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At the University of Missouri- Columbia Music Department, they're producing on opera about Lewis and Clark. In June 2001 we interviewed the (former*) head of the Show-Me Opera.
How does Lewis & Clark mix with opera?
Well, Lewis stars off by saying "We are about to penetrate a country, 2000 miles in width where the foot of civilized man has never trod. You can hear the rythm, that kind of a feeling which goes along with their excitement for going out into this new land and opera is really just a form of art that allows you to express feelings.
What's exciting about using opera for this is that we can stop and really expand one moment. And opera has these pieces of music called arias and an aria is one person singing about their feeling about that moment. Lewis sings, " Write it down, get it right. Every little detail day and night. Take some notes, don't delay. All the world is waiting for what you say." So they're trying to figure out what every detail means. I think they can really see that 200 years from that day, people are going to be looking back at what they did as something important. They knew.
Captain Meriwether Lewis (tenor) - Organizer of the Expedition, Jefferson's sec'y
Captain William Clark (baritone) - Co-commander, brought on by Lewis
George Shannon (tenor) - Youngest member of the Corps
John Potts (baritone) - One of the older members of the Corps, born in Germany
Sacagawea (soprano) -16 year-old Shoshone wife of Charbonneau
Toussaint Charbonneau (tenor) - 37 year-old French interpreter
York (bass-baritone) - slave belonging to Clark
Other characters include members of the Corps and the Teton Sioux, Hidatsa, Mandan and Shoshone tribes; and vision characters.
ACT I - Camp Dubois to Fort Mandan (December, 1803 to April, 1805)
It is September of 1806, and the Corps has just returned to St. Louis. Shannon and Potts find themselves deluged with questions by the patrons of the tavern, La Tigresse. Among the adventures they relate are the death of Sgt. Floyd, the tense encounter with the Teton Sioux , the joyful dancing and celebration with the Mandans one New Year's Day, and the birth of "Pomp", Sacagawea's son in February, 1805. Potts realizes during his stories that he has been changed by his travels, and the beauty and wildness of the land and its people. At the end of the act he determines to return to the west. Shannon discovers that his experience with Sacagawea's family has given him a need to settle down with a family of his own.
ACT II - Fort Mandan to the Pacific (Summer to Christmas day, 1805)
It is August of 1806 and the Corps has returned to the Mandan/Hidatsa villages on their way back to St. Louis. Sacagawea joins a group of women who are drying squash. She relates that Captain Clark has asked to take Pomp back to St. Louis to raise and educate as his own son. Sacagawea finds herself challenged by the women to defend her travels with the white men. She remembers the flash flood when Clark saved her and Pomp's lives, her time of great illness when Clark nursed her, the meeting of the Corps with the Shoshone in August, 1805, when she discovered her brother, Cameahwait, had become chief. At the end of the defense, Sacagawea discovers that her richness of experience has set her apart from others. She realizes that she is of all nations and of no nation. She embraces her individuality and tells the story when all of the expedition members including herself and the slave York, cast votes about where to camp for the winter. At the end, she celebrates her partnership with her husband, Charbonneau, as she decides to send her son with Clark so that he might have the same adventures and experiences as did she.
ACT III - The Death of Lewis (October 11, 1809)
The scene is Grinder's Inn on the Natchez Trace, Tennessee. There is a sound of gunshots, and Lewis staggers out with self-inflicted wounds. During the time he is dying, he is visited by vision characters who guide him towards personal peace and meaning. There is The Bear, his totem and spirit guide; his political enemy in St. Louis, Bates; York and Sacagawea as messengers from the future and finally, Clark as an old, disillusioned Indian agent. Lewis's despair is countered by his spiritual connection to the wilderness. As he dies, he realizes how Jefferson's dream of a partnership between diverse cultures was impossible in the context of his time, but still offers hope 200 years later.
The Creative Team
Michael Ching, Composer
Michael Ching is a highly prolific composer, as well as the general and artistic director of Opera Memphis. His composition credits include operas such as Buoso's Ghost, King of the Clouds, Out of the Rain, and Faith, as well as concerti and symphonic works. Buoso's Ghost, co-commissioned in 1996 by Opera Memphis and The Pittsburgh Opera Center, has been performed at Opera Memphis, Pittsburgh Opera Center, Indianapolis Opera, and Chicago Opera Theater. Ching's opera, Faith, a science-fiction romance, was commissioned by OperaFest of New Hampshire in 1999. Based on the story by James Patrick Kelly, winner of the Hugo Award, Faith has been performed at Vital Theater Co., OperaFest and the Lake George Opera Festival. Together with librettist Hugh Moffatt, Ching has co-authored two one-act operas: King of the Clouds, commissioned in 1993 by Dayton Opera, and Out of the Rain, commissioned in 1998 jointly by Opera Delaware, The Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Opera Memphis. Each of these works has had multiple productions and continues to attract new and varied audiences.
Hugh Moffatt, Librettist
As a singer/songwriter, Hugh Moffatt has released seven highly acclaimed country albums and has toured extensively around the world. Artists who have recorded his songs include Dolly Parton, Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patti Page, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Merle Haggard, Johnny Rodriguez, Kathy Mattea and many others. His previous collaborations with Michael Ching are the successful one-act operas, King of the Clouds and Out of the Rain.
Pamela Legendre, Director, Show-Me Opera Company