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In the March 5, 1908 issue of the New York Age, an article in the theater section appeared, titled "Composer of Ragtime Now Writing Opera." The composer was the King of Ragtime himself, Scott Joplin, and the opera was to be his crowning achievement and masterwork, TREEMONISHA (libretto).
Early in 1997 the Maine Theatre Guild commissioned a concert version of an existing musical stage work, to be written for performance sometime in the fall of the same year. It was then that lyricist Judith Kurtz Bogdanove approached noted ragtime performer and lecturer Aaron Robinson and made known the opportunity. Robinson then proposed a collaboration with Bogdanove to adapt and revise TREEMONISHA for the concert stage.
Within weeks a score was obtained, and Robinson and Bogdanove set to work crafting Joplin's opera into a new format. Historically misunderstood as a naive folk opera, TREEMONISHA had been largely overlooked by modern musical society. With this in mind, the musical team accomplished a score, that while departing somewhat from Joplin's original concept, remains true to his creative intent.
To overcome the inadequacies of the story, Robinson and Bogdanove boldly took the initiative in adding a narrative text and more material to the plot, thereby making the story more easily understood -- a daring task that previous musical giants such as Gunther Schuller chose not to attempt The result is a masterwork within itself, calling for a large chorus, lead ensemble, narrator and four-hand piano.
Scott Joplin never lived to hear his creation performed as he himself envisioned it in his genius mind, and it would take yet another three quarters of a century for it to be brought out of obscurity. Finally in September, 1975, Scott Joplin's dream was realized. TREEMONISHA opened at the Uris Theater on Broadway and played a limited engagement to sold-out houses. Even though Joplin's long overdue dream was at last realized, TREEMONISHA's higher destiny is to reach the entire musical world and be recognized and acknowledged for the masterpiece that it is. This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ragtime, and it is especially meaningful that with this unique new creation TREEMONISHA can now take its rightful place as an ongoing masterpiece in not only the world of opera, but the universal world of music.
The premiere performance was commissioned by the Maine Theater Guild. It was conducted by Aaron Robinson, with professional soloists comprising the lead ensemble, and featuring lyricist Judith Kurtz Bogdanove as Monisha.
The Lincoln County News published the complete review of TREEMONISHA, written by Lucy L. Martin on November 13, 1997.>
Excerpts from the Review:
It was a "first ever" at the Rockport Opera House ... the premiere of a concert version of Scott Joplin's folk opera "TREEMONISHA," which the King of Ragtime never heard performed in its entirety during his lifetime. ... This retooled masterwork with its stunning music wowed and delighted the audience.
... As Saturday's (November 8th) performance proved beyond a doubt, "TREEMONISHA" contains some of the most splendid music Joplin ever wrote. And the company performed it with verve, power, and warmth.
The 42-member chorus and seven lead ensemble singers, directed by Aaron Robinson ... told the story of "good, honest, hardworking folk preyed upon by traveling conjurors peddling their magic tricks" and how a young girl named TREEMONISHA, educated by a Quaker woman, helped liberate them from ignorance, poverty and superstition ... The erasure of, or non-emphasis on, race is one of the changes librettist Judith Kurtz Bogdanove of Friendship made in the narrative. Joplin's white woman educating the black TREEMONISHA has become a Quaker woman and the color of Joplin's "folk" ... isn't emphasized. In addition, TREEMONISHA, captured by the vengeful conjurors, is now more of a feminist, saving herself rather than being rescued by a man (Remus). Bogdanove's intent was to make the story and its message universal.
In addition, Robinson ... revised the original choreographed and orchestrated version, shaping it into a primarily choral piece with piano accompaniment and strong solo parts, hoping ... that "choruses everywhere will add this to their repertoire." Three acts were chopped to two and a 237-page work was whittled to fit an under two-hours performance.
The resulting adaptation incorporates an amusing and enlightening narrative ... Overall, "TREEMONISHA" beautifully showcases the gifted composer's versatility ... Moreover, this original concert version, commissioned by the Maine Theatre Guild, paints Joplin himself into the picture. It is a tribute to both the man and this neglected, "thoroughly American opera" and is a production no music lover should miss ...
The caption (from a photo by Lucy Martin) from New Years Portland --
The Lincoln County News Jan. 15, 1998
"MAKING A JOYFUL NOISE WITH JOPLIN"
'TRUE AMERICAN MUSIC - At St. Luke's Cathedral on New Year's Eve in Portland, three enthusiastic audiences were treated to 45-minute performances of "TREEMONISHA, THE CONCERT VERSION", Scott Joplin's ragtime opera adapted by director Aaron Robinson of Newcastle and librettist Judith Kurtz Bogdanove of Friendship. Robinson at the piano masterfully accompanied and conducted the 35-member chorus and ensemble which sang about 14 of the 25 pieces selected from the 2-hour concert version which premiered in Rockport last November. Salvaged from that "Tree" were songs which proved to be the highlights of the premiere and which soloists and chorus alike performed under St. Luke's vaulted ceiling with sensitivity, warmth and increasingly exuberant spirits as midnight approached."
A CD and cassette of CHORAL HIGHLIGHTS from the St. Luke's performance of TREEMONISHA, THE CONCERT VERSION" is now available.
To order please write to:
Or go to our ORDER FORM page and print out the form there and mail to us with your payment.
For those who would also like to obtain the COMPLETE concert version on CD or Cassette, a recording session is planned for May, and the recordings should be available in early summer.
The final concert of the premiere series from TAKE A BOUGH PRODUCTIONS was presented on Sunday, June 7, 1998 at the Thomaston Baptist Church, Main Street Thomaston, Maine, at 3:00 pm.
We invite you to make arrangements for interviews with Ms. Kurtz by contacting her personally at firstname.lastname@example.org (Judith Kurtz Bogdanove).
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Last updated 4/29/98.
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