Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article mis-attributed a quote said by Christopher Lees.
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel “Little Women” is a work written by a woman for women. It features a mostly female cast of characters and explores themes of femininity and womanhood. But according to director Robert Swedberg, the University Opera Theatre’s production of Mark Adamo’s 1998 operatic adaptation of “Little Women” will appeal to men too.
“I actually find it a lot more interesting than the novel because there’s not as much as the stuff that turned me off as a high school student when I was forced to read it as a young Californian male,” said Swedberg, an associate professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “It’s more about relationships and about how people change … The joke with our marketing people is that we should probably have a tagline that is something like, ‘Guys will like it, too.’ ”
Set in Civil War-era New England, “Little Women” revolves around the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — who deal with love, loss and the changes accompanying growing up. For readers familiar with Alcott’s novel, Adamo’s opera will come as a fresh take on an old classic. Because of the novel’s hefty plot, Adamo, who wrote the libretto himself, had to choose carefully which material would be included.
“The characters are drawn from the novel, but the plot really focuses on a two-year period when the girls are a little bit older than the age they start in the novel,” Swedberg said. “It’s really a wonderful construction the way the opera is put together in that Jo is reflecting back on how things were.”
Bringing greater depth to Adamo’s libretto is his equally accessible neo-romantic score.
“The color he gets out of the orchestration is very bright,” said conductor Christopher Lees, an MT&D lecturer who also serves as associate director of orchestras in MT&D. “It sounds American. There are lots of great tunes that I think listeners will leave humming.”
Lees explained that the score for “Little Women,” which happens to be his first foray into operatic conducting, is rooted in a series of sung motifs that weave the plot together and highlight the central ideas of the piece.
“One of the things that (Adamo) does is incorporate musical equivalents of major themes,” Lees said. “So the theme that Jo tries to hang on to is the ‘Perfect as you are’ theme. And that appears all the way through the opera, and it’s very tuneful and very accessible. And a slightly more jagged motive appears throughout when they are talking about change — the ‘Things change, Jo’ theme.”
He added, “It’s so lyrical and so beautiful to listen, so I don’t think the musical language will be a barrier to anyone enjoying the story.”
The conductor also touched on the pluses of performing a work by a contemporary composer.
“I’ve met (Adamo) several times and we’ve been in correspondence over the course of this,” Lees said. “The great thing about doing a piece by a living composer is they e-mail you back. The number of times Mozart has not responded to my inquiries is too numerous to count.”
Lees stressed the importance of “Little Women” as a quintessential work of American opera, but he also pointed out the work’s global appeal and general accessibility for all audiences of any gender.
“I would love for people coming away to be moved by the universality of the themes that are contained in the piece — to be able to relate to the journey that Jo goes on where she has to choose whether or not to accept change or to continue pushing back from it,” Lees said. “And I think we all encounter this in our lives to various degrees.”