The story of the opera was best summed up by Jackie Fletcher of the British Theatre Guide:The plot-line is simple: a research assistant is trapped between two scientists, one a womaniser, the other an alcoholic. She betrays herself for both of them and in doing so faces ruin. It is a cautionary tale embedded in the realities of contemporary academic necessity. It is lack of funding that drives her to fake her research results and the lack of research results that drives her professor to alcohol.
Cast of Characters
Professor Colin Trevelyan (baritone), a leading English cyberneticist.
Aged late 40’s and very much the archetypal English eccentric. Though not unattractive, his dress-sense is questionable: tweed jackets, ancient polo necks etc. He wears his heart on his sleeve – what you see is what you get.
Ms. Stephanie Williams (soprano), his student and protégé.
Aged 24 and self assured, she is self-confident and highly attractive, wearing figure-hugging outfits vaguely inspired by science-fiction films, generally in black. She has a fun-loving streak in addition to her serious, razor-sharp scientific aspect.
Professor Anton Milotovic (bass), a naturalised American mathematician. A year or two older than Trevelyan, his finely-tailored, slightly greying hair lends him a distinguished air. He is always dressed immaculately in fine-quality suits with a modern flair. His appearance is one of effortless style, and he exudes an air of calm sophistication.
Mrs. Clarissa Milotovic (alto), his wife
Trevelyan’s age. Very stylish, very European. She is a woman of exceptional intelligence with an equally strong and single-minded personality.
Mr. Ferdinand Grosz (tenor), Trevlyan’s laboratory assistant.
24 years old, fun-loving, immensely educated and cultured, wasted in his job but happy with his lot and with no ambition to change it.
LUCIE, The Computer (mezzo-soprano)
This is the machine, with voice capability, on which Stephanie develops her program to beat the Turing test. When running the program, the computer is referred to by the acronym LUCIE – Live Unmediated Conversationally Interactive Entity. The part is sung from off-stage.
Time: the near future
Scene 1 – A lecture hall at a prestigious English university
Milotovic is delivering a lecture in which he claims that he will have developed a machine that can pass the Turing test – a test for human-level intelligence in a computer - within three years. He is interrupted by Trevelyan who takes issue with his scientific approach, condemning Milotovic as superficial. Stephanie teases Trevelyan, suggesting there are more personal reasons for this dislike. Trevelyan angrily denies this, and storms out in a temper. Stephanie is left alone with Milotovic, who invites Stephanie to join him for a drink. They are interrupted by Clarissa, who drags her husband away before Stephanie can give her reply.
Scene 2 – Trevelyan’s lab at the same institution
Ferdinand is alone in the lab, waiting for Stephanie to arrive and speculating on the reasons for her tardy appearance. When she does arrive we learn of her dire financial situation, and Ferdinand’s lack of professional fulfilment. Trevelyan appears and despatches Ferdinand on a time-consuming errand. Trevelyan confides to Stephanie that he is about to be sacked from the University because of his abysmal publication record, fuelled by his drink problem. He offers to pay Stephanie a regular stipend in return for the right to publish her research on the Turing test as his own. After a brief internal debate, Stephanie agrees.
Scene 3 – Trevelyan’s lab
Trevelyan asks to see how far Stephanie is progressing with her work. She introduces a computerised chat program called LUCIE – Live Unmediated Conversationally Interactive Entity. The computer gives an impressive performance, and Ferdinand and Trevelyan each respond in their own way to this encouraging result. Trevelyan pays Stephanie her first instalment of money, and declares that they are certain to beat Milotovic in the race to pass the Turing test. We learn that Trevelyan, Milotovic and Clarissa studied together at MIT, and that Clarissa was Trevelyan’s girlfriend until she abandoned him to marry Milotovic. Stephanie receives a call on her mobile telephone and leaves hurriedly. She has received an invitation to meet someone.
Scene 4 – The Hummingbird (a local wine bar)
Stephanie meets Milotovic who greets her enthusiastically. He is drinking champagne, which he shares with her. Stephanie tries to elicit information from Milotovic regarding his work on the Turing test. He cleverly deflects her questioning and instead attempts to seduce the young student – pleading that he is not as black as he is sometimes painted. Stephanie begins to succumb to his charms, but then thinks better of it, making her excuses and leaving. However, she leaves the possibility of a future rendezvous open.
Scene 5 – Trevelyan’s lab
A year has passed, and Trevelyan is becoming impatient at Stephanie’s lack of further progress. He demands another demonstration of the LUCIE program, and Stephanie reluctantly agrees. The demonstration is a failure and Trevelyan angrily threatens to cancel Stephanie’s stipend. Distraught, Stephanie turns to Ferdinand for advice. He tells her there is only way to make the machine pass the Turing test. He demonstrates how by connecting a headset and microphone to the LUCIE computer, so that he can supply the answers to Stephanie’s questions himself. Ferdinand hides out of sight, and Stephanie demonstrates the new “machine” to Trevelyan. Trevelyan is ecstatic, and proclaims that the Turing test has been passed, and must be shown to the world at the earliest opportunity.
Scene 6 – The Hummingbird wine bar
Stephanie again meets Milotovic, who has arrived in Britain to attend the much awaited demonstration of the LUCIE machine, planned for the following day. Stephanie confides in him that the computer is a fraud. Milotovic comforts her, assuring her that her secret is safe with him. Holding Stephanie in his arms he kisses her, and this time she reciprocates. The two are amorously intertwined when Clarissa Milotovic enters. She flies into a rage, and orders Stephanie to leave immediately, which she does. Clarissa announces that her marriage to Milotovic is over. He is utterly devastated and offers to do anything to make her stay. We learn that Trevelyan plagiarised Clarissa’s work when they were students together, and that this was the true reason for the break-up of their relationship. Clarissa has never forgiven Trevelyan for this betrayal. Milotovic spots an opportunity to rescue his marriage, and tells Clarissa the secret of the LUCIE machine. He offers to help use the information to ruin Trevelyan (and, by implication, Stephanie too) if Clarissa will give him one more chance. Clarissa is interested, and asks to know more.
Scene 7 – Trevelyan’s lab
Stephanie confesses her and Ferdinand’s deception to Trevelyan. He reacts with uncharacteristic calm, and simply tells her to make sure that Ferdinand is at the symposium the following day, with all of the necessary equipment to guarantee that the fraudulent LUCIE program will operate convincingly.
Scene 8 – Trevelyan’s lab / The lecture hall
In the lab, Stephanie receives a telephone call from Milotovic, informing her that the presentation has been delayed. Ferdinand is sceptical, but Stephanie assures him that Milotovic is a man who can be trusted.
In the lecture hall, Trevelyan is becoming agitated at Stephanie and Ferdinand’s non-appearance. Milotovic and Clarissa arrive, with Clarissa eagerly anticipating Trevelyan’s final humiliation. Trevelyan requests that the LUCIE demonstration be delayed, but his request is rejected by the symposium organisers. Stephanie and Ferdinand arrive, viewing the developing scene in horror. With all eyes upon him, Trevelyan begins to ask the computer some questions…