Middlemarch in Spring

Composed by ALLEN SHEARER
Libretto by CLAUDIA STEVENS

Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24, 2017

A note from the librettist, Claudia Stevens

I would never have thought to adapt George Eliot's Middlemarch as an opera.  It all happened rather mysteriously.  Allen had asked me to think up a short operatic scene for two women and one man.  And one day, while soaking in the bathtub, I thought, 'why not dramatize the humorous jewel box scene at the beginning of Middlemarch?' That's where the two sisters divide their mother's jewels and their silly uncle spouts platitudes.  I thought it could be fun, and it was.  In our workshop performance the characters came alive, Allen's music was engaging, and our audience asked for more.  Before I knew it, the possibility to develop Middlemarch as a full-length opera had completely taken hold of me.  Over several weeks in 2012 a libretto in six scenes came into being.  They projected the arc of the story of Dorothea, the novel's heroine, leaving out the parallel narrative of Dr. Lydgate and his selfish wife, Rosamond.  Arias, duets and ensembles suggested themselves as if by magic.  Allen seemed to fall under the spell of the story and its potential for musical embodiment, creating a sweeping, richly detailed musical score for six singers and a chamber orchestra of eleven players.

We worked closely at every stage of the opera's development, living as intimately with the characters as with each other.  Often we felt ourselves taking on the personalities of our own dramatic creations: clueless Uncle Brooke; the pompous, jealous intellectual Casaubon; Sir James blustering; Celia chattering, Will Ladislaw protesting.  Dorothea stands alone, unique in literature and in our opera.  Driven by passionate idealism, she envisions a world that is better - one of justice, compassion for the poor, truth and beauty.  But, as she finds out, the world does not really want to be changed - and least of all by her.  Many of us identify with her aspirations, suffer through her mistakes, blunders and disappointments. And we cheer her on at the moment of choice.

Condensing this great work of fiction into a two-hour opera, while seeking to retain its values and important themes, occupied much of my thought and energy throughout numerous revisions, both of words and material between the scenes.  The libretto blends text from the novel with quite a bit of newly composed language.  Where possible, I tried to adapt the sensibilities of the novel to be accessible for a contemporary audience. I hope the author would be pleased.

Ticketholders are invited to hear Stevens give an enlightening and informative lecture 45 minutes before the Thursday, March 23 performance.