“I am humbled by the critical and popular embrace Little Women has enjoyed.”

Mark AdamoComposer - Little Women

Little Women, that indispensable chronicle of growing up female in post-Civil War New England, has often materialized on-screen (and stage) as the romance of a free-spirited young writer torn between the boy next door and a man of the world. A closer reading of Louisa May Alcott’s novel revealed to me a deeper theme: that even those who we love will, in all innocence, wound and abandon us until; we learn that their destinies are not ours to control. So I shaped a libretto in which Jo’s love for her sisters regained their power it wielded in the original novel; and imagined a finale in which Jo, at last, accepts that even sincerest love and strongest will cannot stave off change and loss.

Jo’s journey called to mind the Buddhist suggestion that a lesson unlearned will present itself over and over again, in slightly different guise until at last the pilgrim makes progress and grasps the point. It suggested to me a score in which, amid a riot of inflection and colour, one could clearly hear jo’s music of stubbornness and resistance tangling with and at last yielding to ardent but unstoppable music of change.

In fact, I wanted two scores: a character music that made the emotional journeys of the characters everywhere clear and traceable, in bold relief against narrative music as distinct as I could make it from the thematic foreground.

So, Jo’s resistance theme and Meg’s and Laurie’s change theme, among others, are written in a free lyric language of triad and key. But those moments driven by language and story, rather than music and psychology, take a kind of dodecaphonic recitativo secco – crisp and terse, made form the twelve tones of the horn melody in the Prologue, designed to distinguish the flavor of the non-thematic dialogue. That melody also gave jo the makings of her exuberant scherzando sections in her Act Once scene, “Perfect As We Are”. This long solo, which portrays Jo’s divided feelings by disrupting her long-lined F-major cantilena with careening dodecaphonic comedy, best exemplifies what I dreamed for this piece: a music in which even the most, unlike materials, could fuse into a piece of single music if the ear is sensitive and the design is sound.

I am surprised, and humbled, by the critical and popular embrace Little Women has enjoyed in the nine years of its life. (State Opera South Australia’s performances mark it’s 40th engagement since the Opera’s Houston Grand Opera premiere in 1998.) the list of those who have been generous to this work is endless; but for the truths of love and courage I have tried to reflect in this piece, I would like to than above all my parents, Julie and the late Romeo Adamo to whom Little Women is dedicated.

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