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]

Tale for a Deaf Ear
Opera by Mark Bucci
  • Italian
  • English
  • German
Based onstory by Elizabeth Enright
August 5, 1957 (1957-08-05)


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 Florentine noblewoman soprano Donna Jeffrey Beverly Bower
The Scottish farm girl soprano Elaine Quint Lee Venora
The German soldier tenor John King Richard Cassilly
The Doctor spoken Edward Purrington Arthur Newman



The opera opens on a snowy winter afternoon in the suburban home of Tracy and Laura Gates, who begin arguing about Tracy's drinking. As they are about to fall to blows, he dies of a heart attack, and she prays for his revival. A Greek chorus appears and explains that, centuries ago, the ancient mariner Hypraemius was so kind to repentant souls, that not only did he ascend into heaven, but was granted four miracles (one for each season), and if a true penitent prayed at 3:59 in the afternoon for the return of their dead, their request would be granted. What follows are reenactments of Hypraemius' first three miracles.

The first of these occurs in the spring, in 16th-century Tuscany, where a Florentine noblewoman prays for the return of her infant son. The scene shifts to Scotland, in the summertime, where a farm girl pleas for the return of the family cow. The scene shifts again to autumn in Central Europe, during the Thirty Years' War. Here, a German soldier prays for the return of his brother, who lies dead in his arms. Finally, the scene returns to the Gates' 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 has a second heart attack, this time dying permanently. A 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]

Performance history


The opera has been performed very infrequently since its premiere; in 1997, a production was mounted in New York with the Center for Contemporary Opera.[4] In February 2018, the opera was performed for the first time in the Midwest at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where it was featured in a triple bill of one-act operas alongside Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and Gian Carlo Menotti's The Telephone.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "Music: Death in the Afternoon". Time. August 19, 1957. Archived from the original on November 1, 2011. 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.
  4. ^ "Tale for a Deaf Ear". www.operaamerica.org. Opera America. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  5. ^ "TROUBLE IN TAHITI + THE TELEPHONE + TALE FOR A DEAF EAR - Opera d'arte". University of Cincinnati. Retrieved 2017-11-09.