Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Season for Sorrow

You may have noticed from the previous post that the booklet from We Sing of Idaho also mentions the following: "In 1962 an opera on the same subject was written, with music by C. Griffith Bratt of Boise Junior College (BSU now), and with the libretto by Mrs. Geo. Bowditch of the Idaho Historical Society." The opera was entitled A Season for Sorrow or "A Ring About Orchard." Now I have to plead a bit of ignorance when it comes to the finer points of opera. A few weeks ago I had a delightful phone conversation with the 93 years young Professor Emeritus Dr. C. Griffith Bratt and learned a lot that I did not know. Of course I studied up a bit like a student in Op 101 going in for his first quiz from the good professor. I hope to visit with Dr. Bratt the next time I am in Boise and see a copy of the music, lebretto and perhaps a video of the later performance from the 1990's. I never realized the extent to which this opera focused on my great grandmother Belle Steunenberg and her forgiveness toward Orchard and even includes a part depicting by grandfather Julian Steunenberg. I knew very little of this until I spoke with Dr. Bratt and certainly appreciated his willingness to share information. Thank you too to Professor Wallis Bratt, son of Dr. Bratt and also a professor of music at BSU, for facilitating my contact with his father.

Click here for Find A Grave Page for Dr. Bratt

Below are additional notes I made from our 5/5/08 conversation.
T/C to Dr. C. Griffith Bratt, Boise, ID
A Season for Sorrow
In the early 1960’s, local interest was directed at trying to establish an opera in Boise. Meetings were initiated consisting of local interested parties. Dr. Bratt was then composer in residence at Boise Junior College (later to be BSU). As he recalls, Dean Chaffy may have been the one to originally suggest an opera based upon the historical events surrounding the Steunenberg assassination and Harry Orchard. Originally it was intended to be a workshop opera but ultimately became a full production.

A Season for Sorrow was originally performed in 1962. It was commissioned by the Idaho State Federation of Music Clubs to commemorate the 1963 Territorial Centennial in conjunction with the National Board Session of the National Board of Music Clubs held in Boise, Idaho in 1962. Dr. Bratt wrote the opera in 6-8 weeks which was very fast for an opera score. George and Barbara Bowditch wrote the libretto. The Bowditch’s were New Englanders and not local to Idaho.

In 1990, the opera was presented again by the Boise Opera. An additional act was added written by Hazel Weston with only Mrs. Steunenberg (performed by Joan Metelli) on stage as the sole focus of the scene. A ballet was also added that was choreographed by Warren Stiggins. Dr. Bratt has a video of the 1990 production.
A Season for Sorrow focused on the events leading up to the trial and on Mrs. Steunenberg and her forgiveness toward Harry Orchard.


Kate Bowditch said...

I am the daughter of Barbara Bowditch,libretto author of "A Season for Sorrow".

I would like to correct some information in the above article. My Mother wrote the entire libretto, often pacing the floor all night in the short 7 weeks she had to find all the right words and rhythms. My father was supportive, by cooking dinners, or keeping us kids busy while she worked, but he didn't write it.

Also, my father was Curator of the Idaho Historical Society, and we had all lived in Boise since 1949. He was deeply involved with Idaho history, and not an outsider at all.

Both my parents have passed away, but I do feel the story needs to be accurate. Thank you....Kate Bowditch

John T. Richards Jr. said...

Kate, I am always so pleased when we can make these connections, meet kinfolk and descendants related to the history we are studying and learn new information. We have the Facebook group 'Boise & The Treasure Valley History,' where we made our connection, to thank in this case.

I imagine the libretto is a rather lengthy text document. Is it online anywhere?