The Great American Opera

The Tender Land

Aaron Copland

Michigan Opera Theatre



The eve of a farm girl’s high school graduation, and the following day.

Spring harvest, two men arrive for work. Farmhouse, bunkhouse, backdrop of close trees and golden hills by Grant Wood or Millard Sheets.

The fine cast of singers includes George Gaynes in the basso grandfather role, Copland is conducting.

Two men had their way with a neighbor girl, she’s expecting now.

Not these two. The baritone tells a risky story at the party that night (dance by Eugene Loring), Grandpa’s put to bed, the farm girl and the tenor fall in love.

Will he settle down? The baritone talks him out of it. She’s hankering to leave, at sunup she departs alone, suitcase in hand.

It’s a great thing to get your high school diploma, she’s the first in the family, but she leaves without it.

Her young sister plays with her doll, Daniel, stops at the fence without it to look at the hills.

Copland’s faux key changes in the second love duet (Act III) express the lovers’ indeterminate purpose (cf. Old American Songs, “Zion’s Walls”, which figures in the opera as “The Promise of Living”).