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ClassicsOnline Home » BALADA: Hangman! Hangman! / The Town of Greed
By Joshua Rosenblum
Leonardo Balada (born 1933)
Hangman, Hangman! The Town of Greed (Two "cartoon" Tragic-comic chamber opera)
Born in Barcelona on 22nd September, 1933, Leonardo Balada graduated there at the Conservatorio del Liceu and in 1960 at the Juilliard School in New York, studying composition with Vincent Persichetti and Aaron Copland, and conducting with Igor Markevitch. Since 1970 he has taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is University Professor of Composition. Some of his best known works were written in a dramatic avant-garde style in the 1960s, including Guernica, María Sabina and Steel Symphony. He is credited with pioneering a blending of ethnic music with avant-garde techniques later, notably in his Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King of 1968, and Homage to Casals and Sarasate in 1975. Baladas works are performed by the worlds leading orchestras, under conductors of the highest distinction. He has been commissioned by many outstanding organizations in the United States and Europe, and has composed works for artists like Alicia de Larrocha, the American Brass Quintet, Andrés Segovia, Narciso Yepes, Lucero Tena, and Angel Romero, and has collaborated with artists and writers like Salvador Dalí and the Nobel Prize winner Camilo Jose Cela. Many of his compositions have been recorded by leading record companies, and his compositions, in addition to chamber and symphonic compositions, include cantatas, chamber and full length operas. Leonardo Balada has received several international composition awards.
From my point of view as a composer, the important elements in an opera are the identification by the orchestra of each dramatic moment and the lyricism of the vocal soloists. Given the importance of the latter, it would not have been appropriate for me to compose operas during my avant-garde period, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, when I did not consider melody as part of my style. Instead my interest in musical drama expressed itself in the form of cantatas, where instead of singers there were narrators and the choruses would sing texturally not lyrically. During that period, I composed María Sabina (1969), with a text by the Nobel Prize laureate Camilo José Cela, Las Moradas (1970), based on the book by Saint Teresa of Avila, and No-res (1974), a protest against death, with a text by Jean Paris.
In 1975, while feeling the need for a new direction in my music, I incorporated melody into my language, creating a symbiosis between the far-out techniques of the avant-garde and traditional lines and harmonies, causing disapproval from some quarters in carrying out what nowadays is a very common practice. At that point with the addition of lyrical melodies to my palette, composing operas made sense to me. The cantata Torquemada (1980) was a prelude to Hangman, Hangman! (1982), my first opera. In 1984 Zapata followed, full of Mexican ideas and colours. In 1987 came Christopher Columbus, first performed in 1989 at the Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona with José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé. In 1996 I finished a sequel to that opera, The Death of Columbus. Finally came The Town of Greed, completed in 1997. These are all operas in which abrasive contemporary orchestral sonorities co-exist with highly melodic vocal lines.
HANGMAN, HANGMAN! (1982)
Music & libretto by Leonardo Balada
Publisher: G. Schirmer, New York
Hangman, Hangman! is freely adapted from an American cowboy folk-song. Johnny, its hero, is a dreamer who has been apprehended for stealing a horse, and is about to be hanged. "A rope round his neck
Thats what hell get
" says the Sheriff. To soften the charges Johnny assures him that "The horse was weak. I meant no harm
His eyes were crossed, his back was broke
" During the first half of the work, the Hangman is preparing for the execution of Johnny. When Johnny is brought to the gallows, he calls for his mother to pay his ransom. Instead, the Mother testifies that even before he was born, Johnny was mischievous and she asked for his punishment. "When growing in my belly, a restless grub he was. He kicked my guts so fiercely
only six months he stayed in my womb, but like a dozen it felt," the Mother sings. Though he was surprised by his mothers testimony, he pleads that his father soon will arrive with the ransom; that is, the price of the horse. In a short aria, the dreamer Johnny explains he took the horse for all sorts of other-worldly poetic reasons, "I took the horse to ride the skies. I took the horse to ride the seas, to ride and fly and dream
The Father is heard from an unknown faraway place, and expresses his regret for not being by his sons side, but says that his mule broke down. "Sorry, sonny, Johnny. I was comin to see you hang." He responds to Johnnys plea, and continues "
hanging aint bad, and once you are gaily swinging youll have a sweet peaceful feeling that you wont regret." Johnny, stunned by his fathers excuse, surrenders to despair and prepares to die. He sees his sweetheart, a girl with a tarnished reputation, running to reach the scaffold before the Hangman completes his task. "Got no silver, got no gold. Tried to earn it selling love to all. But only pennies and a song I can give you for my Johnny," says the Sweetheart, and an aria follows; in trying to redeem Johnny, she asks forgiveness in the name of love. The Townspeople, the Sheriff and the Hangman, think that such a request is "nonsense", and they proceed with the hanging. When all seems lost, a sudden and improbable ending occurs. A deus ex machina, an Irishman of good looks and fortune, who has bought the whole region for development, appears: "Her song touched me heart
of all of you the only one with any brains is Johnny. I will pay for his ransom; Johnny will be my personal deputy!". Everyone now wants to be his friend; he is a hero. Money seduces everyone, including the dreamer, Johnny, who yields to the temptations of wealth and greed, while expressing cynicism and disgust for the towns greed, which caused the change in morality. At the end, all sing "Well cheat them all. Well run the world and make money, silver and gold".
Hangman, Hangman! was commissioned by the Barcelona Music Festival and was presented by the Opera de Cambra de Catalunya in 1982 conducted by the composer and directed by J. Ma. Espada. The American première was presented by the Carnegie Mellon Music and Drama departments in 1983, conducted by Werner Torkanowsky and directed by Akram Midani. The work is dedicated to the composers wife, Joan Balada.
THE TOWN OF GREED(1997)
Libretto and music by Leonardo Balada.
Story by Akram Midani and Leonardo Balada.
Publisher: Beteca Music
The Town of Greed, in two parts, is a sequel to Hangman, Hangman! and presents the same principal characters but twenty years later. All happens in an extremely grotesque way, and the story is a strong criticism of society. As in a cartoon, the characters and issues are presented in an irreverent manner, direct and with bullet-like sharpness and directness.
In Part I Johnny is now an influential businessman, working hard in not so clean dealings around the world, all for the good life of his family and his town. While smoking a big cigar, he is in touch with all sorts of characters by phone or physically in his office. Misters Rich, Rot, Rat, Wreck, Rip, Rude and the Ambassador negotiate with Johnny the sale of petroleum, gasoline, uranium and plutonium with all kinds of unclear purposes, while the Townspeople express spontaneous admiration for their hero.
One of his business dealings is with Mr Capotte, who just arrived from Chicago. He offers a plan that excites Johnny. He "will silence researchers and paint the sun blue so that its energy will not be used and only gas will make things move". Another visitor is Tokopoko, envoy of Japans Emperor, who wants gas from Johnny for their Toyotas. The Sweetheart, Johnnys wife, who enters in a rush, will go to Tokyo to negotiate a contract. Her skills and feminine attractiveness are assets for Johnnys dealings, and she expresses this in a short aria. But not all is bright: "...Silk wont heal the pain in my heart for they cant plant the seed that would make me a mother." This aria grows into a love duet of happiness and hope.
The busy phone calls continue, as Johnny is going to deal with Britain and Spain. As a further expression of grotesqueness and much practiced nepotism, he will send his father to London and his mother to Madrid to negotiate. All this is expressed in a vibrant and catchy ensemble by Johnnys clan.
The Father, whose clumsiness was already shown in Hangman, Hangman! and has not changed in twenty years, sings his contentment with life in a short aria, while mentioning his early addiction to drink and Phillip Morris. The Mother asks for a credit card to buy herself jewelry, commenting that they are "... good to banks and bankrupt nice guys, sweet girls, weak souls". The two and the Sweetheart sing with delight to the world of consumerism, a world of things that are "shiny and flashy and trashy." Taking the happy and prosperous mood from the trio, the Townspeople extend their upbeat singing: "...whats good for the town is good for America, is right for the world!" The line "Money, honey, money, honey" sung by Johnny, Sweetheart and the Townspeople ends Part I.
In Part II things are no longer bright. The Sheriff and the Hangman have entered, announcing hard times ahead; the town is broke. Johnny is no longer a hero but a scapegoat to be blamed. Scared, Johnny tries to calm everyone down by proposing a war that would create new business. When the Sheriff and Hangman do not trust Johnnys sincerity, everyone insists that he should be hanged. Johnny desperately calls for the Irishman who twenty years earlier saved him, but now he is not interested in helping. As a last resort, Johnny comes up with new ideas to which the Townspeople, continuing the comment throughout the opera on the fickleness of the masses, are easily lured. They will create "a new industry
a pastime" says Johnny: "a tube and a small screen...What fun, your brain will stop..." Everyone seems delighted. And Johnny continues "
Well manufacture some new products made of a scrappy and cheap substance
Celebrities!. Theyll show their way to be our heroes. Celebrities that talk a lot without deep thought".
Things were looking up for Johnny, but the excitement of the Townspeople is interrupted by a shot from the audience. A Wall Street Man has bought this town for a toxic waste dump. He orders Johnny to be hanged and everyone agrees except his parents. "Your nose is like my nose," says the Mother. "Your shadow fits in my shadow," claims the Father. "Wed like you alive", they say in unison. In a short love duet the Sweetheart tries to console him, but she is looking after her own future. In a symbolic gesture, a man from the town approaches her. She leaves Johnny and leans her head on the mans shoulder. The Sweetheart comments: "Understand me Johnny, while on earth I must see that tomorrows are not cloudy but shiny for me", to which Johnny responds: "Do what is best for you." In life, one can only count on ones parents. Once on the scaffold, while Johnny tries to postpone the hanging again, the Wall Street Man shoots him dead. Now, as an Epilogue, the Townspeople, with great devotion towards Johnny, freeze him cryogenically so that they can resurrect him later.
The Town of Greed was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Arts Council and the Centro para la Difusión de la Música Contemporánea of Madrid. It is dedicated to the composers wife Joan Balada.
Rebecca Rollett, artistic director
Lee Anne Pokego
Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble
Efraín Amaya, music director
Roÿ Mezare, manager
Colman Pearce, conductor
Marla Woods violin
Marisa Hurtado contrabass
Jorge Ortiz clarinet
Fletcher Forehand bassoon
Matthew Allen Taylor trumpet
Angel Subero trombone
Bobbie Lynn Overton percussion
Rodrigo Ojeda piano
Town of Greed
Héctor Viveros violin
Darryl Mielke contrabass
Roÿ Mezare clarinet
Ezequiel Fainguersch bassoon
Rodolfo Castillo trumpet
David Fields trombone
Leonardo Soto percussion
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BALADA: Hangman! Hangman! / The Town of Greed