• Robert Ward and The Crucible

    As part of Opera Lively's support for regional opera companies and educational institutions, we'll be providing some writings on American contemporary composer Robert Ward and his most famous opera, The Crucible.

    This is in anticipation of Piedmont Opera's upcoming production of it on March 16 at 8 PM, 18 at 2 PM, and 20 at , 2012, at the Stevens Center, a magnificently restored neoclassical theater with 1,364 seats. It is located on 405 West Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem, NC 27101.

    Don't miss our other article on this topic, an exclusive long interview with Mr. Robert Ward; click [here] to read it. If you're visiting this article just to read this material, do consider exploring our other content in our Home and Forum pages, and becoming a member (it's for free).

    Mr. Ward, still alive, sharp, and witty in his mid-nineties, will attend the performance, and has been active in giving advice to the crew and the artists. A dinner in his honor (for which tickets are also available) will occur on March 16 at 5:30 PM, at the Embassy Suites in Winston-Salem.

    For tickets or information, call 336-725-7101, or visit Piedmont Opera's web site. It is a joint production between Piedmont Opera and the A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

    Young dramatic soprano Ms. Kristin Schwecke will sing the challenging role of Abigail. She is familiar to Opera Lively readers thanks to her interview on the occasion of her outstanding performance as Mrs. Ford in Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor, reviewed by Opera Lively here. Maestro James Allbritten conducts, and he has also granted Opera Lively an interview, which has been transcribed and is awaiting his revision for publication.

    Piedmont Opera and the A.J.Fletcher possess considerable opera expertise, and are able to put together productions of the highest standards. This is an occasion that is worth some traveling to attend - one of the greatest American operas (a Pulitzer Price-winning work), with the presence of the composer, and staged by the very institution that he directed for many years (he was the Chancellor of the UNCSA for 7 years, and served in its faculty for another 5). Not to be missed!


    Piedmont Opera – The Crucible
    Conductor: James Allbritten
    Stage Director: Cynthia Stokes
    John Proctor: Phillip Zawisca
    Elizabeth Proctor: Janine Hawley
    Abagail Williams: Kristen Schwecke
    John Hale: Richard Ollarsaba
    Judge Danforth: Todd Geer
    Samuel Parris: Jonathan Sidden
    Tituba: Nichole Mitchel
    Rebecca Nurse: Mary Siebert
    Giles Corey: Marvin Kehler
    Mary Warren: Kate Farrar
    Ann Putnam: Amanda Moody
    Thomas Putnam: Ted Federle
    Ezekiel Cheever: Jonathan Johnson
    Francis Nurse: Chris Ervin
    Sarah Good: Marilyn Taylor
    Betty Parris: Stephanie Norman
    Ruth Putnam: Catherine Park
    Susann Walcott: Lindsey Allen
    Mercy Lewis: Jemeesa Yarborough
    Martha Seldon: Rebecca Blank
    Bridget Booth: Ashley Mann


    Before we start, here are some useful links. First of all, the entire opera is available on YouTube (and it is a very good staging of it).

    Mezzo TV sponsors an opera competition among small companies, and in 2008 Dicapo Opera, from New York, staged The Crucible in Szeged:

    Second, The Crucible is available on 2CDs with full libretto, by Albany Records, in a recording of the New York City Opera Orchestra, conducted by Emerson Buckley, with Joyce Ebert as Betty Parris, Norman Kelley as Samuel Parris, Patricia Brooks as Abigail, Chester Ludgin as John Proctor, Francis Bible as Elizabeth Proctor, and Jack Delon as Judge Danforth.

    Here is a link to its Amazon.com page: The Crucible CD

    Alternative cover:

    There is a blog that has been publishing articles about Robert Ward and the upcoming Piedmont Opera production: Crucible Hysteria

    There is an interesting interview with Mr. Ward here.

    A partial list of Mr. Ward's prolific compositions (they mention 7 operas, he has composed 8) can be found here.


    Robert Ward - mini biography

    Robert Eugene Ward was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 13, 1917, in a middle-class family. His convivial and affable father owned a moving and storage company, achieved a sixth grade education, and wasn't particularly atuned to the arts. His loving mother, however, was a church organist, and infused in her five children the love for classical music. Robert was the youngest child, and all four older brothers and sisters studied either piano or violin. The entire family gathered together to listen to radio broadcasts of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, and regularly attended the visiting productions of the Met, and the children's concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra.

    The Wards were intelligent folks. Robert's brother graduated at the top of his class in Architecture, and Robert himself was such a good student that he finished High School one year earlier than expected. He loved Madrigals, and from an early age started to sing in church choral groups and got roles in locally produced operettas. At age 13 he learned piano, and at age 16 for Christmas he asked for books in orchestration, form, and harmony.

    His brother worked for the Cleveland Playhouse, and asked if Robert could compose some incidental music for a play. The young boy enthusiastically accepted, and according to him, his love for musical theater and opera was born at that point.

    By then, the Ward family was suffering with the economic hardships of the Great Depression, and paying for Robert's college plans would have been difficult. Given his excellent grades, he was offered by a local law firm, a full scholarship for college and law school, if he committed to following this path. More interested in music, he declined, and accepted instead a half-scholarship to attend college at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, supplemented by a job at a music library.

    He was a very successful student, and in 1937 he already had two of his works broadcast by the NBC Orchestra. Also, Robert Ward was popular and beloved by his classmates, who elected him president of the student body. In addition to music, he was interested in English literature (his minor), philosophy, and the philosophical aspects of religion. These studies shaped his intellectual life into leftist ideologies, and he came to question the Protestant faith he had been raised within, adopting a Hindu/Buddhist outlook in life. Robert Ward developed a personal spiritual life based on the desire to be good and benevolent and to help his fellow human beings. He came to belief in the perenity of matter, space, and time, as opposed to the finitude of human existence without an after-life. Therefore, he took upon himself to exerce the freedom of choice humans are given, in order to make the best of his stay on this earth. He became a critic of all totalitarian regimes, and a defender of free will and of the ethics of chosing the common good as the highest value. Therefore, in spite of his leftist tendencies, he did not profess a love for communism, which he understood as a dictatorial system.

    After graduation from Eastman with a Bachelor in Music, Mr. Ward was admitted to the Juilliard School for his graduate degree, with a double major in composition and conducting. He thrived in the New York City environment, and became a friend of Aaron Copland. He studied with Copland at the Tanglewood Festival, where Leonard Bernstein was one of his fellow students. He got a position in the faculty of Queens College even before his graduation from Juilliard, and premiered his First Symphony conducting the Juilliard Orchestra in 1941, which won him the Juilliard Publication Award.

    However all this brilliant trajectory came to a halt due to the start of World War II. While Robert Ward had decided that he wouldn't enlist for being a conscientious objector on humanitarian grounds, Pearl Harbor changed his mind, and he decided to join the military. For the next three years he was in various assignements in the Pacific, primarily in non-combat capacity due to his musical abilities - the army tapped on his services to entertain and boost the morale of his fellow soldiers by performing with a military band - but he did participate of some dangerous operations in the Aleutian Islands and was in close contact with the pain and suffering of the war, having helped traumatized soldiers as an improvised medic.

    While in the military Mr. Ward met his wife Mary, who was at the time an attractive Red Cross worker. They got married on June 19, 1944. When she got pregnant, the Red Cross removed her from the war theater and brought her back to the United States. Mr. Ward remained a part of the gruesome "Island-Hoping Campaign" in preparation for the assault of mainland Japan, and was away from his wife when his first daughter was born. With the end of the hostilities, the couple was reunited in Cleveland, and in 1946 he took his young family back to New York City in order to finish his Juilliard degree.

    From that point on, Mr. Ward's career was meteoric. He entered simultaneously the faculty at Columbia University (1946-48) and Juilliard (1946-56), teaching conducting, becoming the assistant to the Juilliard President, and the head of Development and Fund Raising. While composing profusely, he climbed rapidly to membership in several important boards including the National Opera Institute, Opera America, and the National Endowment for the Arts. After some political trouble in the McCarthy years due to his leftist beliefs, Ward continued to climb in his successful career as an adminstrator and businesman, becoming the Executive Vice-President and Editor of Galaxy Music Corporation, not before composing his first opera, He Who Gets Slapped.

    In his years as a highly paid executive for Galaxy during which he reorganized the London-based branch as a BMI affiliate, Mr. Ward continued to find time for composition, and between 1948 and 1965 he composed an amazing number of works in various genres - symphonies, songs, concerts, sonatas, choral music, chamber music - and opera, with his second opera The Crucible in 1961 achieving wide acclaim and winning the 1962 Pulitzer Prize and the 1962 New York Critics Circle Citation. His third opera came in 1963, Lady Kate.

    His growing family at this time had five children, and Mr. Ward was craving a more relaxed lifestyle with more time for composition and family life. In 1967 he was offered a position as Chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem as part of an ambitious plan to revamp the school, which invested in getting him by not only offering him enough free time for composition as part of the contract, but also paying him 40% more than what he was receiving as a high executive at Galaxy. Mr. Ward accepted.

    His tenure at the school was extraordinary. Mr. Ward was a unique person - a talented musician who also had business and adminstrative acumen. He doubled the size of the school, empowered its various departments, dramatically increased the quality of both the faculty and the student body, while finding time to compose his fourth opera Claudia Legare, and to premier important works such as his First String Quartet, his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, and his Fifth Symphony.

    In 1978 and experiencing a desire to slow down from his frenetic schedule, Mr. Ward took a sabatical, and got closer to the Music Department at Duke University by teaching composition there one day a week. In 1979 at the end of his sabatical he left the UNCSA and accepted an endowed profesorship at Duke, where he continued to teach until his retirement in 1989.

    During this period, Mr. Ward composed the operas Abelard and Heloise and Countdown to Midnight, as well as a large number of instrumental works, as well an acclaimed ballet, The Scarlet Letter.

    Ward's seventh opera came in 1993, Roman Fever. In 1998 his beloved wife fell gravely ill with a massive stroke, and continued to struggle with rehabilitation for eight years, with her husband's assistance, which resulted in a slow down in his composition output. Still, he was able to compose his eight opera, A Friend of Napoleon, premièred in July of 2005. One year later Mary Ward passed away.

    Mr. Ward now at 94, enjoys a serene life in the North Carolina Triangle. He is highly respected and loved by all who come in contact with him, given that he is a wonderful conversationalist with a prodigious memory, and has a lot to tell about his rich life experiences as a humanitarian, a soldier, a successful composer, an educator, an administrator, and a businessman. He has traveled to see his music performed and to conduct it in Austria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Korea, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Taiwan. His The Crucible has been performed in Japanese, German, and Korean. He was granted three honorable doctorates. He is a truly fascinating gentleman.


    Robert Ward's Operas

    1. He Who Gets Slapped

    In 1955 Ward started a long collaboration with his colleague in the Juilliard faculty, Mr. Bernard Stambler, who became his librettist for half of Mr. Ward's operas. They based their first opera on Leonid Andreyev's 1916 play of the same title, although they implemented substantial changes to the plot. The original play is about a love triangle, when two rivals murder the woman they both love and then commit a double suicide to see who would reach her first in the after-life. The main character, called He by Andreyev, becomes Pantaloon (a reference to Comedia dell'Arte), and there is no murder or sucide; simply, Pantaloon gets rejected by the lady and resigns to being forever the one who got 'slapped.' The opera premiered in 1956 with the Juilliard Orchestra, and was well received by critics.

    2. The Crucible

    This one we'll analyze separately and more thoroughly.

    3. Lady Kate

    Ward's and Stamble's third opera lightened up the tone, from their first two serious and philosophical efforts focusing on the nature of human relationships and societal power. The piece was commissioned by Central City Opera in Colorado, and specifically called for a Western theme, that of Homer Croy's The Lady from Colorado (1957). Ward and Stamble made of it a satire to American politics of the end of the 19th century when Colorado reached statehood, and gave it a lighthearted treatment. It was initially set as an opera, then revised to be an operetta, and the title got changed to Lady Kate. It premiered in 1964,

    4. Claudia Legare

    This one was based on Henrik Ibsen's paly Hedda Gabler, which they reset to Charleston, South Carolina, at the end of the Civil War. Ward and Stambler returned to heavy psychological drama, portraying a controlling woman who destroys everything and everyone around her, including herself. Although it had been commissioned by New York City Opera, Ward took a long time composing this one given his other obligations, and meanwhile the tides had changed in terms of contemporary musical trends, and NYCO thought that the opera was too musically conservative and cancelled the commission in 1973. It only premiered in 1978, by Minnesota Opera, in a production that Ward himself considered to be flawed, which may have contributed to its lukewarm reception.

    5. Abelard and Heloise

    In 1980 when he took upon the task of setting to music a one-hour teleplay for CBS, Ward was in North Carolina while Stambler was in New York City involved in different projects, which made their collaboration impractical. For the first time, Ward reached out to a different librettist, Jan Hartman, a teleplay writer recommended by CBS. The topic chosen was the historically true story of Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French philosopher with liberal views whose love for Heloise, the niece of a powerful Canon of Notre Dame, ended badly with the young woman being sent to a convent and Abelard being censored and condemned. While the story had been treated by various authors, Ward and Hartman approached it by the couple's extensive love letters. Soon enough it became clear that a one-hour allotment was insufficient to tell such a complex story, and the artists decided to turn it into a full blown opera, which CBS was not willing to sponsor. Charlotte Opera premiered it in 1982, to great critical acclaim.

    6. Minutes Till Midnight

    The success of the previous work resulted in an immediate new commission for Ward, from Greater Miami Opera. Being that the topic was the threat of nuclear apocalypse, Ward invited as librettist Dan Lang, a writer who covered nuclear topics for the New Yorker magazine. The piece is a morality play focused on a nuclear physicist who discovers new ways to harness energy and needs to decide whether to disclose them as a military secret or make them available to all mankind, ultimately deciding for the latter. The work is heavy in moral, philosophical, and ethical considerations, and although favorably received by the audience in its 1982 premiere, it wasn't well received by critics who opposed the principles contained in the libretto, condemning this work to a short performance history.

    7. Roman Fever

    This one sets to music Edith Wharton's story of the same title, and premiered in 1993 by Trianle Opera in Durham, NC. Roger Brunyate wrote the libretto for this chamber opera, developping the story of two women who were rivals in love to include their two daughters as more developed characters (they are just briefly mentioned in Wharton's original). The two main characters are old widows and are visiting Rome with their daughters. When they meet fortuitously at a restaurant overlooking the Roman Forum, their old jealousies resurface, resulting in bitter confrontations. This psychological drama was well received by critics, who underlined its lyricism, sensitive scoring, and rich harmonies. Here is a fragment:

    8. A Friend of Napoleon

    Ward's last opera is based on a short story of the same title by Richard Connel, with a libretto by James Stuart. Like Lady Kate, it is a lighthearted piece, about the caretaker of a wax museum who becomes enthralled with a wax figure of Napoleon Bonaparte, and ends up stealing it. He is arrested and hires as lawyer a young man who used to frequent the museum with his ex-lover, an American girl who had broken up with him. His impassioned patriotic speech in court earns the museum's caretaker's freedom, and his girl's renewed love. It premiered in 2005 at the Ohio Light Opera.


    The Crucible - Genesis of the Opera

    The Crucible is an opera in four acts, music by Robert Ward, libretto by Bernard Stambler, after Arthur Miller's play - an important staple of American literature - drawing upon the frenzy and anguish of the historically true witch hunt that took place in the Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring and summer of 1692, resulting in a large number of women being put to death. While religious figures at the time insisted in ample theological justification for the existence of witches, the true reasons for the carnage are likely to have been greed, local animosities, and sexual repression.

    The play first appeared in 1953 and was initially received by critics with scorn. However, its strongly dramatic portrayal of religious zealotry, political xenophobia, mass hysteria, sexual intrigue, and personal redemption warranted its enduring worldwide success.

    The opera was first performed at New York City Center of Music and Drama on October 26, 1961, under the baton of conductor Emerson Buckley.

    Voice types and artists who created the roles:

    Role Voice type Premiere Cast
    John Proctor baritone Chester Ludgin
    Elizabeth Proctor mezzo-soprano Frances Bible
    Abigail Williams soprano Patricia Brooks
    Judge Danforth tenor Ken Neate
    Reverend John Hale bass Norman Treigle
    Reverend Samuel Parris tenor Norman Kelley
    Tituba contralto Débria Brown
    Rebecca Nurse contralto Eunice Alberts
    Giles Corey tenor Maurice Stern
    Mary Warren soprano Joy Clements
    Ann Putnam soprano Mary LeSawyer
    Thomas Putnam baritone Paul Ukena
    Ezekiel Cheever tenor Harry Theyard
    Sarah Good soprano Joan Kelm
    Betty Parris mezzo-soprano Joyce Ebert
    Mercy Lewis soprano Nancy Roy
    Bridget Booth soprano Beverly Evans
    Susanna Walcott contralto Helen Guile
    Ruth Putnam soprano Lorna Ceniceros
    Martha Sheldon soprano Elizabeth Schwering

    Sources - the historical events

    Seventeenth century Puritan New England was a cauldron of tensions, thanks to a theocratic form of self-government that was quite repressive. Greed and lust were seen as sins and couldn't be expressed overtly, therefore influential land owners who wanted to expand upon their neighbors' properties took on the habit of accusing neighbors of witchcraft to take law matters on their own hands and get rid of enemies and rivals. These accusations resulted in numerous arrests, but since there were no established courts and nothing could be proven, these people were often released with no consequences. However a new governor - William Phips - came from England in 1692 with a new charter from the English crown, and established a judicial system, which resulted in these witchcraft accusations to be taken more seriously. Meanwhile other tensions were brewing, such as the feud between Reverend Samuel Parris, an abrasive personality, and his main critic landowner John Procter.

    In early 1692 seven young girls between the age of 9 and 20 in Salem Village became ill of what today is seen as an epidemic of hysterical neurosis, which according to Sigmund Freud is "contagious" when you have a susceptible community were naive persons can be influenced by others and be suggested to display similar symptoms by sheer psychological identification. They experienced hallucinations and hysterical seizures. Well, Freudian theory was still a couple of centuries from being formulated, so the local doctor William Griggs attributed the symptoms to witchcraft being practiced on them. The accused witches - a Caribben-Indian slave Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn, were rapidly arrested and tried, and soon enough five other women - Goodwife Cloyse, Elizabeth Procter, Giles Corey, Abigail Hobbes, and Bridget Bishop - fell victim to the same accusation, and six of these first nine were put to death by hanging. What began as an adolescent prank became full-blown social hysteria, and latent religious paranoia, petty jealousies, and unresolved animosities resulted in a broad witch hunt that spread to the men who were defending their wives and sisters from the accusations. Six other people including John Procter were hanged next, and eight more who dared to protest met the same fate. Another man who refused to respond to his accusers and remained mute was tortured to death (by means of placing heavy stones on his chest until he was crushed). Elizabeth Procter escaped execution because she was pregnant. One hundred days after the madness had started, the governor intervened and issued pardons to all accused. The shame and guilt experienced by the survivors and perpetrators tainted the community for decades and even centuries. In order to distance itself from the events, the town of Salem in Massachusetts changed its name to Danvers in 1752.

    Sources - Arthur Miller's play

    In the early 1950's American playwright Arthur Miller took upon himself to write a play about the Salem witch hunt - a subject that had fascinated him since his college years, as an analogy for the right wing persecution of leftist Americans initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

    As Miller said, there was "... something which seemed more weird and mysterious. It was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the Far Right was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new subjective reality, a venerable mystique which was gradually assuming even a holy resonance." Miller was particularly impressed with how Hollywood and the theatrical world started to self-censor themselves and to black-list actors and writers seen as possible targets of Senator McCarthy's rage.

    Another psychological parallel was going on in his private life - a married father of two, Miller met Marilyn Monroe and got involved in a love triangle similar to the one between Procter, his wife Elizabeth, and Abigail - suspicion-filled, with plenty of guilt and self-deceit.

    Miller travelled to Danvers and consulted the original court records from the witch trials, in order to get familiar with the convoluted English used by the Puritans at the time. Reading these documents, Miller who was Jewish found another analogy in the fact that the Puritans, just like the Jews, seemed to take defensive postures against what they perceived as polluting outsiders. Finding grounds for further identification with the events, Arthur Miller plunged into writing the play with enormous enthusiasm.

    Arthur Miller's play is not entirely historically accurate. For example, Abigail's age is pushed from 11 (in reality) to 17 (in the play) to allow for her relationship with John Proctor, for which there is no historical evidence. The real trials had several judges while the play has only two.

    The play premiered in New York City at the Martin Beck Theater on January 22, 1953. The initial run went on for 193 performances, and it won both the Antoinette Perry and the Donaldson awards for best play of the year.

    The play was adapted for film twice, by Jean-Paul Sartre as the 1957 film Les Sorcières de Salem and by Miller himself as the 1996 film The Crucible, the latter with a cast including Paul Scofield, Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

    Miller's play is in four acts and is quite conventional in terms of narrative structure, with the classical design of exposition, rising action, falling action, and catastrophe. The exposition begins with the progressive hints that two fundamental sins having happened before the curtain - the girls dancing naked in the woods, and Procter's sexual liasion with Abigail. Characters are introduced and developed during the exposition. Then rising action starts with Abigail as a catalyst, when she initiates accusations of witchcraft to try and get rid of her rival, Procter's wife. This leads to increasing disturbing events, culminating with act III falling action of the trials, and the catastrophic deaths in act IV.

    The central theme of The Crucible is conflict - human vs. human, human vs. society, human vs. self. This progression is seen throughout the acts. What begins as petty jealousy and intrigue (human vs. human) becomes a struggle between individual freedoms and a repressive theocracy - Procter's confrontations with Thomas Putnam, Judge Harthorne, and Deputy Governor Danforth. Finally, Procter's conflict with his own self and his infidelity and his inadequacy as a community leader. The necessary resolution of these conflicts occur when Procter decides to make amends with himself by tearing up his signed confession, thus causing his own death as a form of redemption.

    Other teams in the play have to do with social injustice - witches are presumed guilty rather than presumed innocent until guilt is proven, and even when exonerated, the stigma survives, which for Miller was what prevailed in Washington DC at the time.

    A problem with Miller's play is the large number of characters - 21. However, the author's treatment of his characters is - well, quite operatic. He makes them interact in pairs, in trios, and in ensembles - and the whole set is only present on stage when there are larger public scenes - just like a chorus. He also makes them think out loud when they are on their own. So, we get a similar structure to operatic arias, duets, trios, and ensembles. The characters are sufficiently well developed that the public can easily discern them one from the other, and can follow quite easily the different strings of the story.

    Elizabeth as a character evolves from the position of wronged wife to that of a courageous woman who risks everything to protect her husband.

    Unlike Procter and Elizabeth, Abigail does not evolve. She remains cunning and ruthless until the end, which is explained by her individualism, since as an orphan she's been fending for herself for her entire life.

    Deputy Governor Danforth also does not evolve. He remains burdened with fears, doubts, and suspicions, in between being the guardian of the past and allowing the loosening of the mores that the march of History always brings. He remains single-minded and unwavering in defending the parochial views of a dying era - a true Senator McCarthy!

    From the Play to the Opera - Arthur Miller's collaboration with Ward and Stambler

    Curiously, the above-mentioned operatic structure of his play had not escaped Arthur Miller, who had considered learning composition in order to set it to music himself. Famously, Miller called his friend and composer Marc Blitzstein to ask him how long it would take him to learn composition. Blitzstein replied that it would take as long as it had taken Miller to become a competent playwright - 20 years. Miller thought that 20 years was too long, and contacted both Aaron Copland and Carlisle Floyd to see if they would set The Crucible to music. They declined, given that they were involved with other projects.

    Simultaneously, Ward and Stambler went to see Miller's play at the theater and though highly of it. Albert Ward, Robert's brother, was a man of the theater, and Robert asked him to have Miller attend his opera He Who Gets Slapped. Miller did, and was as highly impressed with Ward and Stambler as they had been impressed with him. They went out for after-performance drinks, and decided then and there that Ward and Stambler would set Miller's play as an opera. Some practical considerations and negotiations with agents and publishers ensued, with Miller's agent making unreasonable demands about how often the opera needed to be performed and by what companies - to which Ward replied by saying that there were only four major opera companies in the United States at the time (NYCO, the Met, SF, and Chicago) and neither one did contemporary works. The agent insisted, until Ward called Miller to complain, and the latter said to his agent: "Give these boys whatever they want."

    Another interesting anecdote is that Miller's agent Kay Brown remained unconvinced, and when told about the hardships of opera production, said "why do it, then?" Ward said - "When have you last saw Victorien Sardou's Tosca?" Ms. Brown said she had never heard of it. Robert Ward said: "There you go, Puccini's heirs and publishers are still making millions every year from the opera based on it." This convinced her, and the contracts were signed, with New York City Opera as the commissioners for the work.

    Transforming the play into a libretto

    We all know that singing a line in an opera takes longer than saying it in a stage play, therefore much of the craft of writing a libretto based on a play has to do with compression and cuts so that the plot can fit the smaller space of an operatic libretto. Second, a libretto must fit the composer's musical style. According to Stambler, an opera must have strong scenes and characters, in the sense of independence from each other, they need to be different from each other, and preferably characterized by music. Also, it needs to be subservient to the music and needs to take into account the composer's style, preferences, and likes and dislikes. About compression, Stambler said that long interchanges of short phrases is not the best way to compress, but actually, arias need to pack into then all the elements of a situation, including melodic and formally structural elements. Furthermore, since an opera must have carefully placed musical climaxes, the libretto needs to accommodate these moments and provide for them.

    Stambler cut two thirds of Miller's text. In act I, scenes between Abigail and her friends were cut. Various quarrelsome exchanges between opposing characters were eliminated. In act II, scenes with Giles Corey and Francis Nurse as well as lenghty discussions between the Proctors and Reverend Hale were also cut. On the other hand, Miller had deleted a scene from his play between Abigail and Proctor, and Ward insisted that it should be restored. After some hesitation, Miller agreed. This scene is the one in which Abigail is very sexually provocative, and Ward wanted it in order to write very lush and sensual music - however, Ward left a gap between the characters by not allowing them to sing in unison, keeping the vocal lines separate to highlight the psychological gulf between them.

    Act III has minor changes - such as changing the location of the trials from a church to a court building. Act IV gives in the opera more prominence to the Sarah Good and Tituba scene, and Ward and Stambler added a final meeting between Proctor and Abigail that is not in the play - which only mentions that she fled the village, but Ward thought the opera audience would want to see her one last time. Another major difference is that the opera doesn't mention that Elizabeth was pregnant. Ward thought it would be too time consuming to develop this part of the story, given the time limitations of an opera as opposed to a play given the need to compress the material for an effective libretto.

    Three characters exist in the play but not in the opera, but the opposite is also true, therefore both have 21 characters.

    Composition trouble

    Ward progressed rapidly through acts I and II but had a writers block for act III. He was uncertain about how to do with the rapid tempo of his music and the need to have clear declamation so that the public followed the complex plot with multiple characters. He sought a postponing of the opening day to work it out, but Julius Rudel, artistic director of NYCO was inflexible, and told Ward to just get it done because the press release for the opening was already out. Ward turned to Verdi for a solution, and inspired himself in how Verdi's drinking scene in act I of Otello is set in 7/8 times with fast orchestral melody, but the declamation is made clear by the use of melismas. Also, in order to finish up in time, Ward got inspired by Puccini's view that the last act of an opera should recycle the melody of the first acts, in order to achieve musical resolution. With these two principles in mind, Ward was able to finish up, only 11 days before opening day.

    Musical Structure

    The orchestration employs two of each of these instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, with the second of each part doubling on piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon. There are four horns, two trumpets, a tenor and a bass trombone, timpani, harp, and the usual strings. The vocal parts include four sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, two contraltos, four tenors, two baritones, two basses, and a chorus of six girls. The musical structure is traditional, and follows that of a four-movement, cyclic symphony with voices. The opera employs traditional ariosi, recitatives, arias, and ensembles, with finales using ensembles, and orchestral preludes and intermezzi.

    While this is all formally traditional, the music itself is not. In order to accentuate the highly dramatic event, Ward's music uses wild alternations of metric patterns, often employing irregular patterns of seven beats per measure, for instance, alternating 7/8 and 7/4. He often readjusts metric patterns to provide greater stress to words and syllables, in a sort of halting speech that enhances the overwhelming and stunning events. At times he employe shorter rhythmic values to propel the dialogues forward. All in all, the music is a very rhythmic affair and is often felt as spiky and fractured. Ward creates syncopated rhythmic schemes of alternating long and short note-values (eighth- and quarter-notes) to reflect the characters' agitation. Frequent changes of key also reinforce the dramatic impact, in a melodically jagged fashion.

    Other clever devices exist; for example, when Tituba is singing, the fact that she is a character who is not a native speaker of English, her speech rhythms are rendered musically in different ways as compared to the other characters'. The tempo is slower when she sings, and Ward employs upward melodic leaps and word-paintings, as well as quarter-note/eight-note-triplet patterns.

    Also notable is how Ward respects Miller's dramaturgical strength by setting the most intense moments in arioso-like fashion, to focus more on the conflict than on the music. He plays with the tessitura as well to underline the emotional impact of certain scenes, such as when the sets Proctor's scene when he refuses to sign the confession in a higher tessitura. The highest pitch that Proctor sings in this scene is an e-sharp, which punctuates his realization of impending doom.


    Act I

    Reverend Parris is seen kneeling distraught at the bed of his daughter Betty. She's been laying immobile since Parris came upon her and her cousin Abigail dancing in the woods the night before. Abigail enters to say that the town is whispering of witchcraft and that Parris should go out to make a denial. He questions her about her dancing, and about her dismissal from her job in the service of the Proctors. She denies any wrongdoing and attributes her dismissal to Mrs. Proctor's arrogant desire for a slave. The Putnams enter to tell that their daughter Ruth was stricken by the same illness, and they have sent for the Reverend Hale, who is skillful in discovering witches.

    Parris is not happy with this since he doesn't want any suspicion of witchcraft in his household and worries about his stance with the faithful. Rebecca and Francis Nurse enter with Giles Corey. Rebecca tries to dismiss the girls' condition as benign. Putnam insists that witches are at work in Salem, but Giles accuses him of using a witch scare to defraud his neighbors of their land. John Proctor's entrance increases the quarrel. Abigail reacts with excitement to Proctor's entrance. Rebecca again tries to calm matters down and reprimands the men for arguing in a house of illness. Giles departs with John.

    They sing a psalm to ask for God's help. Betty begins to writhe on the bed and issues an unearthly shriek, tries to fly out a window, they rush to contain her. Reverend Hale arrives. He starts his inquiry and learns that Tituba, the Caribbean slave, has played a role in what is happening, having been present at the dancing. Ann Putnam asserts that Tituba knows conjuring. Tituba is sent for. Hale questions Abigail. When Tituba arrives, Abigail accuses her of compacting with the Devil. Overwhelmed, Tituba confesses that she's been visited by the Devil but denies that he was successful in getting her to engage in any wrongdoing, although he did impact on her the power to do them harm, basically by slashing their throats, which she refused to do. With Tituba's confession, the spell over Betsy is broken. All rejoice and thank God with a psalm, while Abigail says she repents her own contract with the devil, asks for forgiveness, and says she will help by pointing out to other members of the Devil's crew.

    Act II

    John Proctor returns home from work to find his wife Elizabeth listless and moody. She is jealous of Abigail who is her husband's former mistress, and wants John to denounce Abby to Judge Danforth as fraudulent in her accusations against villagers, which have been the cause for people to be arrested. He is reluctant to do so, which makes Elizabeth suspect that he is still in love with Abby. John defends himself by saying that if he acts against her, she will make their affair public, which will disgrace him. He is weary of Elizabeth's nagging and condemnations of him. She regrets the vanished sweetness of their love. Marry Warren enters furtively from her day at court as one of Abby's witchfinders. She tears up and says that the number of those arrested has tripled and Goody Osburn has been condemned to hang. She regrets her participation in this but says that the mob environment in the courtroom makes her act impulsively. When John threatens to whip her if she returns to court, she reveals that Elizabeth Proctor has been accused herself. Elizabeth correctly guesses that Abigail is behind it, trying to get rid of her to have access to John again, and she urges John to do something. Too late: people knock in the door, it's Reverend Hale and John Cheever with a warrant for her arrest, due to Abby's accusation that Elizabeth employed a witch's puppet that she pierced with a needle, in an attempt to kill her. Mary acknowledges that the puppet is hers and says that Elizabeth is innocent, but Hale feels that he must still arrest Elizabeth for examination, and expresses confidence that if she is innocent, she won't have anything to fear. John is about to prevent them from taking his wife but is convinced to stay put. He turns to Mary and urges her to testify in his wife's favor, even though this would likely lead Abby to accuse him of adultery - he'd lose his good name but would save his wife.

    Act III

    Sc. 1 - Abigail meets John and tries to convince him to side with her in order to purify the town from the evil influences. He rejects her and urges her to confess about her fraudulent accusations - instead, she threatens him that any dire fate that descends on Elizabeth will be his doing.

    Sc. 2 - Judge Danforth's invocation in court reveals his conviction that God is working through him to cleanse the town from a plague of witches. Giles Corey accuses Thomas Putnam of accusing neighbors so that he takes over their lands. However Corey refuses to name the witnesses to that, and the judge sends him to jail. Giles tries to assault Putnam. John Proctor presents Mary Warren's deposition that the whole story started as a girls' game and is a complete pretense, but Abby has continued the game in an attempt to dispose of Elizabeth, due to his affair with Abby which he publicly confesses. The judge is willing to believe him but wants Elizabeth to confirm it since she has a reputation of being incapable of lying. However when Elizabeth is brought in and not knowing that her husband has confessed, she thinks that she must save him by denying the adultery accusation - which then lands both in trouble. Too late, John tells his wife that he has already confessed, to her despair. Abigail seizes the opportunity to accuse Mary Warren of being a witch. Mary, turning hysterical, tries to save herself by accusing John of being the Devil's man who tried to make her confuse the court. All rejoice at John's disgrace.

    Act IV

    Tituba and Sarah Good are seen in prison, and crazed by the rigors they've endured, they sing of the Devil and his broken promises to them. Abigail comes in and says she has bribed the jailor to permit Proctor to escape. John refuses to escape and rejects her. She runs off weeping.

    Hale and Parris try to persuade Judge Danforth to postpone the executions of Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, afraid that the citizens will rebel against the execution of such respected citizens. Danforth refuses, but agrees that if Elizabeth convinces her husband to confess and repent, he'll set him free.

    John is brought in and left alone with Elizabeth, who tells him that Giles Corey has died under torture for refusing to respond to his accusers. She tells him that those who have confessed have been pardoned. He says he'd do it but is afraid that she will see him as a liar. She says that her own lie is what landed them in trouble. He agrees to falsely confessing to the charge of witchcraft.

    Danforth, Hale, and Parris rejoice with Johns' decision, and Parries tries to persuade Rebecca to do the same. She refuses to lie. John is asked to sign his confession so that it is exhibited around town. But this is too much for him and he refuses. He tears up the document. In fury Danforth orders John and Rebecca to be led out to execution. Hale pleads with Elizabeth to try again to persuade John. She refuses, saying "he has found his name and his goodness now - God forbid I take it from him." Curtain.


    Oh well, this is simple. There is just one recording, and it's been mentioned before, on 2 CDs. Disc 1, running time 58'16". Disc 2, running time 51'17" - New York City Opera Orchestra, Emerson Buckley, conductor. Albany Records, ADD Stereo. Is it good? Yes, it is quite good. Good orchestra, good singers across the board. But it is a bit subdued. I actually enjoyed better the more jittery reading of the sound track of the staged performance on YouTube I've also included above.


    Betty Parris, mezzo-soprano Joyce Ebert

    Reverend Samuel Parris, tenor Norman Kelley

    Tituba, contralto Gloria Wynder

    Abigail Williams, soprano Patricia Brooks

    Ann Putnam, soprano Naomi Farr

    Thomas Putnam, baritone Paul Ukena

    Rebecca Nurse, contralto Eunice Alberts

    Francis Nurse, bass Spiro Malas

    Giles Corey, tenor Maurice Stern

    John Proctor, baritone Chester Ludgin

    Reverened John Hale, bass John Macurdy

    Elizabeth Proctor, mezzo-soprano Frances Bible

    Mary Warren, soprano Nancy Foster

    Ezediel Cheever, tenor Richard Krause

    Judge Danforth, tenor Jack DeLon

    Sarah Good, soprano Naomi Farr

    Ruth Putnam, coloratura Lorna Ceniceros

    Susanna Walcott, contralto Helen Guile

    Martha Sheldon, soprano Marija Kova

    Mercy Lewis, contralto Elizabeth Schwering

    Bridget Booth, soprano Beverly Evans

    Music samples of the above CD are available for listening at Arkiv Music.


    Here is a review from a staging in Saratosa (not many details were provided):

    "This is music drama of great power, presented by a large and exemplary company of fine singers under the direction of David Neely. Sean Anderson in the key role of John Proctor and Heather Johnson, as his wife, were powerful and touching in their performances, despite occasional overpowering of the vocal lines by the orchestra. Lindsay Barche as the conniving and possessed Abigail Williams, Jeffrey Tucker as Reverend John Hale, Mathew Edwardsen as Judge Danforth and Nicole Mitchell as the slave Tituba, also gave compelling performances. The stage design, by Michael Schweikardt, benefited from magical lighting by Ken Yunker and intense stage direction by Michael Unger."

    The same performance is reviewed here.
    Another account - but before the performance - can be found here.

    Another review of a staging in Boston can be found here but reader beware, the reviewer is completely clueless - obviously someone who isn't used to contemporary opera.

    And here we have another upcoming performance, with an interesting poster, created by Billings Gazette graphic artist Melanie Fabrizuis:

    More information about this performance in Montana can be found here.

    The Crucible will be also given in March at Peabody (Johns Hopkins University), an opera program that is directed by Mr. Ward's librettist for Roman Fever, Mr. Roger Brunyate.
    It will happen at the Friedberg Concert Hall, on March 14-17, 2012. More information can be found here. And you can find here the playbill for this production, with more info on the opera.

    The Crucible is often performed at universities, like this staging:

    Here is a good review of a staging at University of Arizona.


    That's all, folks. Don't miss Piedmont Opera's performance! Support your local and regional opera company; there is nothing like live opera. If you liked what you read here, explore other areas of our web site by clicking on the Home and the Forum buttons, and consider becoming a member (Register button), it's for free. Also visit our beautiful portal at www.operalively.com


    A sample of Robert Ward's instrumental music: Violin Concerto, Movement I, Moderato-Allegro:

    His 4th Symphony, Movement III (Vivo)

    I believe this may have been his last significant work before retirement from composition - In Praise of Science (very beautiful):


    This article was based on numerous Internet sources such as review sites, music stores, YouTube, Wikipedia, and more extensively on Dr. Robert Paul Kolt's excellent book and doctoral dissertation: Robert Ward's The Crucible: Creating an American Musical Nationalism, Scarecrow Press, 2009, 233 pages.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Robert Ward and The Crucible started by Almaviva View original post
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      I do think the weakest thing about The Crucible (and, to a lesser extent, also about Miller's play) is the excessive number of characters. It's very difficult to manage such richness, how they enter and leave, to give a musical personality to each one... Yes, this has been done in other pieces, but it's not completely succesful here.

      Apart from this, The Crucible is very enjoyable. Curiously, it received some bad reviews upon its premiere, due to his lack of melody and "atonality" inclinations (glaringly untrue). A few years passed, and Claudia Legane is not accepted due to "musical conservatism".

      This opera is now a true American Classic. In fact, there are a number of American operas written at that time that were influenced to a certain degree by McCarthyism, and that also can legitimately aspire to this title, like Bernstein's Candide, Copland's The Tender Land or Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yes, that's why I said that the Boston reviewer was clueless, by complaining of the atonality of the piece while the piece is not atonal. Yes, there are a lot of characters. It would have benefited from a smaller number. I still find the plot easy to follow even in the opera since many of the less important characters just provide some commentary while the focus of the events remains within the lines of a little more than some half a dozen people - so I see the secondary characters like a sort of chorus (figuratively speaking) with individual lines. But yes, one needs to pay close attention to what is going on given the 21 characters. Maybe the fact that it didn't bother me as much has to do with the circumstances of my listening to it: I watched the YouTube with the libretto open in front of me, with the names of each character being given together with the lines, and at times I paused the video clip to pay closer attention to the libretto. Conceivably, someone just watching the opera in real time without the libretto won't have such an easy time in sorting out the characters. So, you're right, this is the kind of opera that requires homework before tackling it so that the listener/spectator acquires familiarity with the plot and the multiple characters, and then it becomes quite enjoyable. In terms of the public having a good time with the opera, it helps that Miller's play is familiar to many, since it is common fare in high school English classes and college literature classes. (I know that *you* are familiar with it, I'm talking about the general public).
    1. francis jones's Avatar
      francis jones -
      If you are interested in The Crucible, you might like to see notes about the awesome production by students at UBC Opera. This is a high quality high energy crowd of up and coming opera stars and The Crucible, with it's large cast, is a great contemporary piece for a school with many opera students to get their teeth into. Check out a few pictures and links to reviews etc. on the UBC blog UBCOperaTonic.

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