Mother of us All Hudson Hall NY

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Mother of us All Hudson Hall NY

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:08 am

This does tempt me but it's just too far-we're in the Hudson Valley quite a bit but it's in the summer-we've watched the town become more and more gentrified. We saw the opera many years ago --The New York City Opera staged a production in 2000 with Lauren Flanigan as Susan B. Anthony and wouldn't mind to seeing it again sometime. Regards, Len

Celebrating Women’s Rights, ‘That Most American of Operas’


At the rousing conclusion of the first act of the 1947 opera “The Mother of Us All,” the suffragist Susan B. Anthony presides over a wedding. She sings, in Gertrude Stein’s surreal words: “They are married all married and their children women as well as men will have the vote.”

As the orchestra reaches a climax, with sweeping woodwind flourishes, Anthony iterates: “They will they will, they will have the vote.”

Such a triumphantly feminist moment is unusual in opera, whose stories more often depict what one critic once called the “undoing” of women — through rape, murder, suicide, disease, madness and loss of identity. But Stein and the composer Virgil Thomson’s “The Mother of Us All” takes as its very subject female empowerment.

The final collaboration between two major figures of modernism, the quirky, poignant opera, a fancifully stylized spectacle of 19th-century America, centers on Anthony and the battle for women’s rights and social equality. To honor the centenary of female suffrage in New York State, a new production will be staged from Nov. 11 to 19 at the recently renovated Hudson Opera House (now Hudson Hall) in Hudson, N.Y., where Anthony herself lectured.

The opera’s Anthony crosses paths with dozens of characters, some fictional and some real: Jo the Loiterer and Chris the Citizen as well as John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson. Thomson’s score is pure Americana, a kaleidoscopic pastiche of 19th-century hymns, ballads and marches that prompted Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times critic who wrote a biography of Thomson, to call it “that most American of operas.” Questions about gender roles, marriage rights, race relations and class consciousness — ones still being asked today — unfold in a droll yet moving pageant of public political gatherings and private discussions.

“There’s great value in experiencing this piece today,” R.B. Schlather, the director of the Hudson production, said in a recent interview. “Susan B. Anthony is the Everycitizen. The crisis she goes through in the opera is the choice between sitting at home with your partner and ranting about what you see going on in the world, or getting out there, politicizing your body, and standing up against the injustices that you see.”

When Thomson first proposed an opera about 19th-century America to Stein, his longtime collaborator, she immersed herself in the era’s literature and political speeches, and remarked in a letter that “if it comes off it will be a most erudite opera.” Still, she hoped to write a work that “would be as popular as ‘Carmen,’” an opera “anybody would like including the farm hands and the elite.”

An opera about American history was a natural fit for this pair. Although Stein moved permanently to Paris in 1903, she regularly returned to the theme of American identity in her writings. Thomson, rejecting the hyper-complexity of European styles like serialism that dominated post-World War II composition, frequently drew on the sounds of his Missouri childhood for inspiration.

Both were fascinated by American English. Stein’s experiments with grammar and syntax proved transformative for Thomson, who had struggled with how to put English to music. His 1926 song setting of a Stein poem represented a compositional breakthrough, and initiated a friendship that led to their first opera, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” in 1934.

Despite — or perhaps because of — its nonsensical libretto, nonexistent story, eccentric staging and unabashedly accessible music, “Four Saints” caused a sensation. It cemented Stein’s celebrity and transformed Thomson’s fledgling career as a composer and music critic. The opera’s success led Columbia University to commission a new work in 1945.

But shortly after finishing the libretto of “The Mother of Us All” in spring 1946, Stein died, leaving Thomson and Maurice Grosser, who wrote the scenarios for both operas, to complete it before its premiere the following year. The posthumous revisions to Stein’s text, the musicologist Monica Hershberger has written, offer “a model for men to support a feminist authorial voice and agenda.”

Ms. Hershberger argues that the opera deliberately confronted a postwar climate in which women who had joined the wartime work force were expected to resume traditional domestic roles. “Stein is setting the stage for women to re-engage with a lot of the same questions they’d considered previously and thought they had addressed,” she said in an interview.

Thomson’s score is almost entirely original, but it sounds deceptively familiar. Music reminiscent of the folk song “The Water Is Wide” underscores discussions of marriage; snare drum rolls and vibrant march tunes propel the public debate scenes. The composer described the music as “a memory book, a souvenir of all those sounds and kinds of tunes that were once the music of rural America and that are still the basic idiom of our country.”

The Hudson production has a communal ethos that complements Thomson’s musical “lingua americana.” Those behind it, including Mr. Schlather; Tambra Dillon, the director of Hudson Hall; Caroline Crumpacker, from the nearby Millay Colony for the Arts, a co-producer of the opera; and Joan Retallack, a Stein scholar and poet who taught at Bard College, view the performances as an opportunity to strengthen social and civic bonds. To that end, the staging, which stars the mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens as Anthony, will feature an ensemble of Hudson Valley residents.

Structured as an exhibition, spaces on the ground floor beneath the performance hall will house a pop-up canteen, experimental reading room and conversation series. “We want to use this form of opera to allow people a gathering space,” Mr. Schlather said, “where you come together at this cultural hub for two weeks to collectively experience this fabulous opera, to experience each other and meet new people.”
Alice Paul, second from left, founder of the National Woman’s Party, and officers of the organization in front of their Washington headquarters in 1920 with a banner bearing Susan B. Anthony’s words.

Hudson Hall, whose recently completed, two-decade renovation is part of the continuing revitalization of Hudson, inspired this approach. It’s an apt setting for the work: After its construction in 1855, the building anchored its city’s civic life for over a century. Anthony spoke in the auditorium at least twice, to advocate for abolishing slavery and to champion women’s suffrage.

“All of the scenes in the opera depict things that would have happened in the building at some point in the past,” Mr. Schlather said. “It’s almost like a séance.”

But the opera’s characters do not speak quite like their historical counterparts. Stein’s text is playful, marked by repetition and reversals. Non sequiturs abound. Apropos of nothing, one character proclaims, “Daniel Webster needs an artichoke.”

“You have an array of characters who do not behave the way they’re supposed to behave as in a conventional narrative opera,” Ms. Retallack said in an interview. “You never really get what their character is.”

“But,” she added, “the text shouldn’t be challenging for very long. The spirit of it is driven by the music.”

One yet-to-be-resolved challenge, however, is racial. The opera includes the roles of Negro Man and Negro Woman, who, unlike the 27 other characters, have no identity beyond the color of their skin — not even names.

This problem stems in part from Anthony’s own history with race. Despite years as an abolitionist, Anthony campaigned against the 15th Amendment, which affirmed that all male citizens, regardless of race, had the right to vote. She and her fellow suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton split the women’s movement, arguing that African-Americans and women should be enfranchised together. When, in the opera, Anthony asks, above a bed of plaintive strings, “Would you vote if only you can and not she?” the Negro Man replies: “You bet.”

“This is the kind of problem that is a wonderful opportunity,” Ms. Retallack said. “We need to do something that forms a conversational relationship between our consciousness now and then, but that can be both playful and involve gravitas.”

In keeping with the opera’s other historical characters, Ms. Retallack proposed that the two black roles “channel” Frederick Douglass and Zora Neale Hurston, using language from their writings. The Stein and Thomson estates, however, refused permission to interpolate these new texts into the work. The Hudson production still plans to address the opera’s problematic treatment of race in numerous ways, including a new spoken piece by Ms. Retallack, “Gertrude Stein, Susan B., & History Interrupt One Another,” after the Nov. 15 performance.

An addition of this kind is in keeping with Stein and Thomson’s conception of the opera, which was designed to suggest civil rights battles yet to come. The final scene takes place in 1921, after Anthony’s death and the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. The opera’s characters gather for the unveiling of the marble Portrait Monument, a commemoration of the founding suffragists that was eventually moved to the Capitol rotunda in Washington.

In the closing aria, “My Long Life,” the marmoreal Anthony sings from beyond the grave, suggesting that her work remains incomplete. Thomson’s score concludes with a hushed, benedictory plagal cadence, the equivalent of an orchestral “amen.”

This final musical gesture “offers the possibility of an afterlife,” Ms. Hershberger writes, “of something yet to come, reflecting compellingly on Susan B.’s unfinished struggle.” ... collection

The Mother of Us All | Stage Direction by R. B. Schlather | November 11, 12, 15, 18 & 19

The Mother of Us All (1947)
An opera by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein
Stage Director R.B. Schlather
Music Director Tony Kieraldo
Set and Costume Designer Marsha Ginsberg
Lighting Designer JAX Messenger
Dramaturg Joan Retallack
Tickets: $55 premium, $35 general admission

To mark the centenary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the re-opening of New York State’s oldest surviving theater, Hudson Hall in partnership with The Millay Colony for the Arts has commissioned a new production of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s rarely performed opera The Mother of Us All. Using real and imagined characters, The Mother of Us All is about Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Suffrage Movement in America, which began in upstate New York. Anthony spoke twice on the very stage where this opera will be performed.

The young and visionary stage director R. B. Schlather reimagines this two-act opera as a musical theater pageant, performed by a vocal and instrumental ensemble of Hudson Valley residents, and starring the mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens in the lead role. His team of collaborators include the renowned Stein scholar and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor Emerita of Humanities at Bard College Joan Retallack. Together they are planning a series of public spectacles and salons in response to the building’s history as a space for civic exchange, and to provide essential commentary on who we are today as women, people of color, queers, activists, rural residents, and ultimately, individuals with the right to gather, voice our beliefs, and be represented with respect and equality–themes that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

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Re: Mother of us All Hudson Hall NY

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:37 am

Just for the record, the small city of Hudson is not in the Hudson Valley, where I grew up. It is on the river, and has the last major bridge across it (the Rip van Winkle Bridge). It is a nifty town and I would not discourage anyone from visiting there, but it is nearly a two-hour drive for me, and I can only imagine how long it would take Len and Sue to get there.

I've lived half my life near the Hudson River, including all my growing up. Even now, it is within walking distance. I have never been to the source, Lake Tear of the Clouds on Mt. Marcy, the highest mountain in New York, but I have seen its effluence from there. It changes character in a matter of miles until culminating in one of the great harbors of the world. When Len, Sue, and I had lunch in a nearby town, I asked if they knew what river that was running by us, and they were astonished that what at that point appeared to be but a stream was the Hudson River. Incidentally, Henry Hudson's crew mutinied and left him astray on the river named after him. He was never heard from again.
During the Revolutionary War, as hard as it may be to believe, they forged a giant chain across the Hudson at West Point (pretty much where I grew up) to keep British ships from sailing up. At the time, the conquest of the Hudson would have been decisive in the outcome of the war. That is why Benedict Arnold, who wanted to hand the Point over to the British, has a name synonymous with treason. Sorry, huge digression, but I could not resist.

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Re: Mother of us All Hudson Hall NY

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:58 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:37 am
When Len, Sue, and I had lunch in a nearby town, I asked if they knew what river that was running by us, and they were astonished that what at that point appeared to be but a stream was the Hudson River.
John that was a great lunch we had-we had driven all around the Adironack Park earlier in the day--the scenery was just stupendous! Regards, Len :D

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