The 1950s turned out to be a tricky time for Aaron Copland, the master of Americana, to create his first major opera. In a period of mass-neuroses typified by Senator McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts, Copland found himself less sure of his standing as a darling of the music world.
So when Copland composed The Tender Land in 1953, an opera that he expected would be broadcast on television across the country, he was unprepared for the knock-back from NBC.
The Tender Land was finally reworked for the stage, but it retains many features that betray its original conception for the small screen. It’s a gentle rural Midwest story which Copland and his librettist Erik Johns based on the iconic Depression-era images of Walker Evans. The tale is a parable of xenophobia, lost innocence and passionate restlessness, in which a girl falls in love and leaves home on the eve of her graduation.
The first full production of The Tender Land in Australia was staged earlier this year by Melbourne’s Lyric Opera. The production showed that this simple tale has real power and currency. Moreover it’s a little-known and underrated work that highlights what an extraordinary composer Aaron Copland really was, and what a good instinct he had for articulating the American psyche.
- John Kachoyan—Theatre Director, based in Melbourne
- Pat Miller—Conductor and Musical Director for Lyric Opera of Melbourne
- Beth E. Levy—Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis
- Rob Hansen—Musicologist based in Sydney
- Emily Uhlrich—Melbourne-based soprano
- Henry Choo—Melbourne-based tenor
- Title—Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West
- Author—Beth E. Levy
- Publisher—University of California Press, 2012
- Title—Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families
- Author—James Agee & Walker Evans
- Publisher—Violette Editions, UK, 2001 (first published in 1941)
- Title—Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War
- Author—Elizabeth B. Crist
- Publisher—Oxford University Press, 2005
James Agee Films
The full unedited interview with Allie Mae Burroughs is available via this website
Sound Engineers—Matthew Crawford & Brendan O’Neill