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Characterisation in Ward’s opera The Crucible: melodic interpretation of Salem’s witches and their accusers via historical accounts and Miller’s play

thesis
posted on 22.02.2017, 03:00 by Cornwell McKean, Julia Margaret
ABSTRACT Characterisation in Ward’s opera The Crucible: Melodic interpretation of Salem’s witches and their accusers via historical accounts and Miller’s play This thesis is a consideration of the transition of the characters of Robert Ward’s opera The Crucible from history through to Arthur Miller’s play of the same name, and finally to the linear elements of the opera: the libretto and the vocal melodies. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) is widely known as a play that explores the complex characters that were involved in the real life events that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as the town’s young girls accused innocent townspeople of witchcraft. The thesis discusses the background to Miller’s decision to write The Crucible; his concern about the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); audiences’ initial adverse reaction to the obvious parallels Miller was drawing; and ultimately Miller’s own calling to HUAC. By 1961 when Robert Ward, composer, and Bernard Stambler, librettist, collaborated on their Pulitzer Prize winning opera, The Crucible, the American public had revolted against McCarthyism and HUAC; and Miller had had great success with an off-Broadway revival of his play. The Crucible was a now familiar story for Americans, and Ward and Stambler wanted to convey the story’s messages in opera. The real people of Salem, as they were portrayed in Charles W. Upham’s Salem Witchcraft (1867), are presented in this thesis. They are compared with Miller’s representations of these people as characters in a play, and then as characters in the libretto of Ward’s opera. The discussion of the decisions made by Ward and Stambler is enriched by personal opinions Ward expressed in interviews that were recorded for the purpose of this thesis. It is shown that Ward and Stambler considered characterisation to be a priority; Ward, as a composer, having a particular inclination to place special focus on the linear aspects of his works – the words and the melodies. It is identified that in spite of the need to excise material from Miller’s play in order to facilitate the concise requirements of a libretto, Ward and Stambler included and excluded only what would serve the drama and their characterisation – and if they felt that the original did not include the words they required, they wrote their own. Analysis of the vocal melodies demonstrated that Ward used a number of standard and traditional compositional approaches to ensure that the melodies sung by his singers were true to their character. Again, this analysis was enhanced by Ward’s commentary which provided special insight into his compositional approach – in particular, that he considered that his approach was one that was second nature and not one that considered special deliberation of every note. This thesis presents The Crucible in a way that has not been considered before, from history to play and to opera. The thesis is a contribution to the history of American Opera and the work of Robert Ward, presenting for the first time, extensive commentary on his linear approach to characterisation and operatic composition.

History

Principal supervisor

Joel Crotty

Year of Award

2015

Department, School or Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music

Course

Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type

DOCTORATE

Campus location

Australia

Faculty

Faculty of Arts