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Comic one-act opera by Carlisle Floyd (Susannah), with the cast and conductor of the work’s premiere: Patricia Neway and Norman Treigle, with Julius Rudel leading the Orchestra and Chorus of the East Carolina School of Music. 1963 recording, never before issued. Digital audio mastering by Roderick Evenson.
[1999, Mono, 56 minutes]
THE SOJOURNER AND MOLLIE SINCLAIR
Comic Opera in One Act
Libretto by Carlisle Floyd
Mollie Sinclair - Patricia Neway
Dougald MacDougald - Norman Treigle
Jenny MacDougald - Alison Hearne Moss
Lachlan Sinclair - William Newberry
Spokesman - Jerold Teachey
Orchestra and Chorus of the East Carolina College School of Music
Julius Rudel, conductor
The Genesis of The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, by Carlisle Floyd
Sometime in 1962, a young woman, representing the North Carolina Tercentenary Commission, paid me a visit in Tallahassee, where I was living at the time. Her mission was to convince me to accept a commission to write a one-act opera as part of a celebration of North Carolina’s Tercentenary year in 1963. I can only assume in looking back that she must have been unusually persuasive, since I know that my initial response was an emphatic refusal, immersed, as I was, in completing my opera The Passion of Jonathan Wade for a premiere by the New York City Opera in October of that year. In addition, the proposed opera had to be written quickly, and there was nothing suggested as a source for the libretto other than the stipulation that it be related somehow to colonial North Carolina. With so many obstacles, I can’t imagine now that I ever agreed to the commission, so I suppose I have to credit the young woman’s tenacity or a momentary lapse in judgment on my part, or both. In any case, The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair was the result, and the opera had its premiere on schedule in November of 1963.
To prod me, the young lady from North Carolina sent me a number of books dealing with colonial North Carolina, and it was from one of them that I derived the kernel for a story. I was intrigued by the fact that many of the settlers who had migrated from Scotland to the eastern part of the state had clung steadfastly to the social structure and customs of their native country while, at the same time, there was a vehement protest to the Stamp Act, an unmistakable indication that revolutionary feelings were already simmering. Dealing with these two opposing points of view, the reactionary and the revolutionary, then gave me the basis for a story in which these polarities could be personified by two powerful personalities, one a vainglorious old Scottish laird, fiercely maintaining the ways of the old world, and the other, a middle-aged Scottish woman, consumed by the fever of revolution and protest, who eagerly embraces the new. The collision of these two characters, I felt, would provide the necessary conflict out of which could come both comedy and drama, and each had his or her own adherents: the old laird’s dutiful and blindly loyal clansman on the one hand, and on the other, Mollie Sinclair’s rag-tag "brigade" of scruffy young men who, with her as their commander, were marching on Wilmington.
In one of those instances of the "chicken or the egg," I can’t remember now whether the idea of writing a work in which the two leading roles would be played by Norman Treigle and Patricia Neway occurred to me before or after I had the idea for the libretto. I have the feeling that it was probably before, since it seems to me that it may have been one of the factors that induced me to accept the commission. Whatever the sequence of events actually was, I do know that it had been a fervent wish of mine for some time (as well as others in the opera field) to see the two dynamic and riveting actor-singers on stage together since they both had a way of frequently eclipsing less charismatic fellow performers, not by any means other than their almost ferocious intensity on stage. It was fortunately an attractive idea to the two performers who had never previously worked together, especially since Julius Rudel, under whom they had both sung at City Opera, had, as a favor to me, agreed to conduct. Julius, then and now, one of the finest conductors of opera anywhere with a truly remarkable feeling for the stage, was heroic in circumstances that would have exhausted the patience of many conductors: in the first place, the orchestra was limited in my contract to only sixteen players, and, more significantly, the players were non-professionals tackling a new work in a musical idiom completely unfamiliar to them. Julius, to understate the case, more than earned his fee.
As for the Neway-Treigle combination, it was everything I had hoped for. Two very strong personalities on stage can sometimes cancel out each other, but not so in this instance: each seemed to fuel and ignite the other. Their ways of working were totally contrasted. Neway, highly intelligent and committed "method" nactor as she was, enjoyed detailed discussions with the very able director regarding her character and on-stage action, while Treigle, always the generous colleague and canny, instinctive, but private as an actor, sat calmly smoking his beloved Kool unfiltered cigarettes, waiting for the actual rehearsal to resume. What was so remarkable was that both artists, beginning in such opposite directions, ended up at the same point with performances that were unerringly genuine, compelling, and totally devoid of operatic artifice.
For me, it more than justified the stress I had felt in undertaking the commission simply to have witnessed Treigle and Neway performing together: two of the finest actor-singers of their generation, heralded for stunning dramatic portrayals, revealing true comic flair that was at the same time always combined with touching humanity. It is my hope that with the release of this recording some of the unusual excitement of that experience will emerge for present-day audiences.
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