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UW Theatre and Dance Season Continues with Copland Opera

March 21, 2018
woman on a stage in front of other people
UW student Jenna Blazek, as Laurie, rehearses a scene in the UW Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “The Tender Land.” The Aaron Copland opera will be staged March 28-31 on the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts main stage. (Donald P. Turner Photo)

The University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance’s spring season continues with “The Tender Land,” Aaron Copland’s opera about a young woman’s coming-of-age in the American heartland during the Great Depression.

“The Tender Land” will run Wednesday, March 28, through Saturday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. on the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts main stage. The production is directed by Sean Stone, a UW assistant lecturer of musical theater; conducted by Michael Griffith, a UW music professor and director of orchestral activities; and choreographed by Jennifer Deckert, a UW associate professor of dance.

Tickets cost $16 for the public; $13 for faculty, staff and senior citizens; and $8 for students. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts box office and the Wyoming Union information desk, by calling (307) 766-6666 or going online at www.uwyo.edu/finearts.

In “The Tender Land,” a portrait of the rural Midwest, the provincial existence of a farming family hinges upon the high school graduation of the eldest daughter, Laurie, who dreams of exploring the world beyond her home. Laurie takes an interest in an itinerant worker hired to help with the harvest, who tells her tales of travel. As romance blossoms between the two, the young couple must contend with the community’s mistrust of outsiders and its fear of the unknown.

“The Tender Land” is the only full-length opera written by Copland, once named “the dean of American music” by fellow American composer Virgil Thomson. The League of Composers offered Copland a commission in 1952 for a television opera, to be produced and broadcast by NBC. Copland, fresh off an Academy Award for his original score for “The Heiress,” was up to the challenge. 

Copland enlisted his personal secretary and friend Erik Johns (under the pseudonym Horace Everett), a young dancer, painter and poet who had never written a libretto or play before, to provide the right words for his populist style. Copland’s inspiration for his opera came from “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (1941), the James Agee and Walker Evans book of photographs of Depression-era sharecroppers.

Upon the opera’s completion, NBC reneged on the production. “The Tender Land” would have remained unperformed had not the New York City Opera decided to present the premiere April 1, 1954. Initially, the opera was not well-received.

Copland and Johns revised the opera for performances at Boston’s Tanglewood Music Center in August 1954 and at Oberlin College in 1955. The characters were more fully developed, the love story gained more prominence, and the second act was expanded.

The score was published, and three numbers were published separately: “The Promise of Living,” “Stomp Your Foot” and “Laurie's Song.” In 1958, Copland arranged an orchestral suite from the opera’s highlights, giving broader exposure to the score.

According to Copland, he wrote “The Tender Land” to “give young American singers material that they do not often get in the opera house; that is, material that would be natural for them to sing and perform.”

For more information, call Kathy Kirkaldie, UW Fine Arts coordinator, at (307) 766-2160 or email kirisk@uwyo.edu.


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