Middlemarch in Spring


Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24, 2017

A note from the composer, Allen Shearer

There is nothing quite like opera. Its challenges are unique, and so are its possibilities. Composing opera is very different from setting poetry to music for concert performance, where one does not have characters. In opera, being true to the characters requires constant attention, especially when they are as complex and finely drawn as George Eliot’s.

Having characters on stage is also liberating. For example, Dorothea’s Act 2 monolog veers off into a tarantella at one point, a digression that would be incomprehensible in art song. In the context, it reflects Dorothea’s mental state, her fevered enthusiasm that quickly turns to despair.  

The musical language of Middlemarch in Spring ranges from gnarled chromaticism depicting Casaubon’s inner torments to the much brighter palette of tonal colors in the final love scene. It imports a Neapolitan song and a very British march, and there is even some chance music––an unmeasured, freely notated passage while the orchestra is used as a jeering crowd. (That passage cost me a surprising amount of effort.) All of these can coexist in the wide embrace of opera in the 21st century. I did not hesitate to use anything that would serve me for this backward glance at a great work of literature.