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Stephen Paulus' The Village Singer in Production in New York and California

Dec. 01, 2006

When Stephen Paulus first came upon the short story, A Village Singer, by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman he recalls the opening lines casting a vivid impression:

The trees were in full leaf, a heavy south wind was blowing, and there was a loud murmur among the new leaves. The people noticed it, for it was the first time that year that the trees had so murmured in the wind. The spring had come with a rush during the last few days.

"Immediately there came to mind the idea of gentle strings undulating in parallel thirds with a slightly discordant bass line underneath in 'celli and basses," comments Paulus. "That seemed to signify the bittersweet nature of this very American tale."

Stephen Paulus' one-act opera The Village Singer bows on both coasts in quick succession this season. The Manhattan School of Music in New York presents three performances on December 6, 8 and 10 in the John C. Borden Auditorium and San Jose State University's production runs for four performances in California from May 10 though 13. Conductor Ari Pelto leads the Manhattan School of Music's production which is directed by Ned Canty. Conductor Michel Singher alternates evenings with Janet Averett leading San Jose State University's production, which will be directed by Daniel Helfgot.

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman was born in Randolph, Massachusetts in 1852 and was a prominent 19th-century American author. Her books often addressed social issues and, in particular, aspects of life in New England and the influences of Puritanism. The Village Singer tells the story of Candace Whitcomb, the long-time lead singer in a small town church choir, who is dismissed from her duties. "The audience considered that her voice had grown too cracked and uncertain on the upper notes," writes Freeman in her short story. When a young, attractive singer named Alma Way is hired, the tension rises -- and it's no help that Miss Alma Way is engaged to be married to Candace Whitcomb's nephew! From there, this one-act jewel of an opera develops in lively fashion.

"The very American nature of the story - small town, church choir - satisfied a charge that I had been given by Richard Gaddes who commissioned the work for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's fourth season in 1979," recounts Paulus. It was Paulus' first stab at opera and by all accounts, the new work definitely struck a chord. Since its premiere, the opera, with a libretto by Paulus' longtime collaborator Michael Dennis Browne, has enjoyed more than two dozen performances by professional companies, college and university programs, and community organizations. With a duration of one hour, it also serves as an ideal pairing to complete a double bill. "Although," says Paulus, "I must confess to having seen a few too many Gianni Schicchis."

For more information about Stephen Paulus, please visit

To purchase a vocal score of The Village Singer, please click here.

To purchase tickets for The Village Singer at The Manhattan School, please visit For more information about San Jose State University Opera Theater, please visit

Mary E. W. Wilkins celebrates with Mark Twain on his 80th Birthday here.