Recently Zeke Hecker presented "Finding a Voice: American Opera
in the 1950's" at the OSHA program in the Godnick in Rutland. It
left the audience spell bound. Hecker lives in Vermont, is a
composer, English teacher, lecturer in opera and leader of teacher
workshops at the Metropolitan.
In two hours he covered a breathtaking amount of information and
showed operatic clips. The central part of his talk was about the
development of opera. In the postwar period the economy flourished
and there were more composers, singers, audiences and
philanthropists. Opera houses were built in Dallas, Houston, Santa
Fe, Tulsa, Minneapolis, Seattle and Louisville (1950-1960). For the
first time industry began funding opera though the Ford Foundation
and America began producing its' own operas.
Hecker defined American Opera as written in English about the
innocent, the outsider, reflecting the American Dream, and
portraying ordinary people in their words and music. He
played "Ain't it a Pretty Night" from Susannah (1950) which
was set in Appalachia; "Willow Song" from the Ballad of Baby Doe
from Colorado and "Laura's Song" from the Tender Land - Aaron
Copeland's opera about the depression and the Midwest. These fit
the definition, but The Consol (1950) reflected the Cold War. Music
and libretto writer Gian Menotti won the Pulitzer Prize for
In a clip from The Consul, the central figure Magda argues with
the Consul's secretary about her desperate need to see the Consul.
She raves in song to the secretary, "Have you ever seen the Consul?
Does he speak, does he breathe? Have you spoken to him?" Later she
goes about the waiting room singing in total despair and throws
papers everywhere in the air.
The Greatest American Opera ever written, every song a success,
was Porgy and Bess (1935) written by George Gershwin and his
brother. It was considered a musical until it appeared as an opera
on the Metropolitan stage (1985). Hecker played a video of the
opening song, a mother singing to a baby alone on the stage.
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy - Your daddy's rich And your
mamma's good lookin' So hush little baby, Don't you cry." Suddenly
the lights come on, the shades on the windows are pulled up and the
Rutland audience returned to reality.