Little Women

1998
/
Opera
duration

2 hr.

instrumentation

1(pic,afl).1(ca).1(bcl).1(cbn)/1.0.0.0/perc/hp.pf(cel,syn)/str(min 3.2.2.2.1)

premiered by

Houston Grand Opera

commissioned by

Purchase score
String Quartet

More than a century after its publication, Louisa May Alcott's chronicle of growing up female in civil-war era New England remains a main dish in the smorgasbord of American popular fiction. Readers have devoured the adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in more than one hundred languages. In our own land and tongue, Hollywood has had to film the piece once every 20 years or so to slake the recurring appetite. The applause that hailed Little Women in its own century echoes in its steadily rising prestige at the close of our own; writers as diverse as Simone de Beauvoir and Joyce Carol Oates have claimed Alcott as a literary ancestor.

I read the book as a child, and loved it. And I recognized that Little Women itself solves certain problems for the opera composer. The novel itself — part classic, part mass-culture perennial — as well as its young, lively characters in their antique locale reminded me of opera itself these days: an art buzzing with new writing and thinking while still working with resources (the bel-canto trained voice, the acoustic orchestra) that stabilized one hundred years ago. I knew Jo's wild imagination, her haunting memories, would free me musically to range between abstract and tonal, poetic and vernacular, song and symphonic forms.

The conflict of Little Women is Jo versus the passage of time. Realize this about Jo: alone among adolescent protagonists in classic American fiction (Tom Sawyer, Holden Caulfield, Portnoy), she's happy where she is. Adored by her family, she adores them in turn. Not so poor as to starve, Jo is just poor enough to see in each small windfall gold to delight a Midas. Jo knows adulthood will only graduate her from her perfect home. She fights her own and her sisters' growth because she knows deep down that growing up means growing apart.

“A welcome outing at Opera Holland Park…Adamo made the skillful distillation of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel himself. Sensibly not trying to fit in too much of the story, it gives space to Jo’s emotions, especially her sense of loss as the childhood idyll of the four sisters breaks up. This is where his music is able to flower, contrasting the homely contentment of an apple-pie childhood with the bittersweet pain of memory… The UK music colleges should give Little Women a look. It would be ideal for them.”
Financial Times
“Treat yourself to Little Women at Opera Holland Park. Adamo’s libretto is smart, his music is accomplished and thoughtful, and its UK premiere features lovely vocal performances in an effective staging by Ella Marchment, while conductor Sian Edwards’s musicality brings out the best from the City of London Sinfonia.”
The Times of London
“A magnificent piece of drama… The libretto is packed with intelligent cross-references and telling one-liners…and Adamo’s music is incredibly effective at setting the right tone for the scene that it accompanies, always imparting the right emotion for the people and events you’re watching. By its end, I felt that my understanding of people and life and love had been enhanced, which is a rare thing for an opera…Why has it taken nearly a quarter of a century to reach the UK? On the basis of this production, I cannot imagine.”
Bachtrack
“...Little Women is a carefully structured, sophisticated score that finds a workable balance between 12-tone techniques -- many of the major recurring themes are built from tone rows -- and unabashed lyricism.”
New York Times
“The composer’s libretto captures much of the grace and fluency of Alcott’s writing…”
Gramophone
“Mark Adamo's Little Women is some sort of masterpiece.”
The New York Times

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