Pulitzer-winning Composer Lang Will Be Special Guest for Nashville Opera Opening

Pulitzer-winning-Composer-Lang-On-Hand-for-Nashville-Operas-CROSSING-THE-FIELD-20010101

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang will be on hand for the opening night performance of Nashville Opera's production of The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, his treatment of a fanciful Ambrose Bierce short story from 1888. 

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field opens Friday, November 9, and Lang will take part in a post-performance discussion. The format for each performance of Lang's opera includes the 80-minute opera presented in its entirety and a short intermission, to be followed by an Opera Insights discussion moderated by John Hoomes, general and artistic director of Nashville Opera.

"We are honored that David Lang will be attending Nashville Opera's performance of The Difficulty of Crossing a Field on November 9th," says Hoomes. "This work elicits a variety of responses in both cast and audience, so having the opportunity to discuss these perceptions with the composer will provide a rare insight, indeed."

Lang's The Difficulty of Crossing a Field is inspired by a short story written by Ambrose Bierce, and published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 14, 1888. Bierce, a veteran of the War Between the States (his wartime experiences during the Battle of Shiloh provided the basis of some of his best-known works), was an American writer and critic, perhaps best known for his short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Known as a "searing and vehement" critic, his sardonic writing earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce."

Pulitzer-winning Composer Lang Will Be Special Guest for Nashville Opera Opening

Featuring the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Dean Williamson, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field stars mezzo soprano Jennifer Rivera as Mrs. Williamson; soprano Rebecca Sjöwall as the Williamson Girl, tenor Robert Anthony Mack as Boy Sam; actor Brian Russell as Mr. Williamson/Magistrate, Eric D. Pasto-Crosby as Armour Wren/Andrew; and features eight members of the Nashville Opera Ensemble (including Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva and Eddie Charlton) under the direction of Amy Tate Williams. 

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field will be performed on Friday, November 9 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, November 10 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, November 11 at 2 p.m. at the Noah Liff Opera Center in Sylvan Heights. Tickets are available by calling Nashville Opera at (615) 832-5242, the TPAC Box Office at (615) 782-4040, or online at www.nashvilleopera.org.

The opera is sung in English with limited projected translations. Story outlines, behind-the-scenes videos, and a detailed study guide are available at www.nashvilleopera.org. Two ticketing levels are available: $35 for Reserved and $50 for Premiere. 

Lang is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Rome Prize, the BMW Music-Theater Prize (Munich), and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1999, he received a Bessie Award for his music in choreographer Susan Marshall's The Most Dangerous Room in the House, performed live by the Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Next Wave Festival of the Brooklyn Academy Of MusicThe Carbon Copy Building won the 2000 Village Voice OBIE Award for Best New American Work. The recording of The Passing Measures, on Cantaloupe Records, was named one of the best CDs of 2001 by The New Yorker. His recent CD Pierced, on Naxos, was called his "most exciting new work in years" by the San Francisco Chronicle. The commercial recording of the little match girl passion, released on Harmonia Mundi, received the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. Lang is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can.

The complete text of Bierce's short story:

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field 
One morning in July, 1854, a planter namEd Williamson, living six miles from Selma , Alabama , was sitting with his wife and a child on the veranda of his dwelling.  Immediately in front of the house was a lawn, perhaps fifty yards in extent between the house and public road, or, as it was called, the "pike." Beyond this road lay a close-cropped pasture of some ten acres, level and without a tree, rock, or any natural or artificial object on its surface.  At the time there was not even a domestic animal in the field.  In another field, beyond the pasture, a dozen slaves were at work under an overseer.

Throwing away the stump of a cigar, the planter rose, saying: "I forgot to tell Andrew about those horses."  Andrew was the overseer.

Williamson strolled leisurely down the gravel walk, plucking a flower as he went, passed across the road and into the pasture, pausing a moment as he closed the gate leading into it, to greet a passing neighbor, Armour Wren, who lived on an adjoining plantation. Mr. Wren was in an open carriage with his son James, a lad of thirteen. When he had driven some two hundred yards from the point of meeting, Mr. Wren said to his son: "I forgot to tell Mr. Williamson about those horses."

Mr. Wren had sold to Mr. Williamson some horses, which were to have been sent for that day, but for some reason not now remembered it would be inconvenient to deliver them until the morrow.  The coachman was directed to drive back, and as the vehicle turnEd Williamson was seen by all three, walking leisurely across the pasture.  At that moment one of the coach horses stumbled and came near falling. It had no more than fairly recovered itself when James Wren cried: "Why, father, what has become of Mr. Williamson?"

It is not the purpose of this narrative to answer that question.

Mr. Wren's strange account of the matter, given under oath in the course of legal proceedings relating to the Williamson estate, here follows:

"My son's exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had seen the deceased [sic] an instant before, but he was not there, nor was he anywhere visible.  I cannot say that at the moment I was greatly startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though I thought it singular. My son, however, was greatly astonished and kept repeating his question in different forms until we arrived at the gate. My black boy Sam was similarly affected, even in a greater degree, but I reckon more by my son's manner than by anything he had himself observed.  [This sentence in the testimony was stricken out.]  As we got out of the carriage at the gate of the field, and while Sam was hanging [sic] the team to the fence, Mrs. Williamson, with her child in her arms and followed by several servants, came running down the walk in great excitement, crying: 'He is gone, he is gone!  O God! what an awful thing!' and many other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly recollect. I got from them the impression that they related to something more- than the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had occurred before her eyes.  Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think, than was natural under the circumstances. I have no reason to think she had at that time lost her mind. I have never since seen nor heard of Mr. Williamson."

This testimony, as might have been expected, was corroborated in almost every particular by the only other eye-witness (if that is a proper term)-the lad James.  Mrs. Williamson had lost her reason and the servants were, of course, not competent to testify. The boy James Wren had declared at first that he saw the disappearance, but there is nothing of this in his testimony given in court. None of the field hands working in the field to which Williamson was going had seen him at all, and the most rigorous search of the entire plantation and adjoining country failed to supply a clue. The most monstrous and grotesque fictions, originating with the blacks, were current in that part of the State for many years, and probably are to this day; but what has been here related is all that is certainly known of the matter.  The courts decided that Williamson was dead, and his estate was distributed according to law.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


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