The Disappointment - Selected Liner Notes From First Recording, 1976

Selected Liner Notes From First Recording, 1976

TV-S 34650 The Disappointment (1767) America’s First Ballad Opera by Andrew Barton

Musical Setting by Samuel Adler Research by Jerald Graue and Judith Layng Produced by Donald Hunsberger Directed by Edward Berkeley Musical Direction by Robert Spillman

Original Cast of the Library of Congress Eastman School of Music Production

In April 1767, the Philadelphia public was primed for a theatrical event of uncommon interest. The most illustrious acting company in the colonies, David Douglass’ American Company, was preparing Andrew Barton’s ballad opera, The Disappointment, or, the Force of Credulity, for presentation at the handsome new Southwark Theatre. English plays and comic or sentimental operas had formed the staple repertoire of the company for some years, but Barton’s farce had signal im¬portance because it was the first ballad opera written by an American for American audiences. Moreover, its subject matter was closely linked to the concerns of the Philadelphia citizenry. It cleverly satirized the government of King George, but it also offered lampoons of several individuals living in Philadelphia at that time.

Alas, perhaps the comic barbs were too sharp and too close to home; the opera was not performed as planned, and a terse explanatory note in the Pennsylvania Gazette of April 22 announced that the play’s “personal reflections” rendered it “unfit for the stage.” It still seems remarkable that Barton’s vivacious comedy could have remained un¬produced for more than two hundred years, especially since historians have long recognized the play’s intrinsic merit. The reasons for this dormancy must be sought in the peculiar nature of ballad operas in the 18th century. Such works often became modest best-sellers as published librettos, and indeed Barton’s opera sold impressively in this form, first when it was published in New York in 1767, then later when a revised Philadelphia version appeared in 1796. However, the librettos contain no music whatever; the songs that occur throughout the play exist as texts only, along with the titles of the popular songs whose tunes would have been used for the songs in the play. Presumably, the musical arrangements for The Disappointment were discarded upon its cancellation or have been lost during the many years since. While librettos could be printed in many copies, musical arrangements typi¬cally were made in one copy only, for one particular production. Consequently, scores or parts for ballad operas have vanished in all except a mere handful of cases.

A reconstruction of the music for The Disappointment is desirable above all because the play is manifestly attractive, but also because it is a significant landmark in the history of the American musical theatre. Aside from its position as the earliest indigenous American opera it is believed to contain the earliest mention of the time honored tune, “Yankee Doodle.” -

To mark the 200th birthday of the United States, the Music Division of the Library of Congress and the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music chose to sponsor the reconstruction and production of this first American opera. The task of creating a musical complement for the play was undertaken by Samuel Adler and Jerald Graue of the Eastman School, in a composer-scholar collaboration, and their work was materially facilitated by the investigations of Judith Layng of Hiram College. The principal problems of the reconstruction fell into three general areas: the identification of the tunes themselves in early sources, the creation, of stylistically appropriate settings, and the determination of the size and make-up of the orchestra. In each prob¬lem area, two central requirements were regarded as paramount—that the new musical settings should be informed by the flavor and conditions of the opera’s 18th-century origins, and that the final product should sacrifice none of the charm, vitality, and immediacy that were the hallmarks of ballad opera during the colonial period. This record¬ing presents the newly-created musical portion of The Disappointment, and Barton’s entertaining theatre piece may finally begin to reach its intended public.

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