Female Trouble

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a book that everyone is supposed to love--women and men, little and big, bookworms and those who get their classic literature on the screen (there have been more than a dozen versions filmed or animated). Even Joey, the Friends character who is not known for loving to read the classics, enjoyed his first reading of Little Women. After his initial disappointment that the book wasn't a horror story about really little women, he was so upset about Beth's failing health that he had to put the book in the freezer in a place usually reserved for when he reads The Shining and it gets too scary. Little Women has been translated into more than 100 languages, appeared on TV and on the big screen, been adapted into children's books and been performed on the stage. There have even been five musical stage versions, including a Broadway production starring Sutton Foster of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Maureen McGovern that opens January 23 in New York City. So when Washington, D.C., composer Mark Adamo decided to make the beloved book into an opera, he had a daunting task: Be true to Alcott's book, write a compelling stage piece, keep the novel's fans happy and please opera companies interested in the new work.

Adamo received instant validation that he accomplished his goal: Little Women debuted with a production by Houston Grand Opera's Opera Studio in 1998, followed by a main stage production by the Houston Grand Opera in 2000 (which was filmed for the 2001 season of PBS' Great Performances), and it's been performed by more than half a dozen companies since then, with the Fort Worth Opera presenting its North Texas premiere this weekend. Part of the appeal--besides the enduring love for this story of an American family of four sisters growing up and growing apart in the years following the Civil War--is Adamo's new take on the story. Rather than following the girls' romances and different dreams, the story is shaped around Jo's desire to keep things as they are, from forbidding Meg to marry to keeping Amy in New England to denying that Beth is gravely ill.

Adamo's Little Women begins with Jo in the attic of the family house in New England, lamenting that, while everything is perfect as it is, it is all changing, while talking to Laurie, the man who loves her, but whom she rejects because she believes their relationship, like those with her sisters, is fine as it is. The following acts trace those changes--marriage, travel to Europe, birth, death and, finally, Jo herself moving to New York City to publish her stories and meeting Friedrich Bhaer, a German professor who tries to court her. The story comes full circle with Jo back in the attic with Laurie, admitting now nothing will ever be the same and making peace with that. Some Alcott fanatics might resist change as Jo did, believing Little Women is perfect as it was. But give Adamo's Little Women a chance, and there's sure to be a happy ending.

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Shannon Sutlief