A Folk Opera. By Scott Joplin.
Uris Theatre, Broadway - 21 October, 1975 (64 perfs)
"Joplin's opera triumph of artistry, human spirit," headlined one critic and a telegram concerning the Houston production suggests the popular appeal. It read "Final night of Treemonisha played to standing ovation from twenty-five thousand people. Finale repeated three times!" Scott Joplin, who refused to accept the limitations imposed on a man born son of a slave, became "King of Ragtime" and then, at the height of his popularity, turned to serious music. He gave the prime of his life to creating this opera which America was then unwilling to consider. His blazing talent frustrated, Joplin died with his major work unpublished. Discovered by Vera Brodsky Lawrence, who recognised Joplin's genius, Dramatic Publishing is especially proud to be the publisher. Harold Schonberg, music critic of the N. Y. Times described the plot as " the forces of ignorance and superstition against liberalism and education as represented by a lady named Treemonisha . . . it refuses to leave the mind." It played to capacity business at Kennedy Center and then played nine weeks on Broadway!
The action is set in 1884 in Arkansas, northeast of Texarkana, on a plantation surrounded by dense forests.
The conjuror Zodzetrick tries to sell Monisha a bag of luck, but her
husband Ned and daughter Treemonisha intervene.Treemonisha and her friend
Remus accuse Zodzetrick of having incited fear and superstition among
their neighbours for many years for his own profit. But Zodzetrick will
not be put off and threatens to return again soon.
The Corn Huskers enter to begin work. They pause for a ring dance. Treemonisha notices that the other girls are wearing in their hair wreaths made from leaves, while she has only a bonnet. With her friend Lucy she goes over to a nearby tree to pluck leaves to make a wreath of her own. But Monisha urges her to take the leaves from another tree. Monisha explains her strange request by relating Treemonisha's origins. Eighteen years ago she found the girl as a newborn under that "sacred tree", whose leaves had sheltered the foundling from the heavy rains and the burning sun.
Treemonisha is amazed to learn that Monisha is not her natural mother. The Corn Huskers are also surprised at the news. When Treemonisha was seven years old, Monisha continues, she and Ned had her educated by a white woman because there was no school in the neighbourhood. Monisha does not know who Treemonisha's natural parents are. At first she named her after herself, but then - because as a little girl she so loved to play under the "sacred tree" - she gave her the name of Treemonisha.
The itinerant preacher Parson Alltalk enters. He exhorts the people to
respect truth and the love of one's neighbours as great virtues.
Lucy comes back without Treemonisha, gagged and with her hands tied behind her. Monisha unbinds her and Lucy tells her what has happened. Zodzetrick and another conjuror named Luddud have also bound and gagged Treemonisha. Lucy was only able, with great effort, to free herself. The men decide to rescue Treemonisha, and Remus disguises himself as a scarecrow to frighten the conjurors away.
Conjurors' meeting place in the woods: the magician Simon recites a list of things that bring trouble, and the assembled crowd superstitiously confirms his words. Zodzetrick and Luddud arrive with the bound and gagged Treemonisha. They insist that she should be punished for not being superstitious and, still worse, for trying to discourage superstition in the others.
Dance of eight bears
Simon wants to punish Treemonisha by throwing her into a wasps' nest; he starts counting to three, but breaks off when he sees an unfamiliar figure. The conjurors all believe it is the devil incarnate, and they run away.Treemonisha, however, immediately recognises Remus under the scarecrow's disguise. Remus rescues Treemonisha, and the two leave the woods, heading for home through the cotton fields. Treemonisha and Remus ask the way to the plantation. A horn sounds three times to signal the end of the Cotton Pickers' workday.
Ned and Monisha wait in their cabin for Treemonisha to return.
Remus, who brings Treemonisha back uninjured, is hailed as a hero by her parents and the gathering crowd.The Corn Huskers also come back, bringing Zodzetrick and Luddud as prisoners.The people demand a stiff punishment for the conjurors, but Treemonisha warns against requiting evil with evil and orders their release. Remus delivers a lecture on morally "right" behaviour: helping neighbours is one's duty.
The angry crowd is still against letting the two conjurors off
scot-free, but Treemonisha prevents any violent action from occurring.
Ned reflects on the appropriate treatment of "rambling villains" and urges that they be punished severely. But finally, atTreemonisha's wish, "for her sake," the crowd forgives the two evildoers.
The people declare the enlightened Treemonisha to be their new leader in the struggle against superstition.They dismiss her objection that men would not follow a woman.
Treemonisha and Lucy encourage the crowd to dance to a rag; everyone follows the two women's lead.
Two exterior sets.
8m., 3w., chorus.
- Parson Alltalk
- The Bag of Luck - (Zodzetrick, Monisha, Ned, Treemonisha, Remus)
- The Corn Huskers - (Chorus, Treemonisha, Remus)
- We're Goin' Around (A Ring Play) - (Andy, Chorus)
- The Wreath - (Treemonisha, Lucy, Monisha, Chorus)
- The Sacred Tree - (Monisha)
- Surprised - (Treemonisha, Chorus)
- Treemonisha's Bringing Up - (Monisha,Treemonisha, Chorus)
- Good Advice - (Parson Alltalk, Chorus)
- Confusion (Monisha, Chorus, Lucy, Ned, Remus)
- Superstition - (Simon, Chorus)
- Treemonisha in Peril - (Simon, Chorus, Zodzetrick, Luddud, Cephus)
- Frolic of the Bears
- The Wasp Nest - (Simon, Chorus, Cephus)
- The Rescue - (Treemonisha, Remus)
- We Will Rest Awhile / Song of the Cotton Pickers - (Chorus)
- Going Home - (Treemonisha, Remus, Chorus)
- Aunt Dinah Has Blowed de Horn - (Chorus)
- Prelude to Act 3
- I WantTo See My Child - (Monisha, Ned)
- Treemonisha's Return - (Monisha, Ned, Remus, Treemonisha, Chorus, Andy, Zodzetrick, Luddud)
- Wrong is Never Right (A Lecture) - (Remus, Chorus)
- Abuse - (Andy, Chorus, Treemonisha)
- When Villains Ramble Far and Near (A Lecture) - (Ned)
- Conjurors Forgiven - (Treemonisha, Andy, Chorus)
- We Will Trust You As Our Leader - (Treemonisha, Chorus)
- A Real Slow Drag - (Treemonisha, Lucy, Chorus)