After the woodsman loses his ax through the first entrance of the water nymph.
Duet between the woodsman and the water nymph.
The woodsman's brother's aria.
The woodsman's brother tells the water nymph his "story."
The water nymph offers the woodsman's brother a golden ax.
Duet between the woodsman and the narrator, and the end of the opera.
These recordings are from a live performance at the Cactus Pear Music Festival with Timothy Jones, baritone; Susan Lorette Dunn, soprano; Allison Garza, flute; Rebecca Henderson, oboe; Ilya Shterenberg, clarinet; Sharon Kuster, bassoon; Jeff Garza, horn; and Debra Dickinson, director.
Composer: David Heuser Libretto: Gary S. Albright Instrumentation: an opera in one act for Baritone, Soprano, Woodwind Quintet Also available in piano score. Year Composed: 2006 Duration: 25 minutes Pages (score): 51
Cast of Characters
Narrator & Water Nymph (soprano)
A Woodsman & the Woodsman’s Brother (baritone)
The opera is designed to be sung by two singers, a soprano singing the parts of the Narrator and the Water Nymph and a baritone singing the Woodsman and his Brother. However, as the baritone part is rather extensive, the opera could also be performed with one soprano and two baritones, one as the Woodsman and one as the Brother.
Synopsis The Golden Ax is based on the Aesop’s fable of the same name.
Introduction: The Narrator introduces the opera.
Scene 1: A forest.
A poor Woodsman enters the forest and begins to chop down a tree. His ax slips from his hand and sinks to the bottom of the nearby lake. The Woodsman is beside himself with grief over the loss of his ax as it is the only means he has to provide for his family. A Water Nymph who lives in the lake hears his cries and comes to the surface to ask him what is wrong. He tells her, and she promises to try to recover his ax for him. However, the first two times she goes to the bottom of the lake, she returns with first a golden ax and, then, a silver one, and not with the Woodman’s ordinary wooden ax. The Woodsman tells her each time they those are not his axes. On her third attempt, the Water Nymph returns with the Woodsman’s plain wooden ax, and he is overjoyed with its return. Because the Woodsman was so honest and didn’t claim the golden and silver axes as his, the Water Nymph rewards him with all three axes. The Woodsman returns home overjoyed and tells his family about his good fortune.
Scene 2: Outside the Woodsman home.
The Woodsman’s Brother emerges from the house. He vows to go to the lake himself and get a golden ax from the Water Nymph through deception.
Scene 3: Same as Scene 1
The Brother purposely drops his ax in the Water Nymph’s lake and proclaims his sorrow over the loss of his ax. The Water Nymph appears and again agrees to help. She goes to the bottom of her lake and retrieves a golden ax. The Brother immediately claims it as his own, but before he can get it, the Water Nymph drops it back into the lake. She admonishes the Brother that he will get nothing, not even his wooden ax, because of his lie. The Brother sulks away, and the Woodsman and Narrator return to close the opera.
At the Cactus Pear Music Festival, San Antonio, Texas, with Timothy Jones, baritone, and Susan Lorette Dunn, soprano (various locations, July 2008)
San Antonio, Texas performance at the Cactus Pear Music Festival, reviewed by former San Antonio Express-News Senior Critic Mike Greenburg at www.incidentlight.com (July 21, 2008):
"Heuser's The Golden Ax, to a libretto by Gary Albright, is based on Aesop's fable about a poor but honest woodsman, his self-seeking, dishonest brother and the water nymph who heaps riches on the first and scorn on the second.
"Heuser created a deft, sparkling neoclassical score for wind quintet, and the vocal lines fit the singers nicely and carried the story well. The music was direct enough for young attention spans, but not namby-pamby. It was nice to hear music for kids that doesn't treat kids like idiots.
"Baritone Timothy Jones, who portrayed both brothers, made a lot more of the villainous one, both vocally and theatrically. His virtuous brother, with a somewhat higher tessitura, was a tad bland. But Jones was in splendid voice -- bright and limpid, and with admirably clear diction.
"Soprano Susan Lorette Dunn's instrument was so rich and buttery that for a moment I thought the Nymph's abode was not a lake, but a vat of dark chocolate mousse. No complaints about that, nor about Dunn's willowy, watery movement."
Fredericksburg, Texas performance at the Cactus Pear Music Festival, reviewed in the
San Antonio Express-News by Jennifer Roolf Laster (July 17, 2008):
"This year's festival held the debut of The Golden Ax, a chamber opera written by San Antonio composer David Heuser. (The piece premiered at a children’s concert Friday afternoon.) Friday night’s performance showcased its artists well, though it felt a little choppy (no pun intended) in places. The story it’s based on – Aesop’s “The Mermaid and the Woodcutter” – is a bare-bones fable, and Heuser and librettist Gary Albright kept the one-act true to its roots with an elegant, eminently-hummable score and easy-to-follow dialogue.
"The piece was intended for an audience of children, but, despite a little campiness, it works well for adults.
"Soprano Susan Lorette Dunn brought a winsome edge to her role as a helpful water nymph. Her voice was in fine form: round, full and fluid. She displayed solid physical acting chops as well. Flutist Allison Garza, who personified the mermaid in the instrumental ensemble, brought just the right sprightly feeling to her playing, and her tone was impeccable.
"Baritone Timothy Jones, in the dual roles of the honest woodcutter and the dishonest brother, was having so much fun it was impossible to not have a good time with him. The music was comfortably within his range, and he made the most of the part with deft acting."
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