American Music Center.

Space Spirit 1 ––Elizabeth Wiley
Space Spirit 2 –– Theresa Santiago
Alan Shepard –– David Adams
Edgar Mitchell –– Marcus DeLoach
Houston –– Jason Grant
Conductor –– Gerald Steichen
musical preparation –– Marijo Newman  

Goat Hall Productions, San Francisco

July 2002 featured performances of an Apollo 14 scene by Goat Hall Productions in San Francisco in Fresh Voices III, a festival of new works of opera and music theater. The program was presented on July 19, 20 and 21.

Space Spirit 1 –– Jennifer Ashworth
Space Spirit 2 –– Doris Williams
Alan Shepard –– Percy Martinez
Edgar Mitchell –– Percy Martinez
Directed for the stage by Miriam Lewis
Conductor –– Mark Alberger

The Toccata di Luna (the landing on the moon) scene of Apollo 14, A Space Opera was done in the Fresh Voices II festival presentation in San Francisco by Goat Hall Productions in August 2001. 

Alan Shepard –– David Saslav
Edgar Mitchell ––Douglas E. Mandell
Houston –– Scott R. King
Space Spirit 2 –– Miriam Lewis
Directed for the stage by Miriam Lewis
Conductor –– Mark Alberger

Skyline College

Bliss was incorporated in a work for dance presented by Skyline Dance Productions, May 4, 2001. Skyline College Theater, San Bruno, CA.

Go Chorus (chorus and orchestra) -- 6 May 2000, Skyline College Choir, conducted by Dr. Patricia Hennings, Skyline College Theater, San Bruno.  The exciting conclusion to the countdown sequence at the beginning of Apollo 14, A Space Opera. The piece concluded a wonderful concert that sampled one millennium of choral music highlights, from Gregorian chant through great composers such as Josquin, Bach, Mozart, and Brahms. 

American Composers Forum

Splashdown/Accomplishment: Music from Apollo 14, A Space Opera

featuring tenor Mark Adams, accompanied by piano and percussion.

6 May, 8 p.m., American Composers Forum Salon, Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana Street, Berkeley. This is selected from music near the end of the opera. Astronaut Alan Shepard has successfully walked (and golfed) on the moon and reflects on the experience. A contemplative aria is framed by brief snatches of the Splashdown March, a miniature emblem of a parade. ACF salons are informal concerts that feature moderated discussions with the composers, performers and the audience.


Rebound (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano)

Performed by the new music group Earplay.

2 May 2000, 8 p.m., San Francisco State University, Knuth Hall; 9 May 2000, San Francisco School of the Arts. Rebound is a light five-minute instrumental romp that uses musical materials from Apollo 14.

- - - orchestration - - - scene list - - - audio excerpts - - - ideas - - - synopsis - - -

[last update Jan 2004]

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