Giants in the Earth (opera)

Opera by Douglas Moore

Giants in the Earth is a 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera in three acts and four scenes by composer Douglas Moore. The work uses an English libretto by Arnold Sundgaard (1909–2006) after Ole Edvart Rølvaag’s 1924-5 novel of the same name. The idea for the opera was originally conceived by Sundgaard, and depicts a story of tragedy and romance among Norwegian American settlers of Dakota Territory in 1873.[1] Composed during 1949-1949, the work was premiered on March 28, 1951 at Columbia University’s Brander Matthews Theatre by the Columbia Opera Workshop.[2]

The Pulitzer jury concluded: “In no opera by an American is there music of such freshness, beauty, and distinctive character. The music has a life of its own apart from its appositeness to the text… Subject, text, and music avoid the cliché and commonplace and combine for an impression of strength and sincerity.”[3] Moore’s compositional style is highly vocal and features a speech-like, through-composed, “lack of melodic repetition,” with a, “fluidity and natural feel [to] the vocal lines.”[4] Contrastingly, the lack of character development and liveliness, the almost complete lack of attention grabbing motifs, the length, and the premiere performance have all been criticized.[5]Olin Downes of The New York Times wrote that the opera was mostly, “recitative of little inherent significance.”[5]

The premiere cast included soprano Brenda Miller Cooper as the central figure Beret, along with Josh Wheeler, Roy Johnson, Vivian Bauer, Sam Bertsche, Helen Dautrich, James Cosenza, Frances Paige, Raymond Sharp, and Edward Black.[6] In 1963 Moore improved the orchestration and depiction of Beret at the request of Carl Fischer Music.[7]

The runners up for the Pulitzer that year were Quincy Porter’s String Quartet No. 8, Peter Mennin’s Symphony No. 5, and David Diamond’s Symphony No. 3.[3]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 28 March 1951
conductor Willard Rhodes[2]
Per Hansa Baritone Josh Wheeler
Beret, his wife Soprano Brenda Miller Cooper
Hans Olsa Bass-Baritone Roy Johnson
Sorrine, his wife Contralto Viviane Bauer
Syvert Tonetsen Tenor Samuel Bertsche
Kjersti, his wife Soprano Helen Dautrich
Henry Tenor James Cosenza
Dagmar Soprano Frances Paige
A Preacher Baritone Raymond Sharp
O’Hara Bass Edward Block
Sullivan Roger Farrand
Ola & Anna, Children of Per and Beret Donald Stammer, Ellen Spencer
Dancers at the wedding


Act 1[edit]

The crest of a low hill, early morning in Spring.

Act 2[edit]

Interior of the sod hut of Per Hansa, a June afternoon.

Act 3[edit]

Scene 1, Outside the hut. A Sunday morning in September. Scene 2, Interior of the hut. Late at night in February.


  1. ^ Eaton, Quaintance (1961). Opera Production: A Handbook, Volume 1, p.73. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816657537.
  2. ^ a b Jerry L. McBride (2011). Douglas Moore: A Bio-bibliography. A-R Editions. p. 120-121. ISBN 9780895796660.
  3. ^ a b Clifton, Chalmers and Lockwood, Norman (April 9, 1951). “Report of the Pulitzer Prize Music Jury”, p.1. New York. cited in Heinz-Dietrich Fischer, Erika J. Fischer, eds. (2001). Musical Composition Awards 1943-1999: From Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber to Gian-Carlo Menotti and Melinda Wagner, p.xxi n.24. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110955750.
  4. ^ McBride, Jerry L. (2011). Douglas Moore: A Bio-bibliography, p.39. A-R Editions. ISBN 9780895796660.
  5. ^ a b McBride (2011), p.39-40.
  6. ^ “Columbia Giving Opera; ‘Giants in the Earth,’ 11th in Series, Will Open March 28”. The New York Times. March 6, 1951. Retrieved May 22, 2009.
  7. ^ McBride (2011), p.59.

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