THE JUNIPER TREE (1985)
co-composed with Philip Glass
Libretto by Arthur Yorinks
Commissioned by American Repertory Theater
The opera is now available on an Orange Mountain Music cd
The chamber opera of about 80 minutes duration uses a chamber ensemble of minimum woodwinds, brass, strings, harp, percussion and two synthesizers.
The small cast and other required resources have made this opera a perfect
vehicle for opera companies throughout the USA and Europe.
THE JUNIPER TREE was given its world premiere (and 32 performances) via the American Repertory Theater, 1985-86; it has been performed by Houston Grand Opera, by the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia, by Minnesota Opera, and Tulsa Opera; a production in Germany had great public success.
THE JUNIPER TREE
an opera in two acts
Robert Moran and Philip Glass
based upon the tale by Grimm
The Husband………………………….Lyric Baritone
His Wife…………………………………..Lyric Soprano
The Son/The Juniper Bird…………Boy Soprano
Baby Birds…………………………..Children’s voices
flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, bassoon
horn, trumpet, trombone
2 violins, viola, cello, string bass
2 keyboard synthesizers, celeste
In the darkness there is the sound of a bird. It is faint; but it grows
louder as the stage gets brighter to reveal a country house, which is
occupied by a wealthy landowner and his wife. They have no children.
It is autumn and the landscape is rich and rolling.. In the foreground
there is a juniper tree.
Morning arrives. The bird, singing, is now joined by the higher-pitched
sound of baby birds. They are in the juniper tree. At the window of the
house the landowner’s wife appears. The birds are singing:
Mama Bird: pa pa pa pa….etc.
Baby Birds: pa pa pa pa ……etc.
Wife (from the window) Come here to me my hungry ones…
Baby Birds: ma ma ma ma….can we eat, Mama? We are hungry. Where is
food, Mama? Where is Papa?
Can we eat, we’re starving-
Wife: My darlings, I’ll get you some food….
Mama Bird: Don’t listen to her-she thinks you’re her babies. She’s crazy!
Baby Birds: But she always gives us apples, Mama-
Wife: Where are you, my babies? you’ll be late-
Baby Birds: Come find us. We’re hiding!
Wife: you’ll be late for school. Come now, kiss mama, give her a hug…
Baby Birds: Kiss, Mama, kiss and hug her….
Wife: You are my pride and joy, each of you. daughter, how big you are.
And your brother, what a rascal. And my baby son, so quiet; I know
your heart is full..and some day, you’ll remember, me and how much
I love you….
(The husband appears in the doorway of the house. He is carrying a gun,
ready to go hunting)
Wife: Now come quick, you’ll be late-
Husband: Ah my wife, what are you saying?
Wife: The children, they’ll be late for school-
(The husband goes to her)
Birds: pa-pa-pa-, etc.
Husband: There are no children here…
Husband: (gently) They are only birds…Why don’t yo come inside, it’s
getting cold. A fire will warm you.
Wife: I will soon.
Wife (as duet with Husband): I can’t stop from thinking. Each day passes
and hope dwindles. Yet, we
have each other. And all we share must come to fruit. What spring
arises where no winter breathes-
what food will grow if now hunger seethes….
Husband: I know what you’re thinking. We must have faith. We have so
much and each other; still, I
feel it too. The emptiness lingers; how cold the barren limbs-all
twisted and knotted and stiff- but here,
an evergreen stands; and a forest calls to me-
Husband: I’ll bring you back the largest rabbit in the forest. We’ll have
Wife: Broiled beast!
Husband: I’ll be back. Be well my treasure- (he departs; the wife goes
over to the juniper tree and sits beneath it. She stares at an apple)
Wife: What riches we have, and no mouths to feed… (a gunshot is heard.
Startled, she accidentally cuts her finger with the knife she was holding)
Why can’t there be a child as red as this blood and white as this snow? I
feel better now-how life churns! (She goes into the house)
The seasons pass. The wife is pregnant, in her eighth month.
Wife: Oh dear husband, when I die you will bury me beneath the juniper.
Husband: You will outlive me and this old tree, you’ll see.
The Wife dies at child-birth, leaving her husband with a new baby boy.
Husband: No, no….it can’t be now-you can’t leave me…not now, not now,
it cannot be….
End of Prologue
Musical Interlude (connoting the years passing and the turn of events)
Act One, Scene l
It is some years later and time has soothed the landowner’s grief. He has
taken another wife and has had a daughter by her. Together with his son
they all live in the house by the juniper tree. Everything is as it was
except for the placement of a small headstone that tilts to one side
underneath the juniper tree. On it simply reads : “Beloved Ida”
A summer breeze blows. The son is under the tree reading a book. Father
is coming home from a trip. As the step-mother and daughter approach from
the house to greet him the son notices his father and runs to him.
Son: Papa, Papa!
Husband: My boy, I swear you’ve grown. I can barely lift you. I hope the
horse I bought for you can hold
Son: A horse? Where is he, Papa? Can I ride him now? Is he fast? Can I
Husband; You should ask you mother. (to his wife) Hello my dear, how’s
Son: Mother, can I-
Mother:…(to the boy) Look at you, how filthy. I told you to stay away
from that tree. If you want to read,
stay in your room.
Mother: Anne, come take father inside, he must be tired and thirsty from
his long trip (the daughter takes her father by the hand and they go into
the house; the Son accidentally bumps into the Step-mother) Out
of my way! You are always where I am. Now fetch me some water. The
garden must be as hot as I am-
Now go! (The Son runs into the house) He is just a boy. He is not so
bad. But ….but…he must look like
her. He must remind him of her. She has risen and taken his form. He
must still love her, not me or my
daughter. My girl should have his fortune, not him. He’s dead…No!
What am I saying? She’s dead,
he’s just a little boy, a little boy. But ….but…..it’s her! It
must be so! Her eyes! Her hair! I’m sure of
it!…but she’s not here, he is. He is always here and there, always
here and there (the boy runs in with
water. He spills it on her. ) Aaaachhhhhh! (she screams, a steam
rises from her. The child is
terrified). Lights…..and end of the scene.
It is another day. Autumn. The son is at school while the step-mother and
daughter are upstairs in the house. The step-mother is brushing her
daughter’s hair . )
Mother: You are so lovely. Perhaps you are the most beautiful child in
Daughter: Can we eat, Mama? I’m hungry. Where is Papa? Can I have an apple?
Mother: Your father will be home soon. Come let’s get a delicious apple-
(they go to a large chest, filled with apples. Opening it, the Mother
gives her daughter an apple)
Daughter: What a red one! Can brother have one, too-I’ll pick one out…
Mother : (upset) when he comes home from school I’ll give him one. A red
one just like..(she hears the Boy approaching)…a red one just like-just
like…(she grabs her daughter’s apple)…just like this red one. Now
you can wait until your brother is home! (The frightened daughter
leaves the room…as her step brother enter the house)
Mother: How was school today? You look like, I mean, would you like an
apple? You must be hungry.
There are ripe ones here for you.They are all for you. She will have
one later. She will have all she
wants later. Now pick your red apple. You must be hungry. Well, pick
out the best…pick out the one
Son (frightened): What is the matter? You look so strange. Is something
wrong? Yes, I’d like one, I’m
hungry…Is sister home? Where is she? She should have one, too.
She can have one, too. What is
the matter? You look so strange. Is something wrong? Yes, I’d like
one. I’m hungry…
(The son leans in to find an apple. The step-mother, staring at the boy,
seized by jealousy and rage, slams the lid down hard on him which chops his
head right off into the chest. His body falls limp to the ground. The
step-mother, at once enraged and ecstatic, now as if released from a heavy
burden, sees the limp, headless boy and is filled with remorse)
Mother: What, what, can I do? (she quickly places the corpse minus head
upon a chair, then re-attaches his head, covering the neck with a scarf.
She places an apple in his hand. She then goes into the kitchen and
begins to prepare dinner. The daughter, having passed the boy, enters the
Daughter: Mama, brother is sitting with an apple and he looks so pale. I
asked him for an apple and he
wouldn’t answer. He’s so scary and white-maybe he’s ill. Maybe he’s
got a fever. Should I feel his
Mother: NO! He’s probably playing a game. Go and ask him again. If he
doesn’t answer, box his ears in!
That will teach him! (the daughter goes to brother)
Daughter: (at first politely) Please, may I have your apple? (sternly)
Give me your apple! (no answer-
angrily she punches him in the head which flies off as the body falls
into her arms. She screams in
terror and runs to her mother dragging the boy with her. His arms
have wrapped themselves around
the little girl) Mama…oh Mama, please!
Mother: What have you done? How could you? Oh, my dear child, don’t worry.
Daughter: Mama, I didn’t mean to…Mama…(she cries hysterically)
Mother: No one will know. We can’t do much for him now (she removes the
boy from the girl and places
him on the kitchen counter; she begins to methodically hack him into
pieces which she then places into
the stew pot on the stove) We can’t do much for him now. What’s
done is done. What done is done….
The lights quickly fade…and of Scene II
It is later insdie the house. The husband, mother and daughter are at the
dinner table. The daughter is quietly crying. The mother is serving
dinner. The stew.
Husband: Where is my son? Have you seen him?
Mother: Oh, he’s gone on a trip, to his mother’s great-uncle for just a while-
Husband: But what will he do there? He never said goodbye to me. Why
didn’t he wait for me?
Mother: They’ll take good care of him there. He asked to stay six weeks,
he wanted so much to go.
Husband: He might at least have waited for me. To say goodbye. It
doesn’t seem right somehow- (he
begins to eat) Don’t cry, Anne. You’ll see your brother soon, he’ll be
back…Ah, this is good food. The horses were so
restless today, such work. I’m so hungry. I’ll take more…..(he does so
and finishes it
quickly) Give me more. I’m so hungry I’ll eat ALL of it!…It’s all
for me- (he is eating ravenously and as
he does, he’s tossing the bones under the table. the daughter, seeing
this begins to collect every bone from underneath the table. Still
weeping she takes the bones outside and lays them beneath the juniper tree.
This in some way is relieving to her and she stops crying. Suddenly
the juniper begins to stir. It’s
branches begin swaying and separating; opening and closing …..A mist
beings to drift out of the tree, and
in the mist a fire is burning and out of the fire a bird sound is
heard. A wonderful, colorful bird flies out
of the fire and mist into the sky singing and is gone….
The tree has returned to its normal form. The cloth and bones are gone.
The daughter is filled with
happiness. From a distance the bird song is heard but the words are inaudible.
Daughter: He is here and the juniper; Evergreen; he is there. From
barren trees come seeds, And winter
passes, Spring renews, Summer blazes, Autumn chooses..The juniper is;
and evergreen- And he is here
Emd of Act One
Act Two Scene One
It is the next morning in a small village nearby. There are a few houses
in a row along a narrow road. At one end of this sleepy town sits a mill.
At another spot there is a goldsmith’s workshop and somewhere else a
cobbler resides. The juniper bird has flown in and is resting on the
roof of the goldsmith’s house. The goldsmith is in his workshop busily
finishing a gold chain. The sound of his humming mingles with the bird
Bird (Boy): Mama killed me. Papa ate me, Little Sister bundled my
bones…under the juniper. Look! I’m
a ….pretty bird.
Goldsmith: Such a beautiful song-please sing it once more.
Bird: I will do that for your gold chain.
Goldsmith: My pleasure…here, it is yours…(he gives the gold chain to
Bird: Mama killed me, Papa ate me….(the Cobbler appears, fixing a pair
of red shoes)
Bird and Goldsmith: (simultaneously with the Cobbler) Little sister
bundled my bones under the
juniper…Look! I’m a ….pretty bird.
Cobbler: Wife! Come quick. You must hear this. what music! such
singing. Once more, sing it once more
Bird: …for a gift….if you have one-
Cobbler: Here are the red shoes (giving them to the bird)….
Bird: Mama killed me, Papa ate me, Little sister….(the miller at his
millstone can be seen listening to the
bird)…..bundled my bones under the juniper. Look! I’m a pretty bird….
Miller: Marvelous-magnificent-stupendous. Encore-once more!
Bird: For a reward, yes….how about that millstone (the millstone is
given to the bird)
Bird, Goldsmith, Cobbler and Miller plus villagers: Mama killed me, Papa
ate me (as the bird flies
away with the chain, red shoes and millstone)….Little Sister bundled
my bones under the juniper…
Look! I’m a ….pretty bird.
End of Scene One
It is the afternoon of the same day. At the country house the landowner,
step-mother and the daughter are inside the house. The juniper bird is on
its way home.
Husband: I don’t think I’ll hunt today. It is too nice today. I feel so
Mother: No! There’s a storm coming. I can feel it- a great storm; we
should prepare (daughter begins to
sob…the bird appears)
Husband: Look! The sun is shining so brightly. What a day this will
be-why, I get an old friend will
Mother: No! You’re mad! The sky is dark and it’s so burning in here
(Panic overwhelms her; daughter is
Bird: Mama killed me, Papa ate me, Little Sister
bundled my bones under the juniper. Look! I’m a ….pretty bird.
Husband: What a sound-how sweetly the bird sings. I want to see it-
Mother: No! Don’t go. The house is trembling. The ground is
trembling….(she runs after her husband into
the garden; the bird drops the chain at the feet of the Husband)
Husband: Look at the bird outside and what a present it gave me …..
Bird: Mama killed me, Papa ate me, Little sister…..
Mother: Oh, if I were under the earth, I would not have to listen….
Daughter; Perhaps the bird will have something for me-
(The bird drops the red shoes at the feet of the daughter, who puts them on
and begins to dance around, more and more hysterically) what a wonderful
bird to give me such a gift….Look at my red shoes-see how I
can dance in them. What a joy!
Mother: No! The world is ending…look how dark it grows. It cannot be.
I’ll go outside. I’ll feel better like
the rest of you- (the bird drops the gigantic millstone on Mother, who
explodes in flames and smoke; the yard is ablaze. As the fire dies down
and the mist evaporates, there is the son, standing before his Father and
Son: (hugging them both) Papa!
Trio of voices:
Husband: You’ve come back! My children, my family….my son!
Son: It’s me. I’m here. I’ll be here always. Papa…
Daughter: We’ve missed you so. Don’t ever leave us.
(The husband looks to the juniper tree. The three go back into the house
as fire-flies surround the tree at sunset).