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Down in the Valley (1948)

Folk-opera in one act.
Libretto by Arnold Sundgaard.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
An Appreciation

Down in the Valley cover

Cover painting for vocal score.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Brack Weaver (tenor or high baritone), Jennie Parsons (lyric soprano), Thomas Bouché (bass), Leader/Preacher (baritone), SATB chorus.
Speaking roles -- Guard, Peters, Jennie's Father, two men, two women
Orchestra: 2.1.2.1.1 alto sax. 1 ten. sax; 2.2.2.0; guitar, piano, timp & perc; strings without violas.
Duration: 35 minutes
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, G. Schirmer
Performance Rights and Rentals: All territories: SCHRM
First Production: July 15, 1948, Bloomington, Indiana University, Hans Busch, dir., Ernst Hoffmann, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

by Mark N. Grant

The chorus sings "Down in the Valley," interwoven with the Leader's sung exposition of the story of Brack Weaver, who "died for the love of sweet Jennie Parsons / He died for the slaying of Thomas Bouché." (The Leader acts as a singing narrator throughout the work.)

The action shifts to Brack's cell in Birmingham jail the night before he is to be executed. Brack has just seen the mail train go by, and he asks the guard whether he has received a letter from Jennie Parsons. The guard says no. Anguished, Brack sings "Where Is the One Who Will Mourn Me When I'm Gone." Against the advice of another prisoner, he escapes and sets off for Jennie's house, with the sheriff and a posse in pursuit.

At 2:00 a.m. Jennie is sitting up on her porch, grieving over Brack's impending death. Her father tells her to come inside and forget about Brack, but she's inconsolable, lost in memories of their time together and declaring that her love will never die ("Brack Weaver, My True Love"). After her father goes back in the house, Jennie hears Brack's whistle in the distance, and she ventures out to look for him. When she finds him, they embrace, but the posse can be heard circling ever closer. Jennie explains to him her father wouldn't let her write to him. Brack asks her if she loves him. Yes, she ardently replies ("The Lonesome Dove").

Brack recalls their first "date," when they walked home from a Wednesday night prayer meeting a year earlier, and the scene shifts to the church--the congregation sings "The Little Black Train," after which Brack walks Jennie home. Brack tells Jennie he saw her walking home the previous week with Thomas Bouché, a shady businessman who had cheated his father. Jennie protests that she has no feelings for Bouché. Brack then asks Jennie if she'll go with him to the dance at Shadow Creek. When she says yes, he is beside himself with joy ("Hop Up, My Ladies"). But when Jennie arrives home, her father is sitting on the porch with Bouché. The much older man also asks Jennie to the dance. She balks, and Bouché says he will return later for her answer, implicitly threatening her. Jennie's father presses her to go to the dance with Bouché, who is ostensibly helping him with his financial troubles. When Jennie fiercely refuses, her father warns her that she can't go to the dance with anyone else, either.

Jennie meets Brack at the dance ("Hoedown," based on "Sourwood Mountain"). Brack takes Jennie aside and declares his love for her. At that moment, a drunken Bouché shows up and demands that Brack get away from his woman. Brack refuses, and they fight. Bouché is killed in the melee. Brack flees but is apprehended and imprisoned.

The flashback ends--it's now almost dawn. Brack surrenders willingly, now that he knows Jennie will always care for him. From the jail cell, he contributes a verse of "Down in the Valley" as Jennie and the Chorus sing a final reprise.

Song list

Down in the Valley
Where Is the One Who Will Mourn Me When I'm Gone?
Brack Weaver, My True Love
The Lonesome Dove
The Little Black Train
Hop Up, My Ladies
Hoe-Down ("Sourwood Mountain")
Down in the Valley

Recordings

Capriccio CD 60 020-1 Fredonia Chamber Singers, Kammerchor der Universität Dortmund, Orchester Campus Cantat 90, Willi Gundlach, cond.
Sepia CD 1052 Marion Bell, William McGraw, Kenneth Smith, Peter Herman Adler (cond.), cast of NBC-Television broadcast of 1950 (CD re-issue)
Decca LP DL 4239 Alfred Drake, Jane Wilson, Norman Atkins, Maurice Levine, cond. (recording supervised by Kurt Weill)
RCA LP LPV-503 Marion Bell, William McGraw, Kenneth Smith, Peter Herman Adler (cond.), cast of NBC-Television broadcast of 1950