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Virgil Thomson

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Mother of Us All (1947)
Text Writer
Libretto by Gertrude Stein.
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 44 Minutes
SATB chorus
Solo Instrument(s)
dramatic Soprano, Countertenor, 2 Basses, 3 Mezzo sopranos, lyric Tenor, 3 Tenors, 2 Baritones, lyric Soprano, 3 Bass Baritones, Alto, high Baritone, Soprano
Alternate Orchestration
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Programme Note
Virgil Thomson The Mother of Us All (1947)
Reduced orchestration available:

Cast List:
SUSAN B. ANTHONY, a noble and consecrated woman, dressed in Act I, Scene 2, as a Quakeress, with cape and bonnet; elsewhere, in the style of 1870. As a statue she wears the garnet velvet gown with fichu of rose-point lace that Miss Anthony herself wore in her later years, a gift from the ladies of Washington, D. C.: Dramatic Soprano

ANNE, her confidant and devoted friend, wears richer costumes of 1870: Contralto

GERTRUDE S., a cheerful stocky woman of middle age wearing a full-cut but plain modern velvet gown of dark color and a brocaded waistcoat: Soprano

VIRGIL T., a pleasant and efficient master of ceremonies, in modern morning dress (top hat, cutaway coat, striped trousers, gardenia: Baritone

THE VIP (Very Important Persons):
Dressed as political dignitaries of the 1850's. Andrew Johnson is sad, complaining and pathetic. Thaddeus Stevens, his political enemy, blustering man. Daniel Webster, dignified, almost pompous, has the gestures characteristic of 19th century orators.

Recently discharged Civil War soldiers dressed in the civilian style of 1865, but still wearing some of their military clothing. Jo wears a black suit at his wedding.

INDIANA ELLIOT, young, pretty, provincial, dressed in the style of 1860. At her wedding she wears a white dress and a bridal veil: Contralto

ANGEL MORE, former sweetheart of Daniel Webster, now dead—part angel, part ghost and part ingénue—in a pale pink and blue dress of about 1845. She wears a small hat with a short white veil, and tiny wings spring from her shoulders: Light Lyric Soprano

HENRIETTA M., a feminist of 1890 in mannish clothes.

HENRY B., a somberly poetic gentleman of 1870 in formal dark clothes, Bass-Baritone

ANTHONY COMSTOCK, a forceful Victorian capitalist with sideburns, dressed in the style of 1890: Bass

JOHN ADAMS, romantic tenor, presumably John Quincy Adams. He wears an ornate costume of 1825 with a beaver stove-pipe hat: Romantic Tenor

CONSTANCE FLETCHER, a gracious and beautiful lady of 1905-10, charmingly tactful, a peace-maker. She has trouble with her eyes and in the last scene wears dark glasses: High Mezzo-Soprano

Intellectuals of 1890-1900, he in knickerbockers, she in bicycling clothes.

ANNA HOPE, feminist of 1900: Contralto

LILLIAN RUSSELL, wears picture hats, long gloves and feather boas, with several changes of showy costume, all from the epoch of 1890-1910: Lyric Soprano

JENNY REEFER, a comical feminist, outspoken and opinionated, a close friend of Anne and Susan B.: Mezzo-Soprano

ULYSSES S. GRANT, also opinionated, in dress uniform: Bass-Baritone

HERMAN ATLAN, a French painter of 1860, young, attractive, elegant, poetic: High Baritone

DONALD GALLUP, a youngish college professor in the tweeds of 1920. As a vision in Act II, sc. 2, he wears academic gown and mortar-board cap: Baritone

A.A. and T.T., Page boys or postillions. They also constitute, if desired, a corps de ballet. There can be as many of them as needed.

Rural labor costumes. 1860-70

INDIANA ELLIOT'S BROTHER, A middle-western farmer of 1870, wearing farm boots, Sunday suit and a wide felt hat. He carries a riding crop: Bass Baritone

A pageant centering around the life and political ideals of Susan B. Anthony, with real and imagined characters.

View Full Score - Act II

Thomson...put into THE MOTHER OF US ALL some of the most gorgeous music he ever produced. The score is an effective pastiche of styles, using atypical chord progressions and a gleeful fluidity of rhythm. The approach makes an excellent match for [Gertrude] Stein's words, full as they are of non-sequiturs and even the odd punch line. The composer's orchestrations are meticulously crafted, elegant and inventive.
Eric Valliere,,01/01/0001
Thomson's THE MOTHER OF US ALL [is] an opera full of emblems. His is a decorative score [with its] mix of the homespun and the perennial in the way its sturdy marches and tweedy hymns seem instantly familiar. The libretto presents a stately, free-form biography of Susan B. Anthony, written in Stein's famously laundered language. Thomson furnished Stein's demanding libretto in an approximated period style, confounding the demands of avant-garde music theater with what he called 'an evocation of 19th-century America, with its gospel hymns and cocky marches, its sentimental ballads, waltzes, "darn-fool ditties and intoned sermons." It's a whackily didactic opera [and] it was disarmingly fun.
Justin Davidson, New York Newsday,01/01/0001
The big draw of this summer's schedule [was] "The Mother of Us All," Virgil Thomson's collaboration with Gertrude Stein that memorializes Susan B. Anthony's struggle to win the vote for women. "The Mother of Us All" demands an off-kilter production to match Stein's free-associative text and Thomson's cheery sampler of American folk styles, hymns, marches and reveries, underpinned with his characteristically mischievous wit. The cast is vast...Stein's historically fluid cast of characters-John Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Daniel Webster among them-creates a weird alternate reality, sometimes interacting maniacally, sometimes sitting in what seems like a vast group therapy session. For all of Stein's non sequiturs, her portrait of Anthony and her struggle proves oddly touching and compelling, both in the quirky humor and sometimes desperate passion of the piece. Christopher Alden [met] the demand with a production that is endearingly wacky [with] a circusy atmosphere. The orchestra, conducted by Stewart Robinson, gave Thomson's score a warm, zesty, well-paced reading.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times,01/01/0001
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