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McCarthyism and American Opera

L’Opéra américain face au McCarthyisme
Klaus-Dieter Gross
p. 164-187

Résumé

L’atmosphère anti-communiste qui caractérisa les États-Unis entre la fin de la seconde Guerre Mondiale et la fin des années 1950, et qui culmina avec des mesures légales ou extra-légales prises par le Comité des Activités Anti-américaines et par le sénateur McCarthy, eut une influence décisive sur l’opéra américain. Quelques rares ouvrages manifestent un soutien diffus pour le McCarthyisme (Still et Nabobov), tandis que d’autres nient son impact en promouvant des idées de gauche (Robinson et Blitzstein). D’autres œuvres incorporent la peur de la vague rouge dans leurs thèmes, mais sans lui donner une importance autre que secondaire. Enfin, trois opéras (Bernstein, Floyd et Ward) abordent frontalement la question du fonctionnement rituel et des méthodes liberticides du McCarthyisme. Le déclin de ce mouvement coïncida, vers le début des années 1960, avec l’émergence d’un style opératique moins traditionaliste et plus abstrait.

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Entrées d’index

Index chronologique :

XXe siècle, 20th century
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Texte intégral

  • 1  Gail Levin, "Aaron Copland’s America: A Cultural Perspective," Gail Levin and Judith Tick, Aaron C (...)
  • 2  Exemplarily see Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Fi (...)
  • 3  See Robby Lieberman, "My Song is My Weapon": People’s Songs, American Communism, and the Politics (...)

1In 1951, painter Ben Shahn’s Composition with Clarinets and Tin Horn combined political and musical imagery when, behind prison bars made up of vertically positioned instruments, one sees a man clutching his hands in front of an invisible face desperate about an unnamed catastrophe. Gail Levin, in her study on composer Aaron Copland, writes that the "horizontal red band and flames imply the turmoil caused by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and others in their witch hunts to uncover Communists during the Cold War."1When Shahn focused on music, he addressed an aspect of McCarthyism less prominent than its impacts on Hollywood and on academic life.2 Whereas most of the existing analyses on music concentrate on its "vernacular" types, like popular, folk, and film music,3 the little discussed field of opera is the subject of the present paper.

  • 4  John Dizikes, Opera in America: A Cultural History (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993).
  • 5  See Albert Fried, "Introduction: Definitions, A Précis," MyCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare (...)

2My use of the term "opera" follows John Dizikes’ general use of the word, because in an American and twentieth-century context the term tends to include all music drama which aims at rendering its contents in a consciously complex way.4 A second terminological problem is what we mean by "McCarthyism." In the strictest sense of the word, it refers to the political activities of US-Senator Joseph McCarthy. But its scope reaches far beyond his active period between 1950 and 1954. Aggressively anti-Communist activities were virulent on all levels, from the local to the national, and they were in no way restricted to the sphere of organized politics. McCarthyism’s precursor, the Dies Committee in the late 1930s, still showed an interest in fascists as well as Communists, but when the Second World War came to an end, fear shifted exclusively to the Soviet Union and left-wing activities (even targeting the New Deal). Of the period of the House of Un-American Activities (oddly acronymed "HUAC"), McCarthy’s was one phase. The era ends with the emergence of a new anti-Communist liberalism and non-Communist left in the 1960s.5

  • 6  Richard Gid Powers, Not Without Honor: A History of American Anticommunism (New York: Free Press, (...)
  • 7  Powers 236.
  • 8  Among many others, see Irving Louis Horowitz, "Culture, Politics, and McCarthyism," The Independen (...)
  • 9 See, for example, Brenda Murphy, Congressional Theatre: Dramatizing McCarthyism on Stage, Film, and (...)

3Although clustered around national figures like McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover, and coordinated efforts such as those of the American Legion, McCarthyism worked through a vast network of accusers, who—often independent of each other—were linked rather ideologically than organizationally. When Hoover stated that Communism was "secularism on the march," also religion became a fighting ground. HUAC-activities set out "to expose Communist infiltration in the labor movement, cultural institutions, and the entertainment industry"6 to an extent that even a supporter of its general aims like Richard Gid Powers finds that at its peak McCarthyism "would wreak havoc on American political civility."7 Methodically, it worked by public allegation in a ritualized form ("naming names"). The "Red Scare" functioned on three levels: legally, one could be subpoenaed; personally, one could be exposed as a public enemy in the media and professionally, one might lose one’s job and be banished from one’s profession by being blacklisted in publications specializing in outing leftists, like Red Channels or Counterattack. Its wounds have in no way healed over the decades. In the social sciences generations later the topic is highly controversial,8 and cultural historians still find it a pressing subject.9 Also novelist Philip Roth, in his I Married a Communist (1998), takes up the oppressive mood rendered by Ben Shahn, when he has a wife inform on her Communist husband to save the career of her daughter, an emerging concert harp player:

  • 10  Philip Roth, I Married a Communist (1998; New York: Vintage International, 1999) 264.

To me it seems likely that more acts of personal betrayal were tellingly perpetrated in America in the decade after the war—say, between ‘46 and ‘56—than in any other period in our history. This nasty thing that Eve Frame did was typical of lots of nasty things people did in those years, either because they had to or because they felt they had to. Eve’s behavior fell well within the routine informer practices of the era.10

  • 11  Earl Robinson, with Eric A. Gordon, Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson (Lan (...)

4McCarthyite aggression was mainly aimed at public figures, especially "aliens" (like Charles Chaplin or Bertolt Brecht) or Jews (like Arthur Miller, Leonard Bernstein, or Aaron Copland). Hollywood was especially singled out as a hub of communists, crypto-communists, and fellow-travelers. Here the purges included film musicians like George Bassman or David Raksin. Hanns Eisler, a refugee composer from Germany, winner of an Oscar for film music in 1943, and acclaimed writer of the 1947-handbook Composing for the Films, was called before HUAC in 1947 and fled the USA to avoid deportation. Not even the relatively liberal New York scene was exempt. In the early 1950s Earl Robinson, composer of the famous "Joe Hill" ballad and an occasional opera composer, was fired from a conductor’s job at a local children’s choir. Sarcastically he remembers that "HUAC perceived in music a particularly insidous and diabolical mechanism by which Communists indoctrinate the young."11

5As a victim, Robinson was not alone among opera composers; others did not suffer directly but in varying ways attacked the intolerance coming with the Red Scare, and a few even supported Red-baiting measures. The following survey is arranged in three sections, based on what effect McCarthyism had on the composers and their works. The three types are

  • a – works sympathetic to McCarthyism,

  • b – operas alluding to McCarthyism critically but in passing,

  • c – works which in an explicit way focus on its critique.

I

6There is, to my knowledge, no opera to stage pro-McCarthyite feelings in an explicit way. Yet in at least two works an aggressive anti-Communism seems to be at work. Both formulate a basic fear of change. William Grant Still’s Troubled Island discusses the failure of a revolutionary attempt at freeing Blacks from oppression. The opera pre-dates McCarthyism, but its meagre success in the late 40s and 50s was ascribed by the composer to Communist conspiracy. Nicolas Nabokov’s The Holy Devil can be read as a defence of McCarthyite methods; it was not only written by a main protagonist of cultural McCarthyism, it can also be seen as a reaction to the Russian Revolution and a lehrstück on the supposed violence and atheism of the left.

  • 12  See Joseph McLaren, Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943 (Westport: (...)

7Still’s anti-communist hysteria is somewhat pathological. Troubled Island was based on a play by Langston Hughes, who also wrote the libretto. An independent left-winger, Hughes himself became a victim of McCarthy. His Troubled Island, or "Emperor of Haiti: An Historical Drama," was first drafted in 1928 and completed in 1936. Promoting Pan-Africanism, it deals with the complexities of the Haitian Revolution between 1791 and 1804 and depicts three revolutionaries: Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of his “field commanders,” and Henri Christophe, who succeeded L’Ouverture in 1803. Dessalines impersonates the corruption of the Revolution. The play renders the tensions between a literate mulatto elite (like L’Ouverture), traitors like Dessalines, and the illiterate Africans. The play’s message extended to the difficult postcolonial situation in the newly freed Haiti of the 20th century. As Dessalines is not only a cruel ruler but also unfaithful to his wife, he signifies the failure of revolutionary ideals as well as misguided love.12

  • 13  See Catherine Parsons Smith, "‘Harlem Renaissance Man’ Revisited: The Politics of Race and Class i (...)

8Still wrote his opera in the 1930s and revised it in 1941, but it took him eight years to get it performed. To what an extent the changes of 1941 were politically motivated is difficult to trace, but over the years Still had become ever more patriotic. For his opera’s dying scene he restored the love between Dessalines and his wife, making it possible to revoke the former revolutionary’s political ideology for the sake of love for his spouse. This depoliticization does not in itself constitute support of McCarthyism, but Still’s hysterical anti-Communism made him ascribe the lack of success of the opera to Communist influences, to the workings of dark forces of evil. The Communists disliked the idea of love, he assumed: was it not the CP which exploited racist violence in the USA to use it as a tool to implant a foreign political ideology in America? More than of the present conditions in the USA, Blacks ought to be afraid of Communist subversion.13

  • 14  Smith 194-96.

9As early as 1946 Still began to name the names of “leftist”composers, and in 1951 offered to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Up to 1953 he exposed as Communists or their sympathizers, among many others, not only Paul Robeson, Earl Robinson, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, or Kurt Weill—all of whom will be relevant in the present discussion—, but also Roy Harris or even a personal friend like Henry Cowell.14

  • 15  Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 19 (...)
  • 16  See Klaus-Dieter Gross, "How Much of America Is There in It: The Stein/Thomson Operas," Transatlan (...)
  • 17  Saunders 196

10Like Still, Nicolas Nabokov shared the idea that a revolution first causes chaos and then eats its children. A White Russian émigré first to Berlin and then to the USA, Nabokov became an American citizen in 1939. He played an outstanding role in the Congress for Cultural Freedom, for which he worked as a member of its steering committee, as a European representative (based in Paris), as lecturer and organizer. He became, in Frances Stonor Saunders’ words, the "impresario of the cultural Cold War."15 The CCF was a group of writers and artists financed by the CIA, and it was not mainly directed at anti-Communist hardheads but at liberals critical of the Soviet Union. In 1952, sponsored by CIA money, Nabokov organized a festival in Paris with the aim of promoting non-representational styles, those branded in the Soviet Union as “degenerate” and “formalistic.” What better example in the operatic field could one find than Virgil Thomson’s Americanization of Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts?16 The members of Congress were split about McCarthy. At least during the 1950s Nabokov, though, seems to have shared the senator’s daydreams. In 1953, he sponsored the idea that the Eisenhower government was controlled by a Communist Fifth Column17—a foreshadowing of McCarthy’s attack on the State Department and the American army as being infiltrated by Communists.

  • 18  Saunders 415.
  • 19  Nicolas Nabokov, Bagázh: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan (New York: Atheneum, 1975) 252.

11His The Holy Devil (1958) is based on a libretto by British fellow CCF activist Stephen Spender. Its setting is Czarist Russia, shortly before the October Revolution. An immoral peasant, Rasputin, has won the trust of the Czar and runs the state with the help of a network of confidants. Rasputin’s power gives him access to excessive hedonism. A number of aristocratic patriots finally free the country by murdering him. The three attempts to kill the usurper make up the plot of the opera. Historically, Nabokov implies, the situation is not unlike that of the American present: “Proletarians” have taken over power, and the country is full of opportunistic “fellow-travelers.” The abuse of power by Rasputin and his cohort in effect prepares a socialist revolution. In old-time Russia, the only escape for the ruling classes was to kill him. To cleanse a country from “evil” affords tough measures: “You can’t jump into the lake and come out dry” was one of Nabokov’s favorite proverbs.18 Yet when compared to what would have been necessary in pre-revolutionary Russia, the means of the McCarthyite defenders of decency and morals are moderate, so that the opera at least indirectly constitutes an exculpation in historic clothes. That the opera is so dated today is not only due to its weak libretto and highly conventional music—without the political context it is irrelevant. Nabokov, without acknowledging any political context, in a 1975 autobiography admits that after McCarthyism was dead the opera lost its impetus: “Then, after 1963, the old ‘jack’ Grigory Rasputin went back to his box with its rusty springs. For the time being, he is fast asleep, waiting for someone to wake him.”19

  • 20  Martin Bauml Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York: Knopf, 1988) 193.
  • 21  Duberman 111, 317-21, 388-90.
  • 22  Victor S. Navasky, Naming Names (London: Calder, 1982) 186-89.

12In their attacks on the left and on liberalism, both Nabokov and Still also turned on singers. With Paul Robeson, Still exposed a fellow Black, undermining his claim that race was the main question. Robeson was not new to opera. In a 1928 production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess he had sung the part of Crown, and in a 1934 production he was Porgy. Conscious of his limited voice, he turned down other offers to sing in operas.20 In 1935 he declined the role of Mephisto in a film version of Gounod’s opera Faust, and in 1939 he decided not to sing in Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Ulysses Africanus. Had he tried to resume an operatic career after World War II, this would have been made impossible nationally by a vast public campaign against him and internationally by the withdrawal of his passport.21 As a result his income of $104,000 in 1947 dwindled to $2,000 in 1950.22

  • 23  Saunders 118.
  • 24  See Dizikes 500 and Allan Keiler, Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (New York: Scribner, 2000) 2 (...)
  • 25  Navasky 192.

13Less exposed singers felt the pressure as well. Nabokov claimed that for political reasons he made the career of Leontyne Price. Promoting Price both meant to incorporate her into a strictly anti-Communist setting and to keep complete control: “Nabokov later boasted to Arthur Schlesinger: ‘I started her career and because of this she has always been willing to do things for me which she couldn’t do for anyone else.’ “23 In particular she was important because as an African-American she factually proved that American racism was not as bad as the Russians said it was. Other Black singers served that purpose, too, and how they had to adapt in order to survive in the operatic world is highlighted by Marian Anderson. In the 1930s her sister Alyse had been politically active on behalf of the Democratic Party and in support of Roosevelt, and Marian had toured the Soviet Union. John Dizikes interprets her decision in the 1950s to keep away from political partisanship as a move in order to secure her success.24 Like fellow singer Lena Horne, who was banned from the popular Ed Sullivan Show for alleged left-wing contacts, she had to save her career by making her peace with the circumstances quietly.25

II

  • 26  Robinson 77-78.
  • 27  Robinson 216-17.
  • 28  Robinson 250, 261.
  • 29  Robinson 234-40.

14McCarthyism did not blank out left-wing opera, but by the early 1950s there were only few composers to openly promote a working-class perspective. Among them was Earl Robinson, whose Sandhog (1954) was based on Theodore Dreiser’s short story “St. Columba and the River” (1927). By the end of his life, Dreiser had decided to support the Communist Party, but died in 1945. Robinson left the Party only in the 1960s. He was among the first musicians to learn of the coming of McCarthyism. As early as 1939, in an attack on the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project, he ran into conflict with the Dies Committee for the show Sing For Your Supper, a left-wing musical history of the USA.26 His Red Channels entry was two pages long. As late as the 1990s he remembers that during the 1950s he not only lost one job with a children’s choir but on all levels suffered a dwindling income and even considered changing his name.27 Between 1952 and 1958 he was denied a passport, and in 1957, at a time when he was slowly finding his distance to the Communist Party, he was subpoenaed to public HUAC-hearings.28 In the context of the opera, the main effect McCarthyism had was that it created problems about financing and producing it. Although Sandhog aimed at a cooperation with unions, when the show ran off-Broadway for six weeks in 1954, these were scared out of support through ongoing attacks in magazines such as Counterattack.29

15The opera deals with the building of Hoboken Bridge and the workers who lost their lives in constructing this masterwork of labor. Yet when the bridge is opened, this toll is neglected. In accordance with popular front tactics, Robinson refered to Sandhog alternatively as "a workers’ opera," a "folk opera," or a "musical," as folk influences characterize multiple ethnic backgrounds. Its main themes are the workers’ pride in their jobs and in themselves, the creation of a united working class, and revolutionary optimism. The final number is a positive statement of solidarity quite in the vein of an Americanized socialist realism.

  • 30  Norman Podhoretz, Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian (...)

16Robinson and his opera are all but forgotten today, but author Lillian Hellman still is one of the most disputed protagonists of the debates about McCarthyism—so much disputed that her former leftist ally turned "friendly witness" Norman Podhoretz as recently as the late 1990s sheds his disgust on her. Hellman, to him, remained "an unreconstructed Stalinist." HUAC, he writes, was right in attacking her "un-American ideas," as "the position I called anti-American was one that denounced the entire American system itself as illegitimate and openly and frankly opposed everything the United States was doing everywhere in the world." Above all, she was an opportunist: "In the 1930s, being a Communist did Lillian no harm. If anything, it worked to her advantage in the big-money Broadway-Hollywood world in which she was making her career as a writer and where her views were almost universally shared. Later, with the onset of the cold war and the turning of the tide, her Stalinist political views did wind up costing her something—not nearly so much as she liked to claim, but enough to frighten her into pretending that she had given them up."30 Yet unlike what Podhoretz’s claim suggests, Hellman never wrote her dramas as propaganda pieces but as psychological and social analyses. The difference becomes obvious in the transition of her play The Little Foxes (1939) to the prime example of post-war socialist opera, Marc Blitzstein’s Regina (1949).

  • 31  Eric A. Gordon, Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989 (...)
  • 32  Gordon 440-42.
  • 33 Gordon 374.

17Longer than most of his former comrades, and ten years more than Hellman, Blitzstein stayed in the Communist Party. And he left without giving up his political orientation. As translator and impresario, he was largely responsible for adapting Brecht’s and Weill’s Threepenny Opera (newly set in 1870s New York) to the American stage—quite an impressive feat in the 1950s after its lack of success in the 1930s. Like Robinson, Blitzstein was among the first musicians to attract the attention of Red-baiters; the FBI recorded his activities as early as November 1940.31 In a long entry to Red Channels his political history was documented, yet he was subpoenaed only in 1958 and his public hearing at the now weakened Committee was finally cancelled.32 At least in detail, also Blitzstein could not avoid reacting to the self-censorial mood of the time, such as when producer Carmen Capalbo intervened with his text of the Threepenny Opera—if only for one word: "In the final ‘Death Message’ where Blitzstein had written, ‘May heavy hammers hit their faces,’ Capalbo suggested ‘hatchets’ to avoid the hammer and sickle imagery. Marc agreed."33

  • 34  See Fried 138-39.

18Blitzstein’s seminal The Cradle Will Rock (1936), a dramatic show to incite the working classes to stand together, was revived at the New York City Center in 1960, showing how far the anti-left impetus of the 1950s had degenerated. Proving that McCarthyism was not to break him, the early production history of his Regina covers the Red Scare era in full. His major opera was conceived at the time of the ordeals of the Hollywood Ten. After a short run on Broadway in 1949 it was revived there in 1953 and 1958. And to emphasize its context, in 1952, just a few days after her outspoken response to McCarthy’s questioning, in a concert performance Hellman acted as its narrator.34

  • 35  Klaus-Dieter Gross, "Moralische Dekadenz oder eine Chance für das Leben? Marc Blitzsteins Opernver (...)
  • 36  Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Mus (...)

19The drama pessimistically puts its emphasis on the recklessness of Regina, who destroys her family and environment in an attempt to adapt a Southern cotton enterprise to the competitive Northern capitalist system. Through rearrangements and musical means Blitzstein’s version turned Hellman’s message into an optimistic one.35 It evoked, in Wilfrid Mellers’ words, “the sense of something waiting to be born.36 To produce this effect, the composer added outside comments by white neighbors and black workers to counter Hellman’s psychological, individualistic picture of Regina.

20Regina wants to play tough, yet in fact is fragile and socially isolated. In “I’m In Love With Things,” an extended, dance-like aria of no stable harmonic basis, she mourns the loss of harmony life has given her:

I was young once, I was a schoolgirl,
I had romantic notions, it’s true.
But I soon grew out of my childhood;
[…]
Now hark to my heart’s desires:
There are diamonds that sparkle and shine.
There are fineries, furs,
and a thousand things,
I count those things for mine,
[…]
I’m in love with things.
You’ve a thousand rivals: things.

21In her desire to possess, to own, and to take away from others, Regina represents the loss of values, the greed, and the jealousy that characterize the capitalist class. Her materialist yearning is commented on by the famous "Rain Quartet," which unites the oppressed classes: Here Blitzstein condenses a political perspective of the opera:

  • 37  Quoted from the booklet of the CD version of Regina (Decca/London) 70 and 76.

The falling of friendly rain.
It serves the earth,
then moves again.
The nourishing rain.
Some people eat all the earth,
Some people stand around
and watch while they eat.
And watch while they eat the earth.
Now rain. Consider the rain.37

As an ensemble this is an act of growing opposition to present conditions and a collective statement of solidarity, set to a gentle tune and a light tempo and underscored by the orchestra’s imitating slight precipitation. Emphasis is on enjoying company, in contrast to rugged individualism. The classes brought together here are not those a Marxist might find realistic, with its idiosyncratic combination of a residual aristocratic class (her husband Horace and sister-in-law Birdie), Alexandra (who refuses to take part in exploiting men and nature) and an emergent working class (ex-slave Addie), but as a kind of "united front" they are set against a capitalism that devours the individual. Also the idea of blending antagonistic class interests in the ecological metaphor of productive rain is far from a Marxist interpretation of the class struggle. It rather plays on the mock-Marxist assumption that history is an inevitable process, like nature. Blitzstein makes a statement here that a future is possible for those who oppose capitalist ways. Through a combination of old operatic material, like arias, typically American hymn-like tunes and salon music, and African-American elements like jazz, blues and ragtime, the "popular front" aspect is also achieved musically.

  • 38  Randie Lee Blooding, "Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe: An Investigation of Its Historical A (...)
  • 39  Mellers 415. See also Walter Zidaric, "Immigration, différence et intégration dans The Consul et T (...)

22In Blitzstein’s and Robinson’s socialist operas McCarthyism is present in defiance, through neglect. In the face of Red-baiting they express a confidence most composers did not share at the time. Many politically-minded composers of the late 1940s and 1950s rather restrict themselves to trying to re-establish American values like independence, freedom, and tolerance instead of promoting more specific social change. This made the 1950s a peak era of historical opera, like in Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956), which in a 19th-century setting argues for more tolerance.38 In a contemporary context, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul (1949) criticized America’s isolationism in a plot probably set in World War II, but with a relevance to the present. In a Kafkaesque situation, a persecuted couple seeks refuge in another country’s consulate, but in vain hopes to find exile. To Mellers "The Consul is a genuinely frightening vision of the dehumanized world of bureaucracy, with the added advantage that it can, if need be, be imbued with political significance—on either side."39 Consequently the plot, although the setting is not clearly defined, can easily be read in a McCarthyite context, in which uncontrolled and unnamed powers are active, passports are denied, and "aliens" do not fit an assumed American mould.

  • 40  Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (New York: Holt, 1999) 271-87.
  • 41  The case is documented in Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland Since 1943 (New York: St. Marti (...)
  • 42  Pollack 268.

23Unlike Moore and Menotti, Aaron Copland was himself a victim of aggressive anti-Communism. Copland, always an active citizen but never a member of a party, shared the socialist tendencies of many of his contemporaries.40 The shock came when his patriotic Lincoln Portrait was removed from the inaugural concert for President Eisenhower because of his left-wing sympathies;41 ironically at HUAC activist Nixon’s presidential inauguration a few years later it was given. Copland’s books and music were withdrawn from public libraries. He had difficulties in securing a passport, and lectures and conductor’s appearances were canceled. In the long run, his being called to testify before HUAC in 1952 was one reason for his withdrawing from composing, yet as a first response he wanted to compose an opera based on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and was accepted by its author. Nothing came of the project, and Robert Ward eventually set the play to music.42

  • 43  Copland and Perlis 218.
  • 44  Copland and Perlis 202-03.
  • 45   Copland and Perlis 219. See 205-26 for the background to the opera.

24The opera he did write seemed to be much less topical. Thematically The Tender Land (1954) looks back to the 1930s, including the musical nationalism of the era. Its source was Walker Evans’ depiction of a Midwestern sharecropper mother and her daughter, reproduced in Evans’s and Philip Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).43 At first glance, Copland withdrew from the present, and in Copland Since 1943, co-written with the composer,biographer Vivian Perlis writes: "Except for one moment in the plot, there is no trace of the bitter taste of the McCarthy hearing and its aftermath."44 What this one moment was, Perlis leaves open, yet obviously it is Grandpa Moss’s statement "You’re guilty all the same," an immediate reference to the logics of McCarthyism. Yet in the same book librettist Eric Johns, who used the pen name "Horace Everett," underlines the Red Scare as its wider context: "Aaron had just been through the McCarthy business and we were definitely influenced by that."45

  • 46  Pollack 473.

25The opera is not a populist attack on the fears and hopes of Midwesterners, and it is also unlikely that Copland wanted to characterize McCarthy’s personal background in a family of struggling Wisconsin farmers. It stages a feeling of terror and confusion which many experienced in the 1950s. Two poor men looking for work on a Midwestern farm are taken for rapists, and although the inhabitants learn that these have been caught, the strangers are "guilty all the same." Daughter Laurie, just graduating from school, disagrees and becomes the personification of the gap between past optimism and present-day pessimism. Howard Pollack has located the break in Copland’s music between the hopes of the 1930s and contemporary intolerance not only in his general shift from an interest in social class to personality, but directly in Laurie’s and her unhappy boyfriend’s "The Promise of Living," an aria in the third act: "For close to two decades, Copland’s work had emphasized communal solidarity or at least some kind of social accommodation; ‘The Promise of Living’ itself arguably constitutes a culmination of such idealism. But the promises are not fulfilled; the love scene is interrupted before its final resolution, and Laurie, ultimately, packs her bags and goes."46 When Laurie breaks free of the constraints of her xenophobic, despotic environment, she takes a giant step towards physical and intellectual independence. She leaves behind the denial of liberty ever promised but never granted—if for an insecure future.

  • 47  See Kim H. Kowalke, "The Two Weills and the Music of Street Scene," Street Scene: A Sourcebook, ed (...)
  • 48  "An Interview with Francesa Zambello," Street Scene: A Sourcebook 54.
  • 49  See Kowalke 62-63. For Whitman’s impact on Weill see also Kim H. Kowalke, "‘I’m an American’: Whit (...)

26Already years before, Kurt Weill’s Street Scene (1946) had found a similarly oppressive setting in metropolitan New York and had also linked the visionary hopes of the early 1930s with the conservative post-war era. Although based on a 1929 play by Elmer Rice, Weill brings the plot close to his present. The opera presents an outsiders’ view of America, as almost all of the roles in the opera are those of immigrants fighting for survival in and around a dilapidated New York tenement building.47 At a time marked by a fear of immigrants it is a declaration for the legal rights of these minorities: "The only ‘American’ on the block is Mrs. Jones, and ironically, she is the ugliest, most bigoted character," writes Francesa Zambello.48 Into the love story at the heart of the opera he projects the utopian-socialist vision of Walt Whitman, who played a major role for all three collaborators, Rice, Weill and lyricist Langston Hughes.49 Set against this dream, the America that appears on stage is one of contemporary repression and failure.

  • 50  See Larry Stempel, "Street Scene and the Enigma of Broadway Opera," A New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt (...)

27Weill tried to cater to two musical worlds at the same time. On the one hand, he called the opera a "dramatic musical" to emphasize the serious side of the work. This strain is condensed in the main action around the four main characters, to which he gives classically operatic treatment: Frank Maurrant kills his wife Anna for her having an extramarital affair, and their daughter Rose decides not to stay with poor Sam Kaplan but seek success on Broadway, giving up the only love she probably will find. Around this core, on the other hand, Weill clusters side episodes mostly in popular formats, to mark ethnic variety. In these passages, like many a successful Broadway composer, he even had others orchestrate the tunes, as for the catchy jitterbug tune "Moon-faced, starry-eyed."50

28The turmoil about the anti-Communist feelings of the time enters at a point which links the two musical worlds, as it brings together the main characters in what clearly is a side episode: When Sam’s father Abraham, a Jewish immigrant with a 1930s consciousness, argues that the "kepitalist press" distorts reality and that a revolution is pending, chauvinistic Irishman Frank Maurrant falls into McCarthy-inspired violence:

  • 51  Quoted from the booklet to the CD version of Kurt Weill, Street Scene: An American Opera (Decca) 6 (...)

Kaplan: All dis is bourgeois propaganda to take the minds of de verkers from de kless struggle.
Maurrant: All right, we heard enough. You better lay off that Red talk, or you’re liable to get your head busted open.51

29In The Tender Land Laurie was forced away from her Midwestern home by a strong feeling of oppression. Here, in contemporary New York, a not too different Red-baiting mentality constitutes a major reason that Rose’s and Sam’s love is bound to fail and that Rose wants to leave her equally authoritarian environment. Although McCarthyism is present as a mood, and the opposition to it is obvious, it is—like in Copland’s opera—hardly more than a side aspect.

III

  • 52  Navasky, 88.

30"Naming names in public session" in a ritualized form52 (such as at HUAC sessions) is the subject of the following operas, in which the Red Scare features in a central way. As explicit critiques of the methods and intentions of McCarthyism, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide approaches the matter as a satire, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah through a Biblical story set in the present, and Robert Ward’s The Crucible by way of a historic analogy.

  • 53  See Fried 120. In the period from 1945 to 1947, for instance, he was involved in at least nine lef (...)

31Although never a political hardhead, Bernstein gave musical and social support to a variety of liberal and left-wing causes and activities in favor of the Soviet Union and in defence of fellow musicians. Like others, it was in Red Channels that he was exposed as a Communist supporter.53 There were attempts at blacklisting even for Wonderful Town!, a musical of no overt politics:

  • 54  Michael Freedman, Leonard Bernstein (London: Harrop, 1987) 128.

What no one could anticipate was that Wonderful Town! would be affected by the Red-baiting antics of the mid-1950s. It appeared that the newspaper National Guardian—which Senator McCarthy regarded as a new incarnation of the banned Daily Worker—had bought blocks of seats at the theatre, which they planned to sell in aid of their funds. The theatre was closed for the night so that the paper would not benefit.54

  • 55  Dizikes 507.

If Wonderful Town! had political implications at all, it was that it praised the political awareness, intellectual openness and musical vigor of the 1930s, and thus looked back to a time the McCarthyites abhorred.55

  • 56  Peyser 371.

32At the height of McCarthyism, in 1952, Bernstein conducted the first concert performance of his friend Blitzstein’s adaptation of the Threepenny Opera. To an extent, even his popular musical West Side Story, based on Shakespeare and with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, can be interpreted, like Joan Peyser does, as a reflection of "leftist values, with its emphasis on oppressed youth in the United States."56 Anti-Communist paranoia is ridiculed when Officer Krupke scolds one character for his "Commie Grandma" and blames disorder on left-wing immigrants.

  • 57  Leonard Bernstein, "This I Believe," Findings (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982) 139.

33In 1954 the composer published a self-confessional text in which he analyses the state of the nation as one in crisis and calls for a re-evaluation of humanistic values: "We must believe strongly, more strongly than before, in one another—in our ability to grow and change, in our power to communicate and love, in our mutual dignity, in our democratic method."57

  • 58  New York Times 18 November 1956, quoted in Carl Rollyson, Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Lega (...)

34This call for change, for openness, and for a return to democratic ways rejects McCarthyism, but is not politically focused in any concrete direction. In the context of Candide Bernstein reiterates these points: "Puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitorial attacks on the individual, brave-new-world optimism, essential superiority—aren’t all these charges leveled against American society by our best thinkers? And they are also charges made by Voltaire against his own society."58

35Candide was first conceived by Lillian Hellman as an update and Americanization of the hilarious novella Voltaire had published in 1759 to ridicule Leibniz’ naïve early Enlightenment optimism. As early as 1950, and long before Bernstein’s and her troubles with the Committee, she asked the composer for incidental music. But then the project evolved into a full-fledged music drama. Stephen Sondheim, Bernstein’s co-operator with West Side Story, wrote some lyrics, and lyricists Richard Wilbur, John LaTouche, and additional librettist Hugh Wheeler were involved, too.

  • 59  Peyser 220.

36The piece was staged as a "comic operetta" in 1956, shortly after McCarthy had fallen from grace. A "political comment in the aftermath of Joe McCarthy," it is a "bitter treatment of the political process" at the time.59 Naïve Candide finds that cruelty and terror reign anywhere. This allowed Bernstein to work in the cosmopolitican eclecticism he so much liked. Dr. Pangloss, a resident philosopher, teaches that in spite of the murder, torture, rape, and greed everywhere in this world it still is "the best of all possible worlds." Voltaire wonders how far the world actually is reasonable, making his message a highly skeptical one.

  • 60  Fried 50.
  • 61  Robinson xxv.

37Hellman and Bernstein were not alone in seeing parallels between Voltaire’s satire and American realities. In their general ideology, Albert Fried writes, McCarthyites shared a "Panglossian vision," because they believed that with the vanishing of the Left from the midst of American society "[all] would be well in the best of possible worlds of the vital center."60 In particular the HUAC hearings were, in Earl Robinson’s description, the equivalent of a "medieval auto-da-fé."61 A similar reference to Voltaire’s own auto-da-fé scene gives Hellman the basis for her outrageous attack on McCarthyism.

  • 62  Richard Moody, Lillian Hellman: Playwright (New York, Pegasus, 1972) 270-84.
  • 63  Text quotations from Lillian Hellman, "Candide," The Collected Plays (Boston: Little, Brown, &Co, (...)

38This is how Richard Moody summarizes the scene: "In McCarthy fashion they’re searching for wizards and witches. The Infant Casmira, a drunken old-lady fortuneteller dressed as a child, points the finger at Pangloss and Candide. Pangloss is a foreigner and Candide carries earthquake germs in his sack."62 This implies manyfold cross-references: an inquisitorial ritual is at work; conspiracy is seen anywhere; scapegoats are used to explain the inexplicable; Casmira is an alcoholic like McCarthy was; like the Chaplins, Brechts, or Eislers, Pangloss and Candide are the quintessential aliens to be gotten rid of; the majority of the population is blind to what is going on; and the trial is in the interest of the well-to-do. Realizing that a public burning is good for business, the shop-owners of Lisbon explode into a happy tune: "What a day, what a day, / For an auto-da-fé." (619)63

39The trial mirrors the nonsensical use of logics by the Inquisitors: "Grand Inquisitor (Shouting:) Quiet! Have faith. We have taken council. We have found an unfailing remedy for earthquakes. Witches and wizards have moved among us: we will bring them to trial." (628)

40Like McCarthy’s "fellow-travelers and Communists" the evil-doers are branded as "witches and wizards," and the most absurd accusations against them are believed to be true by unthinking masses; aroused, their chorus responds with an unanimous "Guilty." In this aggressive climate, the accused try to survive by covering up their pasts, or by confessing and the naming of names:

Old Man:
Great judge, I learned to read as a very young man. I can see now that I was a tool and a fool. I was poor, I was lonely—
First Professor:
Who are your associates? Be quick.
Old Man:
Yes, sir. Well, there was Emmanuel, Lilybelly, Lionel, and Dolly and Molly and Polly, of course. And my Ma and my Pa and my littlest child. A priest, deceased, and my uncle and my aunt. The president, his resident, and the sister of my wife—
Grand Inquisitor:
All right. All right. Thank you for your splendid cooperation. (269)

41In this caricature of McCarthyite thinking, a desire for learning is potentially dangerous; people are used as "tools" in battles about power; exposing others as "friendly witnesses" is a major way of proving one is not guilty; accusations include best friends, family members—even the youngest child—and the government, like McCarthy did when he targeted not only Roosevelt and Truman, but even Eisenhower. Hellman is there, too, as "Lilybelly." Yet also "friendly witnesses" do not get away easily:

Mixed Chorus:
At first he lied and tricked us,
But now he’s sung his tale.
So bid him Benedictus,
And let him sing in jail. (630)

42About to be hanged for being a foreigner, Pangloss tries to argue, but the xenophobic majority, incensed, wants to see blood:

Pangloss:
Gentlemen. Your methods are not legal—
(Music)
The Three Inquisitors:
Are our methods legal or illegal?
Male Chorus:
Legal! (630)
Mixed Chorus:
When foreigners like this come
To criticize and spy,
We chant our Pax Vobiscum
And hang the bastards high. (630-631)

43Like being an alien, being poor leads to condemnation. Asked if he has bread or money, Candide admits:

That’s the hardest way to die, boy. From my long experience I can tell you that the guilty die easier than the innocent. They have a decent sense of accomplishment. (631)

44Musically, the auto-da-fé scene is set as a collage, including a galop (a style not only popular in 19th-century operetta, but also en vogue in contemporary America), allusions to the tango, and chant elements of the "guilty" chorus, which emphasize a both ritualistic and American element. The clash of an easy-going music and the serious contents highlights the schizophrenic situation.

45Candide survives the following whipping, and he and the resurrected Pangloss will resume their voyage through the disasters and terrors of the world to stumble into new catastrophes less directly connected with American realities. When the story ends, Candide and his long-lost beloved Kunegonde are reunited in what in Voltaire is just a new disaster, marriage. Candide is as naïve as ever, so that the process of self-deception is likely to begin again. But in the opera Candide becomes a disillusioned modern hero, an almost romantic figure. Pangloss is still arguing, but Candide—"with force"—has the final word to give in to disillusion and give up the search for a better collective future: "No. We will not think noble because we are not noble. We will not live in beautiful harmony, because there is no such thing in this world, nor should there be. We promise only to do our best and live out our lives. Dear God, that’s all we can promise in truth. Marry me, Kunegonde." (678) This said, he falls into the concluding song: "We’ll build our house, and chop our wood, / And make our garden grow, / And make our garden grow." (679)

46In the libretto, the marriage is an endpoint, a settling down. And it is not as a vignette that the final scene is composed; musically its main idea stems from the motif which throughout the opera characterizes Candide’s yearning for Kunegonde. It becomes the logical outcome of the oper(ett)a as a whole. When in the end the lovers first sing separately, then merge into a duet, and are finally imbedded into a full chorus. This is affirmative indeed. Buy a farm and live on its products, the ending seems to say, and instead of roaming the world, share a philosophy based on an American work ethic. The satirical plot peters out into a "know-nothing" attitude. Too bright and gay to be believable, and promoting an optimism unfounded by the play as a whole, the ending of the opera fosters a life in a self-contained, family-based, apolitical surrounding. In contrast to the cruel anti-McCarthy auto-da-fé, it projects a withdrawal from the evils of public life, including McCarthyite pressure, into the alternative of living a decent life at least in private.

  • 64  Peyser 371.

47Hellman always called the music version a "musical," but if it was one, it did not go down too well with the general musical-going public. It was re-worked over and over again—which is the reason that the present analysis uses Hellman’s published text rather than other versions of the libretto. Her text had been close to Voltaire, but revisions cut up to three fourths of the original text. Bernstein’s last approved version, of 1988, is relatively close to the Hellman libretto again. Hellman refused to acknowledge any of the cut versions and found the staging of the piece a most unpleasant experience. Although she blamed the wide range of co-operators for this, the conflict between Broadway and bitter satire is all too obvious. In Candide, Bernstein, Joan Peyser writes, "was engaged in attacking McCarthy, thwarting Hellman, and distorting Voltaire’s message so that it is changed from a cynical one to the celebration of Bernstein’s own solution: love."64 In spite of its past political intention, the historic reference is almost lost on today’s audiences.

48During the McCarthy era, critical operas, including Candide, were closely linked with liberal New York. The more astonishing it is that the most successful of anti-McCarthyite operas originates in the South, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.65 Floyd was not directly involved with HUAC. This is due to the fact that he was born only in 1926, and that as a Bible Belt Southerner he lay outside the target regions of the witchhunters. Susannah was premiered in 1955 at Florida State University, and only when McCarthyism was beginning to weaken, in 1956, came to the New York City Opera. Floyd explicitly names the McCarthyite tendency for social and ideological homogeneity as the main context of the opera: "We are a curious nation because on the one hand, there is no nation that extols the nonconformist, the rugged individual, more than we do. And yet there is a huge pressure in our society toward conformity."66

49Susannah deals with an outsider to a puritanical small town penetrated by suspicion and apprehension. Basically diatonic in its music, and not too innovative for a conservative opera audience, it represents a sequence of emotional states in a constant interplay of religious allusions, classically operatic techniques, hymns, and Appalachian folk tunes.

50Susannah, aged 19, lives on the outskirts of New Hope Valley, Tennessee, with her 30-year-old brother, Sam. After the elders of the local church by accident observe her bathing naked in a creek, they accuse her of being a moral danger to the community and try to evict her from the village. Reverend Blitch, a powerful preacher but a lonely man, demands her public confession of sins, yet later spends the night with her. The next morning he does not dare to stand by her, and when Sam learns about that night he kills him and flees. Susannah, who early in the opera, like Laurie in Tender Land and Rose in Street Scene, dreams of leaving the valley, decides to stay in an act of defiance and self-confidence. Floyd thus repudiates the claim of an American society toward conformity. More concretely even, his critique of McCarthyism works on at least three different levels.

51First, when New Hope Valley demands that an outsider be brought to repentence through public confession, the community and church become HUAC-like inquisitorial institutions. The accusers do not look for truth but subordination. Self-righteously they find sin only in the other, as if Susannah had been responsible for their spying on her. Blitch himself, who came to New Hope Valley as the moral arbiter McCarthyite crusaders professed they were, is the first to fall victim to temptation but does not dare to stand up to his own doing.

52Second, the roles and functions of witnesses and judges are discussed. In the first act, 15-year-old Little Bat tells Susannah that his parents and the elders forced him into a false accusation that Susannah seduced him. A "friendly witness," he was made an informer on and tool against a friend. When in the second act Susannah has made up her mind to resist conformity and rely on herself to survive in an inimical world, she slaps him, rejecting not only the demands of the community as a whole, but also refusing to be friends with one who has become a tool in other people’s hands, however "innocent" he may see himself to be.

53Third, two options on how to resist oppression are given through the two ways in which Sam and Susannah react to Blitch’s and the public’s transgressions. By killing the evangelist Sam reacts violently but has to flee and loses the chance to influence the community; his act of revenge will work in the affirmative, as the cohesion of the village will be strengthened by the existence of a common enemy. Susannah’s reaction, to stay against public opposition, will constantly remind the community of the presence of an alternative way of living, not unlike what Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter had done a century before. Susannah does not give in ("Forgive? I forget what that word means." [act III, scene 4]), but decides to stay on—a memorial against intolerance and an anchor for a positive future. Susannah has grown strong in the conflict, found the confidence to defend herself, and imposed her independence on her environment. She stands strong, will survive the onslaught of others—and thus gives credence to the name of the community, New Hope Valley.

  • 67  See Fried 122-23.
  • 68  Navasky 211-16.

54Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) predates Susannah. Like Hellman, Miller was a victim of McCarthy, and the play is to the present day the best-known dramatic synthesis of the events. Miller suffered in many ways from the Red Scare. Blacklisted in FBI publications like Red Channels,67 in 1954 he was denied a passport to attend a production of the play in Belgium, and in 1956 had to appear before HUAC. His taking the First Amendment ("Free Speech") could have sent him to jail in the heyday of the Committee, but in those latter days he got away with a penal fine and a suspended sentence in jail.68

55The Crucible focuses on the distorted logic of HUAC—for example when Danforth’s double role as governor and judge, like that of the Committee, in effect breaches the division of powers provided by the American Constitution. Danforth’s defence of his decisions against better evidence undermines democratic legality: "I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime" and "Reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now." (Act III.) A wide range of secondary interests are involved, as various characters use the situation to further their own good, like Reverend Parris (who fights to keep his job with the parish), Abigail Williams (who fights to win John Proctor, the main character), Thomas Putnam (who tries to increase his property), and Governor Danforth (who uses it to quell social upheaval). Proctor, who is "guilty" of a past sexual relationship with Abigail, is drawn into the public strife and accused of witchery. In a direct reference to the HUAC procedures he refuses to acknowledge misdeeds unrelated to his "crime" and to name the names of other "witches." Weaker characters, like young servant Mary Warren, are pressed to testify against him and to expose the names of others. Proctor ends up having at least his good name preserved for his children.

  • 69  Letter to the author, 5 May 2003.
  • 70  See Klaus-Dieter Gross, "The Crucible as Drama and as Opera," Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerik (...)

56Both Robert Ward and his librettist Bernard Stambler were active in local politics, and Ward defines their attitudes as strictly opposed to any form of intolerance. And even though he assumes that "long political or philosophical arguments don’t go well with opera,"69 his opera version, also called The Crucible (1961), retains the anti-McCarthy impetus of Miller’s play. Ward feels free to shift from Miller’s mainly didactic conception to one which over the procedural aspects stresses the fight between two women, Abigail and Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, over Proctor. This makes possible the application of classically operatic strategies without giving up the context from which the play sprang. Argumentative strategies like Danforth’s, extremely difficult to translate into sung speech, are not eliminated completely, but the emphasis on the abuse of language in the trials has given way to the analysis of a more general mood and to a focus on a situation in which personal conflicts are of equal importance. Ward clearly shares Miller’s critique of the events, but their political topicality had diminished over the years.70 The contrast between Miller’s and Ward’s The Crucible shows an easing of the tensions after the peak season of McCarthyism, de-emphasizing the concrete political context and going more into the direction of opposing intolerance as such.

57In any of these oppositional operas a "church" plays a central role, which can be linked to the importance religion played for many McCarthy adherents. In Candide it is the Catholic church and its inquisition, in Susannah the presence of contemporary revival Protestantism, and in Crucible historic Puritanism. In all cases an irrational element is at work, and the ritualistic aspect is predominant. As this subject is in no way foreign to traditional opera, traditional operatic methods lay at hand. And indeed by the standards of many an innovative contemporary opera, in their musical language these works remained relatively conventional. Stylistic experiment and the expansion of musical techniques were not what the composers sought. They were "populist" in trying to be understood by their audiences, but politically they were opposed to a McCarthy-like populism based on irrational fear. They were "progressive" in going back to the liberal intentions of pre-World-War-II American musical nationalism, which had wanted to break down the barriers between the "high" and the "low." Popular idioms were connected with a certain feeling of social egalitarianism, and occasionally even socialism. If, like Saunders has observed, it was the aim of the Congress for Cultural Freedom to both create a more elitist approach to culture as one way of paving the path to an American cultural predominance in the world and to quell opposition at home, these works had to be taken for failures politically and musically—if only for upholding references to the 1930s.

  • 71  Thomas P. Adler, "The Song and the Said: Literary Value in the Musical Dramas of Stephen Sondheim, (...)
  • 72  James Fisher, "Nixon’s America and Follies: Reappraising a Musical Theater Classic," Stephen Sondh (...)

58Whether or not with the help of the Nabokovs of the 1950s, from the 1960s onwards American opera tended to be getting more abstract and independent from both indigenous American subjects and traditional musical styles. Notable among the exceptions to this trend—and at the same time part of it—was Stephen Sondheim, Bernstein’s collaborator for West Side Story. An outstanding composer himself, he tried to bridge the gaps between avantgarde music and the popular musical in order to promote a more liberal and open-minded world view. In Anyone Can Whistle (1964) the main character Fay "learns that the nonconformists are the strength of the world, that we must change the world to accommodate people and not vice versa!"71 More directly even, Sondheim’s Follies (1971) approaches the 1950s from the perspective of the 1970s and sees the McCarthy era as the collapse of America’s image of itself, as being less guilty than other nations. Typically, one of its characters evokes past HUAC subcommittee leader and future president Nixon’s "brand of suspended ethics," making, as James Fisher writes, "a searing commentary on the American experiences in the middle of the twentieth century."72

59A similar re-evaluation of the effects of the Red Scare, in a scholarly context, was the purpose of the present discussion. Whereas in Ben Shahn’s painting, at the peak of McCarthyism, the suffering musician was faceless, not all contemporary musicians kept their silence and remained invisible. In effect, this paper set out to remember not only the anonymous victims Shahn might have had in mind, but also those who spoke out and whose works, like Blitzstein’s, Weill’s, Floyd’s, and Ward’s, have a good chance of surviving into a time when the particular struggle against illiberality from which they originated will be just one more among numerous crises in American history.

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Notes

1  Gail Levin, "Aaron Copland’s America: A Cultural Perspective," Gail Levin and Judith Tick, Aaron Copland’s America: A Cultural Perspective (New York: Watson-Guptill, 2000) 73.

2  Exemplarily see Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1979) and Ellen W. Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

3  See Robby Lieberman, "My Song is My Weapon": People’s Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-1950 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989) and Ceplair and Englund.

4  John Dizikes, Opera in America: A Cultural History (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993).

5  See Albert Fried, "Introduction: Definitions, A Précis," MyCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History (New York: Oxford UP, 1997) 1-9.

6  Richard Gid Powers, Not Without Honor: A History of American Anticommunism (New York: Free Press, 1995) 217-18.

7  Powers 236.

8  Among many others, see Irving Louis Horowitz, "Culture, Politics, and McCarthyism," The Independent Review 1 (Spring 1996) 101-10.

9 See, for example, Brenda Murphy, Congressional Theatre: Dramatizing McCarthyism on Stage, Film, and Television (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999).

10  Philip Roth, I Married a Communist (1998; New York: Vintage International, 1999) 264.

11  Earl Robinson, with Eric A. Gordon, Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson (Lanham: Scarecrow, 1998) xxv.

12  See Joseph McLaren, Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943 (Westport: Greenwood, 1997) 101-06.

13  See Catherine Parsons Smith, "‘Harlem Renaissance Man’ Revisited: The Politics of Race and Class in Still’s Later Career," William Grant Smith: A Study in Contradictions (Berkeley: U of California P, 2000) 182-212.

14  Smith 194-96.

15  Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 1999) 100.

16  See Klaus-Dieter Gross, "How Much of America Is There in It: The Stein/Thomson Operas," Transatlantic Modernism, ed. Martin Klepper and Joseph C. Schöpp (Heidelberg: Winter, 2001) 277-300.

17  Saunders 196

18  Saunders 415.

19  Nicolas Nabokov, Bagázh: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan (New York: Atheneum, 1975) 252.

20  Martin Bauml Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York: Knopf, 1988) 193.

21  Duberman 111, 317-21, 388-90.

22  Victor S. Navasky, Naming Names (London: Calder, 1982) 186-89.

23  Saunders 118.

24  See Dizikes 500 and Allan Keiler, Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (New York: Scribner, 2000) 281-92.

25  Navasky 192.

26  Robinson 77-78.

27  Robinson 216-17.

28  Robinson 250, 261.

29  Robinson 234-40.

30  Norman Podhoretz, Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt (New York: Encounter Books, 2000) 125, 128, 136-37.

31  Eric A. Gordon, Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989)205-06.

32  Gordon 440-42.

33 Gordon 374.

34  See Fried 138-39.

35  Klaus-Dieter Gross, "Moralische Dekadenz oder eine Chance für das Leben? Marc Blitzsteins Opernversion von Lillian Hellmans The Little Foxes," Geburt und Tod im Kunstvergleich, ed. Gudrun M. Grabher (Trier: WVT, 1995) 167-86.

36  Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music (New York: Oxford UP, 1987) 426.

37  Quoted from the booklet of the CD version of Regina (Decca/London) 70 and 76.

38  Randie Lee Blooding, "Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe: An Investigation of Its Historical Accuracy and the Feasibility of a Historical Production in the Tabor Opera House," DMA-thesis, Ohio State University, 1979. See also Rachel Hutchins-Viroux, "The American Opera Boom of the 1950s and 1960s: History and Stylistic Analysis," these conference proceedings.

39  Mellers 415. See also Walter Zidaric, "Immigration, différence et intégration dans The Consul et The Saint of Bleecker Street de Gian Carlo Menotti," these conference proceedings.

40  Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (New York: Holt, 1999) 271-87.

41  The case is documented in Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland Since 1943 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989) 184-203 (see 190 for a reproduction of McCarthy’s telegram directing him to appear before the "Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations"); see also Pollack 442-54.

42  Pollack 268.

43  Copland and Perlis 218.

44  Copland and Perlis 202-03.

45   Copland and Perlis 219. See 205-26 for the background to the opera.

46  Pollack 473.

47  See Kim H. Kowalke, "The Two Weills and the Music of Street Scene," Street Scene: A Sourcebook, ed. Joanna Lee, Edward Harsh and Kim Kowalke (New York: Kurt Weill Foudation for Music, 1994) 56-69.

48  "An Interview with Francesa Zambello," Street Scene: A Sourcebook 54.

49  See Kowalke 62-63. For Whitman’s impact on Weill see also Kim H. Kowalke, "‘I’m an American’: Whitman, Weill, and Cultural Identity," Walt Whitman and Modern Music: War, Desire, and the Trails of Nationhood, ed. Lawrence Kramer (New York: Garland, 2000) 109-31.

50  See Larry Stempel, "Street Scene and the Enigma of Broadway Opera," A New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt Weill, ed. Kim H. Kowalke (New Haven: Yale UP) 321-41.

51  Quoted from the booklet to the CD version of Kurt Weill, Street Scene: An American Opera (Decca) 62.

52  Navasky, 88.

53  See Fried 120. In the period from 1945 to 1947, for instance, he was involved in at least nine leftist or pro-Soviet activities: see Joan Peyser, Bernstein: A Biography (New York: Beech Tree, 1987) 172-73.

54  Michael Freedman, Leonard Bernstein (London: Harrop, 1987) 128.

55  Dizikes 507.

56  Peyser 371.

57  Leonard Bernstein, "This I Believe," Findings (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982) 139.

58  New York Times 18 November 1956, quoted in Carl Rollyson, Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988) 362.

59  Peyser 220.

60  Fried 50.

61  Robinson xxv.

62  Richard Moody, Lillian Hellman: Playwright (New York, Pegasus, 1972) 270-84.

63  Text quotations from Lillian Hellman, "Candide," The Collected Plays (Boston: Little, Brown, &Co, 1972) 603-79.

64  Peyser 371.

65  On this opera see Rachel Hutchins-Viroux, "The American Opera Boom of the 1950s and 1960s: History and Stylistic Analysis," these conference proceedings.

66  Carlisle Floyd, interview with Robert Wilder Blue, <http://www.usoperaweb.com/2002/september/floyd.htm>.

67  See Fried 122-23.

68  Navasky 211-16.

69  Letter to the author, 5 May 2003.

70  See Klaus-Dieter Gross, "The Crucible as Drama and as Opera," Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 44 (2001): 44-58.

71  Thomas P. Adler, "The Song and the Said: Literary Value in the Musical Dramas of Stephen Sondheim," Reading Stephen Sondheim: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Sandor Goodhart (New York: Garland, 2000) 49.

72  James Fisher, "Nixon’s America and Follies: Reappraising a Musical Theater Classic," Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook, ed. Joanne Gordon (New York: Garland, 1997) 75, 70.

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Klaus-Dieter Gross, « McCarthyism and American Opera », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. II - n°3 | 2004, 164-187.

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Klaus-Dieter Gross, « McCarthyism and American Opera », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. II - n°3 | 2004, mis en ligne le 10 novembre 2009, consulté le 19 février 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2969 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.2969

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Klaus-Dieter Gross

(Regensburg, Germany)
Dr. Klaus-Dieter Gross’s research focuses on cross-references between literature, music, and painting in American culture, and on the pedagogy of intermedia learning. In his Ph.D. thesis, he dealt with parallels between realist novels and paintings. Of more recent interest is the interaction of pre-20th-century American visual and musical works. As to opera, he has published articles on the role of violence in American opera and on works by Joplin, Thomson, Blitzstein, and Ward.

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