There are two volumes to this dissertation: the first is a monograph, and the second a musical composition, both of which are described below.
Oratorios are often theatrical, yet their delivery of narrative and communication of character, unlike in opera, is typically not dependent upon staging, costumes, and lighting. Through analysis of three twentieth-century oratorios, John Adams' "El Niño", Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time", and Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem", this dissertation investigates the ways three composers combine text and music in order to effectively convey characterization and narrative.
This dissertation also explores how secondary and seemingly unrelated texts and narratives may be interpolated in order to emphasize central themes expressed in the primary texts and storylines. This study illuminates the ways in which characterization and symbolism can be communicated in a non-staged work involving chorus, solo singers, and orchestra, and how multiple narratives may be interwoven to produce a multi-faceted oratorio.
Mirror for America is a choral-orchestral collage of the immigrant experience in the United States. Since it is theatrical but non-staged, it may be considered a secular oratorio or cantata. Its characters are ten anonymous immigrants and a federal immigration officer, all of whom I interviewed and whose stories I transcribed. They are portrayed by four soloists, each soloist playing the roles of multiple characters. The ten immigrants' identities are deliberately anonymous and consolidated randomly into four voices so as to universalize the immigrant experience.
The libretto is assembled from excerpts from the interviews, passages from the Old and New Testaments, the Naturalization Exam, a sample naturalization interview from American-citizenship.org, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The work is in three parts, each part addressing a specific chapter of the immigrant experience. In Part I, the characters recount their departure from their native countries, and recall first impressions and experiences upon arriving in the U.S. In Part II, they remember and reenact the naturalization process. In Part III, the immigrants describe their new lives and transformed identities.
Throughout the work, the immigration officer interrupts the storytelling by explaining his occupation and stating his opinion on immigration issues. Periodically, the choir, much like a Greek chorus, makes reflective commentary and occasionally interacts with the characters. It sings words from the Constitution, the Bible, and English vocabulary from the Naturalization Exam.
The piece is approximately an hour in duration. The instrumentation is for four solo singers (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone-Bass), chorus, and orchestra.