Two Character Songs from The New Frontier

an Atomic Age Jazz Opera for soprano, vibraphone, piano and double bass

Jack Van Zandt

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an Atomic Age Jazz Opera for soprano, vibraphone, piano and double bass

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Composer Jack Van Zandt
Year of Composition 2021
Duration ca.12'
Instrumentation Soprano, Vibraphone, Double Bass, Piano
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-jvz1tnf1


Music by Jack Van Zandt

Libretto by Jill Freeman

“The New Frontier,” is an operatic music theater monodramedy that is inspired by Van Zandt’s and Freeman’s California school years of 1950s and 60s against the background of the threat of nuclear annihilation and how it affected our everyday lives, and those of everyone in our families and communities, as well as North American culture. The characters portrayed in the two songs here are the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg and a home fallout shelter salesperson in a version arranged for a  trio of piano, vibes and bass.

The musical influences for the work are American jazz of the period, such as Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy; avant garde classical music of Europe and America, especially Pierre Boulez and Milton Babbitt; and 1950s and 60s popular music. Literary influences for the work come from the Beat poets, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Becket, the French existentialists, and the political theater of Piscator and Brecht, and 20th Century agitprop.

The complete work is written for soprano and a small jazz-type septet of tenor sax/bass clarinet, trumpet, vibraphone/marimba, drum set, bongo player, piano/keyboards and bass. The onstage band is dressed in typical beatnik costumes, all black, berets and sunglasses.

The work progresses by examining various aspects of life with “The Bomb” through a series of defined real and archetypal characters presented in each connected song: A school teacher instructing her students in “duck and cover” drills; a mad scientist giddy with excitement over the explosive properties of the hydrogen bomb; an underground shelter saleswoman; the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg; physicist Lise Meitner, etc. The soprano changes glasses, hats, wigs, etc. between each song to match character. Specially chosen Civil Defense films of the era are projected behind the action, and a period Civil Defense radio “broadcasts” information about each segment in transitional voiceovers.