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David Lang

Publisher: G. Schirmer

the difficulty of crossing a field (1999)
Text Writer
Libretto by Mac Wellman
Red Poppy
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 15 Minutes
small choir
Soprano, Mezzo soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Bass
Programme Note
David Lang the difficulty of crossing a field (1999)
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Acrobat format
Cast List:
   MRS. WILLIAMSON: Mezzo-soprano
   BOY SAM: Tenor
   Chorus of slaves, from which are drawn:
   OLD WOMAN: Contralto

A slave owner in the pre-civil war American South walks across his field and disappears, in plain view of his family, his neighbors and his slaves, forever altering the relationships among them. Everyone around him has his or her own sharp view of what that disappearance means, of why it had to happen, and of what will happen now that there is a "hole" where a man used to be. Based on a one page story by the writer Ambrose Bierce, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field was commissioned by Carey Perloff and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. It was intended to cross between opera and theater worlds, mixing arias with spoken text, emotional melodies with intense drama. It is written for 5 principals and a chorus of 6 or more slaves, and the accompaniment is for string quartet on stage, both as the "orchestra" and as part of the set.

The original production was 22-24 March 2002 at the Theater Artaud in San Francisco, starring Julia Migenes as the wife of the missing planter and 2004 Tony-award winning singer Anika Noni Rose as the leader of the slave chorus, with music performed onstage by the Kronos Quartet.

  • Ensemble
    Harlem String Quartet
    Douglas Kinney Frost
    Cantaloupe Music:
Based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce, “Field” features music by David Lang (who received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for “The Little Match Girl Passion” and libretto by acclaimed experimental playwright Mac Wellman. It weaves a bizarre tale of Mr. Williamson, an Alabama plantation owner, who walks across a field in 1854 only to vanish into thin air. Over the next 75 minutes or so, we hear from his family, neighbors and slaves, as they contemplate the strange disappearance — an “erasure” that is impossible to explain. Just as the story refuses to conform to any traditional structure, so does the music. “Field” is described as a contemporary opera/theater hybrid, incorporating compelling scenes of spoken drama within Lang’s haunting score. Richly repetitive and often discordant, rhythms and melodies unfold slowly, only to circle back upon themselves in an almost hypnotic fashion.
Amy Stumpfl , The Tennessean,08/11/2012
The Difficulty of Crossing a Field is a major contribution to American Musical Theater.... This astonishing work must not be allowed to vanish into thin air. I know I can't get it out of my head.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,01/01/0001
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