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Dr. Parks Grant, composer and author (Music for Elementary Teachers) , has taught at Tarleton State College of Texas, NortheastJunior College of Louisiana State University, and Temple University. He is currently on the staff of the University of Mississippi . A Chamber Opera With a Civil War Plot PARKS GRANT DTJBiNCthepastdecade American music has witnessed the amazing flowering of a type of opera which is constructed so as to be performable with modest musical resources, and which requires only a limited amount of scenery and stage equipment. This is known as "chamber opera," to distinguish it from the more usual type of opera done in the grand manner, demanding virtuoso singers, a large orchestra, and elaborate scenery. The chamber opera should by no means be confused with the operetta or musical comedy, for it is first and foremost serious music, not mere entertainment . Really a return to the resources, if not the style, of the earliest operas (as opposed to the grandiloquent operas of the eighteenth and, especially, nineteenth centuries), the chamber opera is the American composers' answer to the indifference, even contempt, toward native works found in the professional opera house of convention and tradition. It is designed for performance by high-type amateurs; its natural habitat is the music department of the college and university, where the rapid proliferation of courses known as "opera workshop" has almost assumed the proportion of a fad—albeit a most wholesome, desirable, and forward-looking fad. It is well known that the Civil War is one of the most likely-to-succeed topics that an author can select; the lists of "best-sellers," both fiction and non-fiction, adequately testify to this. The booming of the guns at Fort Sumter had hardly died away when the first such book appeared; since then they have poured from the presses in a steady stream. It would seem that the subject is veritably inexhaustible. 237 238PABKS GBANT What musical work could be more practically and shrewdly planned, then, than a chamber opera with a Civil War plot? Add to this the circumstances that its first performance occurred in the very town where the action is assumed to take place and that the plot concerns university students who served in the Confederate army, then produce it with a cast of students from the same university. The result cannot fail to be an opera of strong local appeal, yet with the universal appeal that has always characterized first-rate artistic effort. The University Grays is a two-act chamber opera by Arthur Kreutz, at present an associate professor on the music faculty of the University of Mississippi. Kreutz ranks high among contemporary American composers , having received the American Prix de Rome and two Guggenheim fellowships. The University Grays is Kreutz's third opera. The libretto is by Zoë Lund Schiller (in private life Mrs. Kreutz), who has written novels, plays, and numerous short stories. As historical background the librettist drew on the book The University Greys by Mrs. Maude Morrow Brown,1 who like both Kreutzes is a resident of Oxford, Mississippi, seat of the University of Mississippi2 and site of the opera's action (also noted as the home of the writer William Faulkner). Although the plot is predominantly fiction, it does concern a real Confederate regiment made up of University of Mississippi students whose withdrawal from classes in order to defend the cause they believed right actually forced the college to close its doors from the spring of 1861 to the fall of 1865, simply because there was no one to teach. This group was popularly known as the "University Greys," officially Company A, Eleventh Mississippi Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia.3 The opera The University Grays was commissioned by the University of Mississippi and is dedicated to its Chancellor, Dr. J. D. Williams. It received a double première performance on Monday and Tuesday, March 15 and 16, 1954, at Fulton Chapel on the University campus. The cast consisted entirely of students, the orchestra—purposely planned to be modest in size—of students, faculty members, and townspeople . The composer conducted, and the librettist directed the stage action. The circumstance of a local and semihistorical setting brought...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 237-249
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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