Robert Butts

Conductor ● Composer ● Educator

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Mark Twain and the General

Mark Twain and the General, Opera in one act, Libretto: Jewell Seehaus-Fisher, Music: Robert W. Butts

Mark Twain and The General focuses on the last difficult days of General/President Ulysses S. Grant and his unexpected collaboration with Mark Twain.  "Composing the music," Maestro Butts stated, "I tried to convey an array of emotions both personal to me as well as reflective of the feelings of the characters.  Having grown up under the shadow of the Vietnam War, I have long felt torn between recognizing the absolute horrors of war yet admiring the courage and bravery of those who fight.  I believe that Grant was also able to step back and recognize that, as he states in the opera 'War is ugly.  War is Hell."  His writings reflect both the ugliness of war while recognizing the valor of the soldiers."   

The video exerpts are from a performance with Eastern Opera Company of New Jersey in spring 2014

Characters

Ulysses S. Grant - baritone

Julia Grant - soprano

Cook - tenor or soprano

Mark Twain - tenor

Setting

Grant's home during his final illness and while writing his book on the Civil War.

Synopsis

Mark Twain and the General begins as Ulysses S. Grant attempts to write his book about the Civil War.   He has been diagnosed with cancer.  Following the war, he suffered serious financial setbacks and his presidency was marked by corruption and scandal. His wife Julia worries over his health and the effects of his attempts to complete his book. Mark Twain, himself stlll seeking success, visits. Inspired by the union and confederate veterans who, aware of Grant's illness, pass by outside, Mark Twain suggests he publish Grant's book and seel by subscription .

The opera opens with Grant seated at his table, recalling the horrors of the war as well as the bravery of the soldiers.

Julia arrives, begging him to slow down and not risk exhausting himself.   She, too, remembers the horrors of the war.

Grant reflects further on the war, recalling "War and Whiskey are old comrades."   He reflects that he must write the book in memory and honor of those who still suffer the effects of the war.  He is interrupted by The Cook who admonishes him for not taking care of himself.   Julia returns, telling him "the war ended ages ago" while he reflects that the only thing he really knew was to be general.

Mark Twain arrives.  They talk about the pleasures of good whiskey and a good cigar.  

Mark Twain tells Grant he (Twain) will publish Grant's book by subscription.    Grant asks "Why would you publish a book about war?"    They reflect on the sad reality of war.

Mark Twain brings the veterans in to meet The General. Their words inspire Grant to complete his book.

Mark Twain and the General was produced by Eastern Opera Company, Brook Arts Center, Bound Brook, New Jersey on June 1, 2014.  The cast included Don Sheasley (Ulysses S. Grant), Karole Lewis (Julia Grant), Ira Barth (The Cook), Brian Jamieson (Mark Twain), Tom Loughman (veteran), Jason Adamo (veteran), Anthony Figliano (veteran).   Directed  by Karole Lewis.  Conducted by Robert W. Butts.