The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Jumping Frog

Mark Twain’s famous American short story explodes with musical dramatic life in The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. This children’s opera captures the authenticity of the original tale, set during the American Gold Rush. Smiley’s prized frog, “Dan’l Webster”, is defeated in a jumping contest because the gambling Stranger has filled the amphibian with buckshot. When the deceit is discovered, the Stranger is cast out, and the town again hails Dan’l’s prowess. Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” inspired an annual frog jumping contest that is annually held at Angel’s Camp, California to this day. 

 

Production Team

 

Cast

Composer   Lukas Foss   Smiley   Daniel Arnaldos
Librettist   Jean Karsavina   The Stranger   Zachary Luchetti
Director   Dennis Robinson, Jr.   Lulu   Kaitlin Very
Conductor/Accompanist   Hyery Hwang   Uncle Henry   James Critchfield
Scenic Designer   Christine Eunyong Lee        
Costume Designer   Elizabeth Rishel        
Stage Manager/Lighting Designer   Dillon Stark        
             

 Produced by permission of Carl Fischer, LLC, New York, NY

 

The Story

SCENE 1 – Outside Uncle Henry’s Place, Angel’s Camp, Calaveras County, California
Outside Uncle Henry's Place, Smiley brags about what a great jumper his frog, Daniel Webster, is. Uncle Henry and Lulu, his niece, are singing the praises of the frog and its teacher, Smiley. A stranger enters, and says he doesn't think Smiley's frog is any different than any other. To prove it, he bets 40 dollars that another frog will out jump Daniel Webster. Left alone with the champion frog, the stranger feeds it some buckshot from Uncle Henry's shotgun. He also reveals that he travels from town to town cheating the men and loving the women. The stranger leaves for Lulu's place; she has promised to cook him dinner. 

SCENE 2 – In the Town Square
Later, all the townsfolk are amazed at the stranger's foolhardiness in betting against Daniel Webster. The stranger enters with Lulu and tells her goodbye, then offers to match wagers with anyone else in town. The locals are stunned when Daniel is unable to make even a small jump. The stranger checks his winnings and leaves while the spectators lament. Suddenly, Daniel begins to vomit buckshot. The stranger is dragged back, relieved of his winnings, and chased out of town as all join in praising Daniel Webster—still the champion jumper of Calaveras County!

 

Meet the Composer

Lukas Foss (August 15, 1922, Berlin, Germany – February 1, 2009, New York City, New York) was a true renaissance man, that rare breed of musician, equally renowned as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator and spokesman for his art. The many prestigious honors and awards he received testify to his importance as one of the most brilliant and respected figures in American music. Foss eagerly embraced the musical languages of his time, producing a body of over 100 works that Aaron Copland described as including “among the most original and stimulating compositions in American Music.” As music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic and Milwaukee Symphony, Foss championed living composers of every stripe and has brought new life to the standard repertoire. His legendary performances as a piano soloist, in repertory ranging from J. S. Bach’s D Minor Concerto to Leonard Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety, have earned him a place among the elite keyboard artists of our time.

Lukas Foss
Lukas Foss

As a conductor, Foss has been hailed for the adventurous mix of traditional and contemporary music that he programs, and he appeared with the world’s greatest orchestras, including those of Boston, Chicago, London, Leningrad, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Rome, New York, Berlin, Los Angeles and Tokyo. In 1937, the 15-year old prodigy had already been composing for eight years when came to America to study at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. He also studied in Paris after his family fled Nazi Germany in 1933. By age 18, the young musician had graduated with honors from Curtis, and was headed for advanced study in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood and in composition with Paul Hindemith at Tanglewood and Yale University. Foss was the pianist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1944-50. In 1945, he was the youngest composer ever to receive a Guggenheim fellowship.

When Foss succeeded Arnold Schoenberg as professor of composition at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1953, the University probably thought it was replacing a man who made traditions with one who conserved them. But that was not how things turned out. In 1957, seeking the spontaneous expression that lies at the root of all music, he founded the Improvisational Chamber Ensemble, a foursome that improvised music in concert, working not from a score, but from Foss’ ideas and visions. The effects of these experiments soon showed in his composed works, where Foss began probing and questioning the ideas of tonality, notation and fixed form. Even time itself came up for scrutiny in his pioneering work, Time Cycle, which received the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award in 1961, and was recorded on the CBS label. At its world premiere (for which the Improvisational Chamber Ensemble provided improvised interludes, between the movements), Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performed the entire work twice in the same evening, in an unprecedented gesture of respect.

Lukas Foss’ compositions prove that a love for the music of the past can be reconciled with all sorts of innovations. Whether the musical language is serial, aleatoric, neoclassical or minimalist, the “real” Lukas Foss is always present. The essential feature of his music is the tension, so typical of the 20th Century, between tradition and new modes of musical expression. His ideas – and his compelling way of expressing them – garnered considerable respect for Foss as an educator as well. He taught at Tanglewood, and has been composer-in-residence at Harvard, the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, Boston University, and even at Pittsburgh’s own Carnegie Mellon University. 

In 1983 he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in May 2000 received the Academy’s Gold Medal in honor of his distinguished career in music. The holder of eight honorary doctorates (including a 1991 Doctor of Music degree from Yale), he was in constant demand as a lecturer, and delivered the prestigious Mellon Lectures (1986) at Washington’s National Gallery of Art.

     —Adapted from carlfischer.com

 

Educator's Guide 

For more on Lukas Foss, Mark Twain and the Frog, download our educational guide

 

Additional Resources

Learn more about The Jumping Frog from these books, recordings, and scores available on Amazon: