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Depression-era Midwest comes to life in Copland opera ‘The Tender Land’

Bay Stephens

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Intermountain Opera Bozeman opens its 40th season with a production of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” on Friday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15 at Bozeman’s Willson Auditorium.

An American classic, “The Tender Land” offers a vivid portrait of a farm family in the rural Midwest during the Great Depression. Inspired by photographs in James Agee’s 1941 book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” the opera is a coming-of-age story that highlights an episode in the lives of Laurie Moss, her family and two migrant workers through a score rife with the melodic, folkish music that has become synonymous with Copland.

At the start of the opera, along with a delivery of Laurie’s high school graduation dress, the postman brings gossip about a neighbor’s daughter being frightened by two strangers to the area. After initial suspicion, Ma and Grandpa Moss agree to hire itinerant workers Top and Martin to help out with the harvest. Laurie and Martin meet and eventually fall in love, much to Grandpa’s disapproval.

Even though it has been proven Top and Martin are not the men who frightened the local girl, Grandpa Moss tells them they have to leave.

Laurie and Martin fantasize about eloping, but in the end Top and Martin steal away in the night. The opera ends with Laurie leaving home and striking out on her own, and her sister Beth dancing by herself as in the opening scene.

Director Steven Daigle and Conductor Steven Byess weave this story into an operatic performance appropriate for audiences of all ages. Tenor Joshua Kohl performs the role of Martin, and bass-baritone Joseph Beutel plays Top, while Laurie is performed by soprano Lindsay Russell. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen is Ma Moss, and bass-baritone Jan Opalach completes the cast as Grandpa Moss.

Both performances of “The Tender Land” will take place at the Willson Auditorium located at 404 W. Main Street in downtown Bozeman. For tickets call Intermountain Opera Bozeman at (406) 587-2889 or visit intermountainopera.org. Remaining tickets will also be available at the door.

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