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"Eric Hermannson's Soul": Comparing and contrasting two musical adaptations of the Willa Cather short story

Charles M Smith, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Composers of present day operatic and musical theatre compositions continue to develop new works for the stage. Scores of original works are introduced to the public each year. Composers continue to search for stories and texts that lend themselves to operatic or musical settings. Such is the case for the musical Out To the Wind (1979) by Robert Beadell (1925-1994) and the opera Eric Hermannson's Soul (1998) by Libby Larsen (b.1950). Both stage works are based on Nebraska author Willa Cather's (1873-1947) short story Eric Hermannson's Soul. ^ The study is a comparison and contrast of the two settings of this story through an exploration of their respective dramatic and musical adaptations. By a complete analysis of the short story as well as the two compositions, I will identify, compare and contrast shared themes, alterations to the original story and omissions of each. I will summarize how the differences between the two works are grounded in the compositional style of the respective creators. Each following their selected genre, Beadell's musical focuses on the relationship between Eric and Margaret, a love story, while Larsen's opera, in stark contrast, plumbs the psychological conflicts of Margaret. ^ This study is organized into four chapters. Chapter one is devoted to Willa Cather. Chapter two will provide information on the composers and librettists. Chapter three will focus on the Cather short story and the comparison and contrast of the two compositions. Chapter four summarizes conclusions concerning these two adaptations. ^ Primary resources for analysis will be musical scores and recordings (audio and visual) of the premiere performances. Other sources for study will include the Opera Omaha Archives, documents from the Robert Beadell estate, books, newspaper articles, personnel interviews, journal articles and the original Cather short story. ^

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Smith, Charles M, ""Eric Hermannson's Soul": Comparing and contrasting two musical adaptations of the Willa Cather short story" (2006). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3213392.