An American Tragedy (opera)

An American Tragedy is an opera in two acts composed by Tobias Picker, with a libretto by Gene Scheer. This was Picker's fourth opera, written four years after the debut of Thérèse Raquin (also composed with Scheer). Based on the 1925 Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy, the opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and premiered in New York City on December 2, 2005.[1][2]

An American Tragedy
Opera by Tobias Picker
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser dust jacket.jpeg
Front cover of Dreiser's An American Tragedy
LibrettistGene Scheer
Based onTheodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy
December 2, 2005 (2005-12-02)
Metropolitan Opera, New York City

It received its West Coast premiere by the Santa Monica College Opera Theater in 2010,[3] and was produced at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2014.[4][5][6]


Role Voice Premier Cast, 2004 (Conductor: James Conlon)
Roberta Alden Soprano Patricia Racette[7]
Sondra Finchley Mezzo-Soprano Susan Graham
Clyde Griffiths Baritone Nathan Gunn
Elvira Griffiths Mezzo-Soprano Dolora Zajick
Elizabeth Griffiths Mezzo-Soprano Jennifer Larmore
Bella Griffiths Soprano Jennifer Aylmer
Samuel Griffiths Tenor Kim Begley
Gilbert Griffiths Tenor William Burden
Orville Mason Baritone Richard Bernstein
Grace Marr Soprano Clare Gormley
Young Clyde Boy Soprano Graham Phillips
Hortense Soprano Anna Christy


This has been described as a progressive drama of temptation, responsibility, and faith. Clyde Griffiths, son of a Midwestern missionary, is a young man working as a bellhop in Chicago, where he flirts with young society women. He relocates to New York upon being offered a position in his Uncle Samuel's shirt factory. Wasting no time, he pursues one of the young workers there, Roberta Alden, after being warned not to by fellow workers. Clyde quickly moves on to a new love interest in Sondra Finchley. Before long, Clyde is juggling Roberta and Sondra, but Roberta soon confides that she is pregnant. Clyde believes his true love is Sondra, and feels resentful of Roberta, who hopes to marry him. Clyde schemes to rid himself of the burden of an unwanted lover with a child on the way.[8]

Note from the composerEdit

"Based on a true story, Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy is one literature's great, universal subjects. The central character Clyde Griffiths is Everyman, and his dilemma is at the heart of the American experience, then as well as now. The people upon whom Dreiser's characters were based also echo throughout the pages of the entire opera. They are the haunting spirits that made the story and the writing of the music 'real' for me. The heart-breaking hand-written letters of Grace Brown, the tragic real life factory worker Dreiser brings us so painfully close to, inspired me to give them song as they are projected onto the stage in all their endless optimism and sorrow."[9]


  1. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (5 December 2005). "Dreiser's Chilling Tale of Ambition and Its Price". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Ross, Alex. "Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy".
  3. ^ Kikkert, Wendy (May 12, 2010). "West Coast Premiere of 'An American Tragedy'".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (2014-07-29). "So Much Doomed Passion (Published 2014)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  5. ^ "Glimmerglass Festival An American Tragedy July 25". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  6. ^ Dalton, Joseph (2014-07-23). "Flawed 'American Tragedy' at Glimmerglass". Times Union. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  7. ^ "World Premiere, An American Tragedy, Metropolitan Opera House: 12/02/2005". Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  8. ^ "Metropolitan Opera | An American Tragedy". Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  9. ^ Picker, Tobias. "Composer Note".

External linksEdit