Overview

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This heart-wrenching opera, based on the classic novel by John Steinbeck, tells the story of the Joad family on their quest for survival during the 1930s Dust Bowl. Featuring folksy, jazz-inspired music by Ricky Ian Gordon, The Grapes of Wrath has been called “the great American opera.”

The Grapes of Wrath
Opera in two acts
Ricky Ian Gordon, composer and Michael Korie, librettist
Based on John Steinbeck’s novel
Premiere: Saint Paul 2007

This Production
Conducted by Michael Christie | Directed by James Robinson
A co-production with Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Sung in English with supertitle projections
Running time about 2 ½ hours

Artists

Katherine Goeldner

Ma Joad

The American mezzo-soprano, Katharine [or Katherine] Goeldner, studied voice at the University of Iowa with Jocelyn Reiter, and German Lieder at Salzburg’s Hochschule Mozarteum with Paul von Schilhawsky. She lives with her husband and daughter in Salzburg, Austria.

At the Metropolitan Opera, Katharine Goeldner has sung under James Levine as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Ascanio in Benvenuto Cellini and the Schoolboy in Lulu-the role of her company debut.  A favorite at New York City Opera, she has been heard there as Carmen, Ruggiero in George Frideric Handel’s Alcina, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, and Minerva in Il ritorno d’Ulisse. She has been honored by NYCO with both their Diva Award and the Betty Allen Prize. In addition, she has appeared in Toulouse as Fricka (Das Rheingold), Waltraute (Götterdämmerung), Geschwitz (Lulu), Idamante (Idomeneo), Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier) and the Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos); in Lyon as Octavian and the Composer; at Paris’ Châtelet as the Composer. Her Nicklausse from Bilbao Opera has been documented on DVD by Opus Arte.

Katherine Goeldner

Ma Joad

Tobias Greenhalgh

Tom Joad

Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh is a versatile singer on the rise, whom Opera News recently claimed was “so clearly headed for success.” This season, he joins the Glyndebourne Opera Tour for performances of Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence for the title role in Dido and Aeneas, and returns to Theater an der Wien for Cecil in Maria Stuarda and Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also returns to Palm Beach Opera as Maximilian in Candide, will sing Riff in West Side Story with the Grand Teton Music Festival under Donald Runnicles, and sings recitals at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall and the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna. Additionally, he will make his Carnegie Hall debut singing The Prisoner in Ethyl Smyth’s rarely performed The Prison with the Cecilia Chorus of New York. Last season, he joined Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in his acclaimed performances as Tom Joad in Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, made his role debut as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore with the Orlando Philharmonic, joined the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz with a quartet of roles in King Arthur, and returned to Palm Beach Opera as Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance. He also joined Charlottesville Opera for Jud Fry in Oklahoma!, reprised Leo Stein and Man Ray in Gordon’s 27 with MasterVoices at City Center, joined the Teatro Sergio Cardoso in Brazil for a gala concert, and the Brooklyn Art Song Society for an all-German recital.

Tobias Greenhalgh

Tom Joad

Dianna Breiwick

Rosasharn

Debrah Nansteel

Granma

“A formidable display of vocal power and dramatic assurance,” mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel recently completed the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, where she performed many roles including Tisbe in La Cenerentola, Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Curra (cover Preziosilla) in La forza del destino, Paula (cover) in Florencia en el Amazonas, as well as The Cat in Tony Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me. She recently earned the highly esteemed Betty Allen Award and a grant from the Sullivan Foundation.

Debrah Nansteel

Granma

Michael Day

Al Joad

Tenor Michael Day makes his Michigan Opera Theatre debut this season as a Michigan Opera Theatre Studio Artist. His performance credits include singing with Indiana University Opera Theatre, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Indianapolis Pro Musica, the Bloomington Chamber Singers and Utah Festival Opera, where he worked as a young artist. He recently returned to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis this summer as a Richard Gaddes Festival Artist, singing the role of Al Joad in a new performing version of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and vocal performance from Indiana University and is currently completing a master’s degree from the university. This season, Michael will perform Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro, the dual role of Pablo Picasso/F. Scott Fitzgerald in Gordon’s 27 and Spoletta in Tosca at MOT.

Michael Day

Al Joad

Robert Orth

Uncle John

Robert Orth has performed over 130 roles in opera and musicals. He was named “Artist of the Year” by both New York City Opera and Seattle Opera. Highlights include John Buchanan in Summer and Smoke broadcast nationally on Public Television; the Lodger in The Asper Papers at the Kennedy Center; the Lecturer in A Waterbird Talk in Chicago; the title role in the world premiere of Harvey Milk in Houston, New York, and San Francisco; Frank Lloyd Wright in Shining Brow; Owen Hart in the world premiere of Dead Man Walking; Richard Nixon in Nixon in China in St. Louis, and subsequently in Portland, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Vancouver, Toronto, London and Berlin; Uncle John in the world premiere of The Grapes of Wrath in Minnesota; Stubb in the world premiere of Moby Dick, and Blazes in The Lighhouse in Dallas; Howie Albert in the world premiere of Champion in St. Louis; and Simon Powers in Death and the Powers in Dallas. 

Robert Orth

Uncle John

Harry Greenleaf

Connie Rivers

Wixom, Michigan native Harry Greenleaf is Michigan Opera Theatre Studio’s resident baritone. He made his debut with Michigan Opera Theatre in 2016 in the role of Top in The Tender Land. His credits with MOT also include Le Bret in Cyrano, Jack Wallace in The Girl of the Golden West and Morales in Carmen. He has been a Studio Artist with the Wolf Tap Opera Company, an Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and a Young Artist with the Glimmerglass Festival. He holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and is an alumnus of the Michigan State University College of Music. This season, Harry will perform with MOT as Marullo in Rigoletto, Sciarrone in Tosca and the roles of Leo Stein and Man Ray in Ricky Ian Gordon’s 27.

Harry Greenleaf

Connie Rivers

Hugh Russel

Noah Joad, Prison Guard

James Robinson

Director

Michael Christie

Conductor

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Synopsis

Setting: Oklahoma, Southwestern United States, and California in the mid-1930s

Prologue

The sharecroppers recall the devastation of their native Oklahoma lands, brought about by drought and economic depression.

Act 1

Having been released early from prison on parole for good behavior, Tom Joad meets up with Jim Casy, a lapsed preacher. When they get to the deserted and destroyed Joad family farm, they discover that the bank has foreclosed on it. Tom and Jim decide to accompany the family to California, where fruit picking jobs are supposed to be plenty. Al Joad buys an old truck, and the family loads up the few possessions they can take. Connie and Rosasharn dream of a new life and home for Moses, their unborn baby. The next day the Joads bury Grampa, who has died during the night. The family then continues their journey down Route 66.

Act 2

At a diner, the Joads experiences contempt from the truckers and waitresses when they try to buy only the food they can afford, but the diner owner and waitress decide to act out of compassion. Crossing the Mojave, Granma dies during the night, but Ma keeps her death a secret until they get to California. At the Endicott Farm, the scene flashes back to 1849, when George Endicott plants his first plum tree. In the present time, growers inform the Joads that there’s no work there. Another flash to 1924: George Endicott, the grandson, has become a successful businessman. Back in the present, the locals rally – with the influx of Okie laborers, their wages have been slashed. Nearby, plums are being burned, rather than being given to the hungry croppers. The Joads continue on to a Hooverville – a squalid shantytown. Ma struggles to keep the family together. Connie regrets leaving Oklahoma and storms off, never to return. The next day, the Joad men get involved with unscrupulous contractors. A woman is killed in the struggle, and Tom knocks a deputy unconscious, violating parole. Casy volunteers to stay behind and take the blame as the Joads escape to the truck. Noah Joad, feeling himself a burden on the family, goes to the creek and drowns himself.

Act 3

Newly relocated at a clean, self-policing government camp, the Joads feel like people again. Local farm owners send in agitators to cause a fight during a hoedown so they can close down the camp, but the croppers remain peaceful. Pa persuades the Joads to go to a new farm. They realize that they have been brought in as scabs, triggering a riot outside the camp. Tom meets up with Jim Casy, now an agitator for farm workers’ rights. When Casy is bludgeoned to death by a deputy, Tom kills him and goes into hiding. The remaining Joads find work picking cotton and taking shelter in a boxcar. During the rainy season, Rosasharn goes into labor, but delivers a stillborn child. Ma asks Uncle John to go bury Moses while Rosasharn recovers to ease her pain; Uncle John instead chooses to cast Moses’ dead body into the river so that everyone can see “the fruits of their blindness.” The raging river has flooded the remaining Joads out of their home. The truck is swept away in the water, and Al is lost when he goes after it. Ma, Pa, Ruthie, Winfield, and a very weak Rosasharn seek refuge in a barn, where they find a boy and his starving father. Ma intuitively knows what Rosasharn must do, and ushers everyone else outside. Rosasharn nourishes the starving man with milk from her breast.

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