Tale for a Deaf Ear

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Tale for a Deaf Ear is an opera in one act with music and lyrics by Mark Bucci, sung in three languages and based on a story by Elizabeth Enright that appeared in the April 1951 edition of Harper's Magazine.[1] The work was commissioned by Samuel Wechsler for performance at the 1957 Tanglewood Music Festival. The work received an enthusiastic response from an overflow audience of 1,300[1] when it premiered at Tanglewood on August 5, 1957. The cast was of student artists, of which Billings and Kraft went on to have successful opera careers and Purrington became a nationally known opera director and administrator. The production was directed by the great impresario Boris Goldovsky.[2] The opera received its first professional production at the New York City Opera on April 6, 1958 in a double billing with Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. The production was staged at New York City Center by director Michael Pollock and using costumes and sets designed by Paul Sylbert.[3]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, August 5, 1957[2]
(Conductor: - James Billings)
New York City Opera Cast,[3] April 6, 1958
(Conductor: - Arnold Gamson)
Laura Gates mezzo-soprano Jean Kraft Patricia Neway
Tracy Gates baritone John Hornor William Chapman
The Woman soprano Donna Jeffrey Beverly Bower
The Girl soprano Elaine Quint Lee Venora
The Soldier tenor John King Richard Cassilly
The Doctor baritone Edward Purrington Arthur Newman


The opera opens with Tracey and Laura Gates in their suburban home arguing about his drinking. As they are about to fall to blows, he dies of a heart attack, and she prays for his revival. Following scene shifts for re-enactment of three miracles—one each in historical Italy, Scotland, and Germany, all sung in their local languages with explanatory commentary in English by a chorus in the pit—the scene returns to the Gateses' home, where Tracy revives with no awareness of what has happened. Despite Laura's efforts to abandon her former ways, the two resume their squabble, and Tracy again, with finality, drops dead. The Doctor enters to administer an injection to Laura as the chorus intones the moral, "The only death in life is the death of love."[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Music: Death in the Afternoon". Time. August 19, 1957. Retrieved September 30, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Edward Downes (August 6, 1957). "Opera: 'Tale for a Deaf Ear'; New work by Bucci is sung at Tanglewood". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Howard Taubman (April 7, 1958). "Double Bill of Marital Strife; Bucci and Bernstein Works at Center". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2009.