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Classical 101

Ohio State Presents Ramala Opera Premiere 80 Years In The Making


Charles Wakefield Cadman's opera Ramala will be discussed and sung in a lecture-performance by musicologist Katie Graber and the artists from Ohio State University's School of Music's Department of Opera and Music Theater on Wednesday, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Weigel auditorium.

The performance is free and open to the public.

Cadman began work on Ramala in 1908, but by 1939, with his career in decline, the opera had been often revised but never performed.

Meanwhile, Cadman (1881-1946) has achieved great success with two concert songs, beloved by all of the leading American opera and concert singers of the early twentieth century.

Mary Garden, Edith Mason, Rosa Ponselle, Lawrence Tibbett, Richard Crooks and Paul Robeson were among those who kept At Dawning and From the Land of the Sky Blue Water before a large and appreciative public. 

Cadman was part of the short lived "Indianist" movement in American concert music. Inspiration was taken from the folk tunes of Native Americans.

The neglect of Ramala is surprising. Not only had Cadman become a favorite for his song writing skills, his opera The Robin Woman Shanewis was one of the first operas by an American composer to be given at the Metropolitan Opera.

The New York Times reported on the day after the premeire of Shanewis at the Met:

The two acts of Cadman's opera earned twenty-one curtain calls from the house, all the singers appearing, joined at the third call by Mr. Bamboschek, the pianist in the stage 'concert,' and at the seventh by Mr. Cadman. (March 24, 1918)

Fast forward 20 years. The American-Indianist movement is fading in the days of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Cadman is in Hollywood, forgotten by the concert world that had applauded, and purchased, his music for years. Ramala goes unperformed.

Until now. Graber gives us this neglected American opera on November 1. She and I had a talk recently about Cadman, Ramala, American music and the upcoming performance.

I began by asking about her own road to Cadman and Ramala:

I'll be in Weigel Hall on November 1 to hear A. Scott Parry's fine young artists from the Ohio State University Department of Opera and Music Theater and Graber bring Ramala back to life, prepared no doubt by the magnificent Ryan Behan. You be there, too. I'm taking attendance.

Meanwhile, I suspect Scots-American soprano Mary Garden would insist on the last word. She too, was a fan of Cadman.