Peabody Opera Theatre presents

The World Premiere of

The Alien Corn

music by Tom Benjamin

libretto by Roger Brunyate

after the story by W. Somerset Maugham

Peabody Symphony Orchestra

JoAnn Kulesza, guest conductor

Garnett Bruce, stage director

James M. Fouchard, set designer

Mary Bova, costume designer

Douglas Nelson, lighting designer

Wednesday-Saturday, March 9–12, 2005 at 7:30 PM
Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
Peabody Conservatory of Music
1 East Mt. Vernon Place
Baltimore, Maryland
Admission $24 / Seniors $12 / Students with ID $10
Box Office: 410/659-8100 x2, or book online

This production is funded in part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council

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A Distant Nightingale: Librettist Roger Brunyate explores the place of music (and nostalgia for the irreplaceable) in Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, in the story which Somerset Maugham named after it, and in the opera which he and Tom Benjamin have written on the basis of that story.

The title of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1931 short story, Alien Corn, refers to a passage in Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, in which the poet hears in the nightingale’s note…

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn.
The story deals with another group of Jewish exiles: the wealthy Bleikogel family, who came to England for Germany in the later nineteenth century. But there is little question of being “sick for home.” By the time we encounter them in the later 1920s, all the members of the family have become quite prosperous, and the leading figure of the younger generation, Adolf Bleikogel, has renounced his religion, bought an English country estate, entered parliament, been made a baronet, and changed the family name to Bland, insisting that people call him “Bertie” and maintaining that the family has been English for generations.

The one member of the family who does hear the nightingale’s song is Bertie’s son George. Feeling that his family is living a lie, he rejects his father’s plans to have him join a good regiment and later stand for parliament in his turn. Instead, he wants only to become a concert pianist, and eventually wrings out permission to study in Germany. Once there, it becomes clear that his odyssey is more a search for his cultural roots than the simple development of his talent, but it is a journey that can end only in tragedy.

Maugham tells the story through the eyes of a rather reticent first-person narrator. The opera, however, expands this figure into one of its major characters. Somerset in the opera forms an immediate bond with George, sensing his artistic yearnings and sharing his feelings of isolation. For the writer’s role by its very nature is also that of the alien—an outsider looking upon a society which he can describe and anatomize, but to which he can never fully belong.

Despite its serious subject and tragic ending, The Alien Corn is a graceful opera and at times a very funny one. Not unlike E. M. Forster, Maugham had a knack of skewering pretension and hypocrisy, and such opportunities are fully taken up in the score. The musical element of the story is also developed in passages of haunting beauty, especially in scenes featuring the pianist Lea Makart, who quotes the Keats ode against music of luminous simplicity as the opera draws to its close.

Full synopsis


* Cast performing Wednesday 9 and Friday 11 March
** Cast performing Thursday 10 and Saturday 12 March

Lea Makart *BriAnne Burgess
**Sara Lynn Davis
Lady Muriel Bland *Lesley Craigie
**Laura Dixon Strickling
Hannah Bleikogel *Jenni Lynn Bank
**Mary Catherine Moroney
Somerset **Joseph Regan
*Lucas Tannous
Sir Adolf (Bertie) Bland     *Kevin Wetzel
**Jason Widney
George Bland **Ryan Ebright
*Daniel Seigel
Ferdy Rabenstein **Richard Bozic
*Ryan Stadler