Hills like White Elephants [2007]

My goal was to write an opera in which the action occurs primarily in the subtext.  This creates a kind of tension with the tendencies of opera toward explicitness.  The short story by Ernest Hemingway was an ideal subject for such an opera.

An American couple waits at a train station in Spain.  The characters are nameless, referred to in the original story as “man” and “girl.”   The conversation is pedestrian at times and at others spoken almost in code.  The most explicitly Hemingway addresses the subject of the story is when the “man” says “It’s really an awfully simple operation….They just let the air in, and then it’s all perfectly natural.”

In adapting the story, I expanded the role of the barmaid to become a kind of wordless Greek chorus.  She begins the overture solo and unaccompanied, continuing through the overture in vocalise, and she returns to vocalise during the denouement of the opera.  The opera ends as it began, to both carry the final pedestrian acts to a close and to indicate a kind of ambient indifference to the plight of the couple.  In this way, she bridges the orchestra and the action on the stage, becoming the voice of the landscape, or of the country itself.

Duration: ca. 30 minutes

sound | score