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.

“...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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