EVERY MAN JACK


Libretto:
Philip Littell

Cast:
Jack London (baritone)
Charmian London (mezzo-soprano)
Older Woman (soprano)
Older Man (tenor)
Girl (soprano)
Boy (tenor)

Instrumentation:
Flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano, multiple percussion + mallets, auxiliary player for assorted exotics (ukulele, accordion, harmonica, player piano, field organ)

Commissioned By:
Sonoma City Opera

Premiere:
November 11, 2006 by Sonoma City Opera, Mary Chun, conductor, at Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, Sonoma, CA

Available From:
Libby Larsen Publishing

Composer's Notes:
Jack London, rogue genius, was born in 1876 into the throes of the world’s birthing processes of industrialization, electrification, mass transport, and mass communication. A poor child, Jack London grew in the streets of San Francisco where by the age of five he was put to work as a fetcher/carrier on the docks. He learned and lived the ways his people, common everyday people whose daily efforts—efforts of just plain living—created the foundation of the American personality.
 
London became the most translated American author of all time, writing narrative works informed by the connections and exchanges among the social, political, and psychological worlds in which he moved. An original himself, he wrote stories which are lasting metaphors for an original country and culture, quintessentially American. To read London is to understand the American spirit in all its contradictions, complications, and joie de vivre.
 
At age 11 London caught the author’s fire. Daily, he took himself to the San Francisco Library where he tutored himself in the vocabulary of great literature. Between his graduation from the eighth grade in 1891 and the sale of his first story, To the Man on the Trail in 1899, chronologically London:
 
  • was an Oyster Pirate, worked as a deputy officer in the Fish Patrol in Benicia.
  • spent seven months at sea off the coast Japan.
  • shoveled coal for the Oakland, San Leandro and Hayward Electric Railway.
  • marched on Washington with the Army of the Unemployed.
  • spent 30 days in jail in Erie, PA for vagrancy.
  • worked as a coal stoker on the SS Umatilla.
  • attended high school (at age 19) and college at the University of California, Berkeley (for one semester).
  • worked as an assistant at the Belmont Academy Steam Laundry.
  • spent one year in the Yukon.
 
When he wrote, he wrote out of his life, and his life was the muse for America’s need to define itself: self-made, born of the people, smart, industrious, brave, adventurous, rugged, acceptably outside the law, heroic, successful, good-looking, and most importantly: youthful—young enough to enjoy everything achieved in life.
 
In 1912, Jack London’s public life epitomized the American Hero and founded the defining qualities of a successful Man in America. His life became, and remains today, the model for Everyman. One need only to observe the last dozen presidential races in America to find this model at work.
 
This is the tragedy of our story, Every Man Jack. Because, of course, while the American culture craves the Every Man Hero, it has a strange pattern of watching, even expecting the Hero to self-destruct. Some might say there is a cultural need for the Hero to self-destruct.
 
At the end of the day, Jack London self-destructed on alcohol. Brilliant to the end of his life, he watched himself destroy his body, recording this journey in his tragically eloquent masterpiece of addiction, John Barleycorn.
 
Nagging questions are left to us. Who is the real addict? Jack London, the rogue genius, the real person addicted to alcohol—or America, addicted to its need for Celebrity as heroic leader? Can a country whose engine is fueled by raw inventiveness and whose fires are stoked with rogue energy balance itself with tempered consideration and wise self-discipline? Or, like our preoccupation with Celebrity downfall, is our fate cast?
 
Philip Littell and I want to tell you a good story. One that sticks to your ribs first and then sustains you. We will tell you the story of Jack London, a hale fellow well met, and in doing so sustain your interest in part of what makes everyday America repeat its daily rounds.

Synopsis:
One election night in the early teens of the last century, Jack London came home to his ranch drunk, late for dinner. His wife Charmian was waiting.
 
Out of what passed between them that night came a strange and honest and, in its time, shocking book, John Barleycorn. It was nothing more or less than Jack London's memoirs as an alcoholic. All that he told her that night (and he held nothing back) is in its pages. How he told her, and how she took it, is the subject of this opera.
 
Out rushes the story of his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, all in a jumble, one story after another, as he continues to drink, getting drunker by the minute, as he tries to make her understand his past, as he tries to make sense of his life, his work, his loves, and the great despair, the crushing depressions that shadow his triumphs and presage his defeats, all the highs, all the lows, all the people he has met, all the people he has become.
 
In the course of one long harrowing night, one life and one marriage hang in the balance.
 
A man has to decide whether to live, and a woman has to decide whether to love.
 
Six singers create the men and women who have created Every Man Jack...every man jack of them.
 
--Philip Littell

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