O Pioneers! – Opera
O Pioneers! ― An American Opera, in two acts and 35 musical numbers, is adapted from Willa Cather’s lyrical novel of tragedy and transformation. It is 1910, and Nebraska is making the transition from frontier to prosperous rural heartland.
Returning from Mexico for a wedding, Emil finds himself drawn to a sheltered orchard where his childhood sweetheart, Marie – now married – awaits. The bond between them is rekindled and escalates into a clandestine passion. Emil’s sister, Alexandra, a wealthy farmer and landowner, suspects but refuses to believe the worst. And her attentions are on Carl, a childhood friend who has returned from the East. Their friendship blossoms into love, amid family tensions over wealth, ownership, and the proper role of women.
These conflicts also bear upon Ivar, a rough seer or rustic savant who advises Alexandra on agricultural matters and offers periodic commentary on events as they unfold.
Things come to a head as the farmers and townsfolk gather for the Church fair. Carl decides to head West after several unpleasant confrontations with Alexandra’s brothers. And Emil and Marie rush headlong into a barely hidden embrace.
It is now harvest-time, and hard work, camaraderie, and community are the order of the day. Emil and Marie participate but are under increasing strain as they contemplate what the future holds. Fate intervenes with a death – newly married Amédée, cut down in the fullness of his happiness. Emil and Marie are devastated, and cling passionately to each other in their need. Marie’s husband, in a drunken jealous rage, grabs his rifle and stumbles to the orchard. He sees the couple lying in the grass, and blindly shoots, killing them both.
Their deaths stun the community, and Alexandra is numb with grievous shock. She buries them and mourns and tries to understand the wreckage. Carl eventually returns after having heard news of the tragedy and subsequent trial, and he and Alexandra begin a life of tenderness and measured happiness.