The Cry of the Sedge
A Ritual Drama for soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone, and guitar
Poetry by William Butler Yeats
Premiere: University of Illinois
April 17, 1974
Frances Crawford, soprano; Mary Burdette, mezzo soprano, Thomas Mitchell, tenor; Ronald Hedlund, baritone; Paul Cox, guitar.
Withdrawn, replaced by Ancient Roses for mezzo-soprano and harp.
The premiere The Cry of the Sedge was semi-staged, not so much enacting a story as ritualistically telling a story. Yeats had an anti-theatrical attitude toward the stage, feeling that actors and acting stole attention from his poetic language:
Marionettes, for Yeats as for most theater reformers at the turn of the century, were the only Western model for a fully depersonalized mode of acting, one that successfully rid the stage of the awkward presence of live human beings.—Martin Puchner1
Personally, I embrace an overtly theatrical approach to the stage and find the contributions of performers essential to the performance experience. Eventually my attitude toward the theater grew so antithetical to Yeats’s that I withdrew this work.
Nonetheless, I still loved some of the poetry that I had set in this work. In 2015, thanks to a suggestion from mezzo soprano Kristin Dauphinais, I composed a concert piece, Ancient Roses, for mezzo soprano and harp. The new work uses substantially fewer poems than I worked with while composing Cry of the Sedge. Another crucial difference is that while composing Ancient Roses I imagined the work in the tradition of ballad singing, and not as a partially staged work.