Little Women Grace the Stage
Almost everyone who was once a bookish teenager knows the story. After this weekend, the entire campus might echo with the phrases of Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth.
Mark Adamo’s opera, Little Women, based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, staged its Oberlin premiere in Hall Auditorium Wednesday night. But the show is not over; there will be performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., as well as a matinee performance Sunday at 2 p.m.
In addition to composing the opera, Adamo also wrote the libretto, which is in English. Adamo himself was in Oberlin for the opening night; last week, he offered master classes in both composition and vocal studies.
Slightly shorter than Oberlin Opera Theater’s usual fare, Little Women is a two-act opera with only one intermission.
Little Women is often referred to as a coming-of-age story about the March sisters with Jo, the second eldest sister, as the main character. The Massachusetts sisters endure conflicts over their relationships with men, the absence of their father fighting in the Civil War and the illness of their beloved and soft-spoken sister Beth.
“Those we love will, in all innocence, wound and abandon us until we learn that their destinies are not ours to control,” Adamo said, describing the opera’s message on the PBS series Great Performances.
Bringing this family to life in Oberlin is a culmination of the work by Associate Professor of Opera Theater and Director of Opera Theater Productions Jonathon Field as stage director, alongside guest conductor Christopher Larkin. Larkin is a Little Women veteran, having led the opera in its 1998 Houston Grand Opera premiere.
Field is active in opera production circles, directing a wide variety of performances all over the United States. Most recently, he directed the U.S. premiere of Lost Highway, an atonal opera that began right here at Oberlin College, before making its way to New York City.
Similarly, Larkin has been pulled to all corners of the country to conduct operas, in Santa Fe, Washington, D.C., New York City, Forth Worth, Portland and Nashville operas. Later this season he will make his first appearance in Florence, conducting Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
According to PBS, Little Women was originally commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera in order to aid young singers in their studies. But the company found its studio performances sensational, leading the opera to become a part of the Grand Opera’s regular season.
Adamo has since had tremendous success with the work, which was his first full-fledged opera. It is now one of the most prominent contemporary American operas, and, according to the Oberlin Online summary, a “repertoire staple: more than 40 productions of his retelling of the Lousia May Alcott classic have been presented by opera companies great and small.”
In an interview with Great Performances, Adamo answered a request to describe his music: “It’s like trying to describe yourself. How many of us could do that accurately? I think people should just listen and decide for themselves what it’s like and if they like it.”
Look for a review of the performance in the next issue of the Review.