Song Lyric Sunday: The Promise of Living

Jim’s Song Lyric Sunday this week has the theme Promise/Vow/Oath.

This is a song from The Tender Land by Aaron Copland, “The Promise of Living.” Our church choir sang it a couple of years ago for the funeral of the grandfather of one of our members. The fact that I have this personal connection to the piece is the reason I chose it. This recording is by one of my favorite choirs, Angel City Chorale, with full orchestration, although it is often performed with piano accompaniment, which is what our choir had.


The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving
Is born of our loving our friends and our labor.

The promise of growing with faith and with knowing
Is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.

The promise of loving, the promise of growing
Is born of our singing in joy and thanksgiving.

For many a year we’ve know these fields
And know all the work that makes them yield.
We’re ready to work, we’re ready to lend a hand.
By working together we’ll bring in the blessings of harvest.

We plant each row with seeds of grain,
And Providence sends us the sun and the rain.
By lending a hand, by lending an arm
Bring out the blessings of harvest.

Give thanks there was sunshine, give thanks there was rain,
Give thanks we have hands to deliver the grain.

O let us be joyful, O let us be grateful to the Lord for his blessing.

The promise of living, the promise of growing
The promise of ending is labor and sharing and loving.

Copland’s 1954 opera, The Tender Land, evokes the dignity and meaningfulness of labor. The librettist was Horace Everett, a pseudonym for Erik Johns. Farming – cultivating the soil of America’s heartland and reaping the benefits of its harvest for a balanced and fulfilling life are central to the opera’s theme. It tells the story of a farm family in the Midwest in the 1930s during the spring harvest and the protagonist’s graduation from high school. Copland was inspired to write the opera after seeing Walker Evans’ photographs of the Depression era and reading James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Unfortunately, the opera was not a success. It was written for NBC’s Television Opera Workshop and rejected by network producers, perhaps because of the weakness of its characters and plot. It premiered at New York City Opera on April 1, 1954, but the work was intended for the intimacy of television and didn’t translate well to the stage.

In spite of its lack of success, it’s kind of amazing that television networks at one time commissioned composers to write operas for TV. At the time, both CBS and NBC had their own in-house orchestras. It was the time when an operetta written for the Christmas season, Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti, enjoyed tremendous success and was shown every Christmas season throughout the 1950s and early 1960s to the great enjoyment of the TV viewing public. (I remember watching Amahl every year on TV – it was a tradition in our house – and my siblings and I can still sing much of it by heart!) NBC Television Opera produced several other operas for TV in the period between 1949 and 1964.

Copland and Johns made revisions to the opera, including expanding Act II. The composer agreed to let Murry Sidlin rescore the work for fewer instruments for a production in New Haven in 1987, a staging that ran for 50 performances. Two of Copland’s Old American Songs were added to the central party scene.  A 1965 concert version of the work (i.e. unstaged) was released by Sony on CD.

In 1958, Copland turned the opera’s music into an orchestral suite. Here is the link to the orchestral version of The Promise of Living:

The music starts softly, like the awakening of early morning with the birds singing, and unfolds into a majestic hymn of thanksgiving. The final chord encompasses the full range of the orchestra, just as the final chord in the vocal version ends dramatically with the entire choir singing fortissimo.


The information above was obtained from The Promise of Living: Copland for Labor Day by Timothy Judd and Wikipedia, The Tender Land.



Wire Opera House

November 15, 2016

In the late afternoon, the weather was still decent so we went to the Ópera de Arame, (Wire Opera House) which we hadn’t had time to see before.  We got to the opera house just before 5 – it was supposed to close at 5, but there were lots of people there still, out for a stroll in the nice weather.



This venue, surrounded by native flora, is set up in a semi-circle, sloping down to the stage.  The roof is made of glass and metal.  Sometimes, Eliane told me, they open the curtains that cover the sides, so that one feels completely surrounded by nature.  The acoustics are good, she said, and the box seats are some of the best in the house.






A larger venue is located next door, at the pedreira (quarry) but we couldn’t go in to see it.  A guard told us they were setting up for a big event in a couple of days.  Two days later, it was in the newspaper – Guns n’ Roses were going to perform to large crowds!  We had noticed tents set up outside and had wondered what they were doing there; it turns out they were set up by people who camped out to be the first in line to buy tickets to the concert.


Curitiba: Opera festival

November 13, 2016

Teatro Guaira

Front facade: Teatro Guaira

This evening, we attended an opera at the Teatro Guaira, a 3-day run of an unstaged production of an opera by Carl von Weber, a contemporary of Beethoven, called Der Freischütz, roughly translated to “The Sharpshooter.”  It was the first time this opera has been performed in Brazil.

The tickets were only R$10 (about U.S. $3.00) each – it is a government subsidized cultural event, part of a 2-week long “opera festival,” to be followed by similarly subsidized 2-week music festivals of other types of music, which take place annually.  The tickets, being so cheap, are sold out quickly and competition for them is fierce.  There are no assigned seats, so we got there as early as possible to find good seats. Long before the opera started, the auditorium, including the balconies, filled up completely – a sold-out performance!

2nd Parana Opera Festival

Some of the performers were invited specifically for this opera, but the orchestra was the Paraná Symphony Orchestra, in which two of Eliane’s cousins play, the Brandão sisters.  Maria Alice is a cellist and the other, Maria Ester, is an accomplished violinist, as well as concertmaster.

I translated the synopsis of the first act from the program for Dale. It was a Faustian tale, but with a happy ending!  All the supertitles were, of course, in Portuguese. One character, the Devil, spoke his lines directly in Portuguese; the rest sang in German.

I felt a bit sorry for Dale, who doesn’t understand either German or Portuguese, but he said he was content to just enjoy the performance for the music. What a good sport!


Eliane took this picture of me, Dale and Carlos (who is reading his program) at the theatre, before the hall filled up.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat

This week’s photo challenge is: Treat.

Such an appropriate topic, because I planned to treat myself that very day! On Friday, Oct. 30, my husband and I went to the Lyric Opera in Chicago for the first time in a few years, to see Cinderella by Rossini. Afterward, we went to have dinner at the Florian Opera Bistro, a habit we developed when we used to go to the opera regularly. The opera and the Bistro were my Halloween “treat”!

First, there was the anticipation: We got off the train downtown at Ogilvie station, and crossed Madison street. I could see the sign on the opera house as we approached.

Crossing the bridge from the train station - the opera house is up ahead!

Crossing the bridge from the train station – the opera house is up ahead!

20151030_133645Photo opp: Having our picture taken by one of the ushers:

20151030_175827The program, which I always read: There is a synopsis as well as a history of the opera:

Cinderella programAfterward, we went to the Florian Opera Bistro for dinner – reviving a former tradition, but also, because this show was a matinee, to avoid rush hour on the train home:

Wine with dinner at the Bistro

Wine with dinner at the Bistro

The opera and the Bistro were my Halloween “treat”!

A Night at the Opera

Opera nights are always a time to pamper myself and all my senses, and not even think about what I choose to eat. They are feasts for the eyes, ears, and taste buds. A night at the Lyric is a total experience, worthy of dressing up.

When we arrive, after our tickets are scanned, we proceed to the elevator, to go up to the Bistro on the third floor. This is the first place where we are treated with elegance and special care. Each elevator has an elevator operator – a man dressed in a black tuxedo, like a butler on Downton Abbey. He genteelly asks us, “To the Bistro?”

“Yes,” we say and he punches the button for the third floor. As the door slides closed and the elevator begins moving, he tells us about the specials on the menu for the evening. Sometimes it’s Beef Bourguignon with a side salad and macaroons, or it could be Roast Duck with a delectable sauce to keep it moist, with a side salad or perhaps a potato. Each special has a name having to do with the opera: The Beef Bourguignon was called “La Bohème”. He also tells us the price: $25.00.

We never order the specials, but it’s fun to hear about them anyway. When the elevator door opens on the third floor, we go to the reception desk and are efficiently escorted to a tiny round brown and white marble-topped table already set with silverware, rolled white cloth napkins, and inviting glasses of ice water. The walls are filled with photographs of past Lyric productions of various operas. In one area of the restaurant, there is a glass case featuring the elegant gown worn by the lead female performer of a recent opera. This is always an elaborate costume, and gazing at it I always wonder how heavy and hot it must be, yet how the performer wears it with such apparent ease and grace as she moves about the stage singing her role.

We order from the regular menu, which consists of entrée salads, sandwich trios, filled pastries and a few other choices, all printed on one side of a narrow menu. The other side of the menu contains the wine list. We don’t generally order wine, because we want to stay awake for every beautiful moment of the opera. The coffee, however, is quite good: strong yet smooth, regular or decaf – they both taste the same. Tea and soda are also available. Occasionally my friend will order a glass of wine, and if she does, I might too.

Cobb salad - my entree at the Bistro before Lyric Opera performance of La Boheme.

Cobb salad – my entree at the Bistro before Lyric Opera performance of La Boheme.

Even though the portions are not large, the food is filling and always enough. Of course the restaurant would not want to encourage their patrons to take leftovers – imagine the smell of all that food in the auditorium! However, we do partake in a special treat: We order a dessert from the dessert menu, which will be ready and waiting for us when we come down at intermission.

It is usually about 6:30 when we are finished eating, ordering dessert and paying for our meal, and we take the stairs back down to the first floor, where there is a pre-opera lecture, at which we are told the story and background of the opera we are going to see, interspersed with snippets of arias, musical themes, or dramatic instrumentals. Programs in hand, we then head back upstairs – and we generally take the stairs, mindful of getting some exercise – usually our seats are four flights up, to the back of the first balcony, the cheapest seats, but by no means a lesser experience. The acoustics at the Lyric are absolutely wonderful, and if we cannot see the expressions on the characters’ faces, we take out a pair of small binoculars that fold up into a pocket-sized case to get a closer view. This has to be well-timed, however: generally the opera is sung in Italian, German or French, and I don’t want to miss the supertitles in English projected above the stage. That is why I try to plan my binocular use to moments when the singers are repeating the same line of text and I don’t have to read a translation of what’s being sung.

Before the opera starts, I read about the first act, or whatever comes before the intermission, usually while I am in the ladies’ room. You cannot leave while the opera is being performed because they will not let you back in until the intermission or an interval between acts, so it’s best to get this necessity out of the way beforehand.

Just before the performance begins, everyone is reminded to silence their “mobile communication devices”. Even so, sometimes someone suffers the mortification of having their phone ring, the ringtone usually in embarrassing dissonance with the music. People glance around to figure out where the sound is coming from and generally discover someone frantically groping for their phone in order to turn it off or subtly pushing it with their foot farther under the seat to muffle the sound until it stops ringing, while those around them glare at them with irritation.

Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for begins. The conductor of the orchestra comes out and is applauded, the musicians tune their instruments, and the opening overture begins. The heavy curtain is raised, revealing the

Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme (2013)

Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme (2013)

scenery which will be used for much of the opera. Sometimes it is somewhat plain, but often it is elegant and dramatic, complimenting the mood and setting of the opera. I remember one opera, Eugene Onegin, in which the entire stage was covered with brilliantly colored autumn leaves, through which the characters moved about, as a few leaves fell around them, covering the spaces they invariably made with their footsteps. Another took place at a dye factory and from the upper balcony, we could see vats of colored “dyes” (probably paint) in rustic hues of red, orange, yellow, brown and blue.  I often think that the balcony has a better view of the stage because we are looking down on it and can see the entire layout. Those on the main floor see the characters closer up, but miss some of the spectacular scenery laid out on the stage.

Now comes the real treat: the feast for the eyes and ears. Glorious music enfolds us and we are drawn in to the scene on stage, feeling the emotions of the characters through the soprano’s exhilarating high notes, the bass’s impressive low notes, and the intricate harmonies of the soprano’s and tenor’s love duet. The color, the dramatic ups and downs of the music, the palpable excitement of the singers as they sing their arias, duets and trios – it’s an incredible, enticing show.

Finally the curtain goes down at the intermission and we quickly get up, leaving our coats, binoculars and other unnecessary items at our seats, and head back down to the Bistro.

We give our name at the reception desk and are immediately shown to our table, where the elegantly designed, delectable desserts await us. A dessert

Dessert at intermission of La Boheme

Dessert at intermission of La Boheme

called Freud’s Fantasy (topped with a long, slender cookie that looks quite phallic); a flourless chocolate cake; a chocolate mousse dipped and covered in chocolate and caramel, and topped with a chocolate wafer; an apple crisp; or if you want to watch your weight, a fruit plate or a serving of macaroons. I take a picture of my dessert with my cell phone and post it on Facebook with a caption indicating what opera we are experiencing.

Intermission is usually 25 minutes, and how quickly it goes! We have already paid for our dessert but we barely have time to finish before we hear a series of bell tones, indicating 10 minutes, then 5 minutes, to curtain time. I rush to the washroom – by now there is no line out the door – and we always manage to get back to our seats in time.

My friend was told to bring tissue to La Bohème – it is a tearjerker, and no matter how implausible, the stories of the operas always draw me in and I feel everything I’m supposed to feel. Often operas end with someone dying or some kind of tragedy. Somehow the emotion of this type of ending stays with me the longest, the mood lingering on the Metra ride home, and throughout the night.

Every time I wake up during the night, I remember the music, the story, or the mood of what I’ve seen the night before. I can still taste the experience the next morning or long afterward as the aria melodies replay in my head, until they fragment into forgetfulness. No matter what I’ve forgotten, I know that soon I will have another thrilling experience to look forward to: the next time I attend a Lyric Opera performance.