BARNUM'S BIRD


Libretto:
Bridget Carpenter and Libby Larsen

Cast:
Jenny Lind (soprano)
P.T. Barnum (tenor)
Belletti (baritone)
Tom Thumb (mezzo-soprano)
8 Singing and movement singers (2 soprano, 2 alto, 2 tenor, 2 bass)

Instrumentation:
Flute, violin, viola, cello, piano, percussion, pit chorus of 16-32 singers

Duration: 90 minutes

Commissioned By:
The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. and The Odyssey Commissioning Program of the Plymouth Music Series, in honor of The Library's Bicentennial

Premiere:
February 1, 2002 by the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota, Philip Brunelle, conductor, at Coolidge Auditorium, the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Available From:
Oxford University Press, rented by C.F. Peters

Composer's Notes:
Barnum's Bird is the story of art: in service of humanity on the one hand, and in service of commerce on the other.

The idea of an opera focused on Jenny Lind's 1850-1851 American tour first occurred to me in 1995. While writing Seven Ghosts, my choral homage to heroes, I came across a letter penned by Jenny Lind to Harriet Beecher Stowe. I had heard of Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," the most beloved opera star of her time. Her reputation during her American tour rivaled that of Elvis Presley or the Beatles. I also knew of several Jenny Lind products, including the Jenny Lind furniture design, but I knew nothing about Jenny Lind, the person. As I studied her letter, I was startled to find in it a truly compassionate human being in service of the equally compassionate Harriet Beecher Stowe. I was consumed with the idea to learn as much about Jenny Lind as possible.

Of course, one cannot learn of Lind without encountering P.T. Barnum. Though he had never met her nor heard her sing, Barnum pursued Lind, until she finally agreed, with a business proposition to come to America for a 150-concert tour. Barnum thus created a merchandising phenomenon unmatched anywhere in the world.

Lind agreed to the tour, stipulating a monetary guarantee of $150,000 (one million in today's dollars). After setting aside a reserve to support herself and her family, she donated most of her earnings to charity. Barnum, on the other hand, made four times that amount on the tour and used the money to reinvest in himself.

Could this be the original model for touring artists in this country? Could studying this model shed light on our culture's dilemma: what is art, what is entertainment? As an artist myself, I am intensely interested in the intersection of art and marketing. I wonder why it seems to be difficult for Americans to define art by its own value and merit. I wonder why arts organizations must so often rely on entertainment value in order to entice an audience to attend their performances of abstract art. I worry about the frustration of artists who are asked to create art which has as its end a certain definition of entertainment.

The story of Jenny Lind, a hardheaded businesswoman and a world-class artist, and P. T. Barnum, an equally hardheaded businessman and a world-class showman, is a compelling musical drama. It is also an extraordinary vehicle to gain insight into ourselves as lovers of art and consumers of entertainment.

It is the story of art, artists, and the human soul.
 
— Libby Larsen
 
To rent this piece, please visit C.F. Peters.

Additional Information:
Staging: Jon Cranney

Score Errata:
ACT I
mm. 6-41: This chorus part should be sung by the On-stage octet.
mm. 44-55: These quartets should come from the ranks of the On-stage octet.
m. 59: Add "tutti" in chorus.
m. 116: Again, On-stage octet. Divide parts as appropriate.
m. 149: Use soloists for three snippets.
mm. 166-172: On-stage octet
mm. 224-225: On-stage octet
mm. 254-292: On-stage octet
mm. 255-282: Pianist should continue playing "Hear Ye Israel."
mm. 315-331: On-stage octet
mm. 348-355: On-stage octet
mm. 339-347: All text printed is correct. Stretch words in elocutionary manner to fill the space.
m. 429: Text should be "...so damn many customers"
m. 446: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
mm. 494-549: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
mm. 596-606: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
mm. 629-650: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
mm. 673-674: Written pitches are correct. They differ from premiere recording.
m. 780: This staff is marked "T.S" which stands for "Tenor Solo." The later mark "S.T." is a misprint.
mm. 809-817: On-stage octet

ACT II
m. 13 & 45: "8 SINGERS 1" means S1=soprano one, S2= soprano two
mm. 30-129: Use Pit-chorus for m.30-45, Pit-chorus for m.62-74, and On-stage octet for the rest.
mm. 203-208: On-stage octet
m. 209: Merchants of America should be both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
m. 240: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
m. 269: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
mm. 597-605: Both the On-stage octet and Pit-chorus
m. 1063: On-stage octet joins Pit-chorus here.

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