The Italian Lesson
vocal scoreMusical Monologue, op. 34 (1982)
|Text information||Text by Ruth Draper, libretto by Mark Shulgasser|
|Premiere||1982; Newport, RI; The Newport Festival|
|Technical requirements||soprano or mezzo soprano and ensemble: |
18.104.22.168-22.214.171.124-hp.pno-str(126.96.36.199.0 or augmented)
|Staged performances of this work require licensing.|
|Rental||Performance materials are available for order:|
Based on the monologue by Ruth Draper, The Italian Lesson chronicles the morning activities of a formidable and pretentious Park Avenue matron of the 1920s. Setting out to translate the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno with her Italian teacher, she is continually distracted by her mischievous children (‘Barbara darling, get the baby. She’s in the waste-basket? Well, pull her out!’), her servants (‘Will you try and get me some men for the opera on Monday? I have a box, but I have no men’), her gossiping acquaintances (‘You didn’t! A whole glass of water! What nerve! Didn’t that ruin her hat?’), and the arrival of a new puppy, whom she christens Dante.
From the moment he heard a recording of Ruth Draper performing her monologue The Italian Lesson in the 1970s, Lee Hoiby was transfixed. After listening to the piece again (and again), not only did many of its phrases become household language for him, but he also recognized the inherent musicality of her performance and decided to set it to music. Hoiby employed Draper’s recorded reading as a guide to the singer’s rhythm, pitch and reflection, and has remarked that for his performer, exact pitches are often less important than expression and rhythm. A chamber ensemble accompanies the protagonist, accentuating the humorous, dramatic, and thoroughly frenzied nature of the text.