for high soprano, high baritone and orchestra
The Spider and the Fly is a grand fantasy of seduction, destruction, and resurrection. It is a setting of Mary Howitt's cautionary poem, well known to children since Victorian times. Like Goethe's famous poem, Erlkonig, it is a story of innocence corrupted. Unlike Goethe, however, Howitt appends a verse admonishing her young readers to moral vigilance.
In my dramatization of the tale, the high soprano is the Fly, the baritone the Spider, and, singing together in unison, they both become the narrator. The text is, opera-like, divided into a series of ducts, arias, and recitatives. In addition, there are three purely orchestral sections—an Introduction, an interlude, and a Fugue.
Of course, the story's thrill is in its seductive pull, its juxtaposition of guile and guilelessness. Duet I, the longest of the movements, uses the first three verses and counterpoints the suave, flowing Spider music against the confused, frightened coloratura of the resistant Fly. In the concluding Quodlibet they sing together their two musics. An Interlude follows. Duet II, Allegro con fuoco, finds an angrier, more frustrated Spider flattering an exhausted and placating Fly. Is she, perhaps, in Arietta I's calm pulsations, planning a gracious escape?
A Recitative changes the scene. Inside his den, the Spider prepares to use his ultimate snare, the web. Weaving this web is depicted in an intensely chromatic, skittering orchestral Fuga.
Feeling powerful and confident now, the Spider emerges to sing a short, beguiling, "Come, hither" Arietta (II) as the Fuga music takes a more delicato dance-like turn. This leads into Duet III where, in a flash, all the action happens: the Fly is caught, dragged "into his dismal den," and —no surprise— "ne'er came out again."
As I said in the beginning, this is a tale of seduction, destruction, and resurrection. Duet IV brings this last enviable state to the fore. In my setting of the final verse—the moral of the story—I chose to ignore the text's stern tone, focusing instead on my loving feelings surrounding three of the words ("dear little children"). Thus I wrote music to soothe a frightened child, frightened perhaps by the story itself. This music is meant to restore trust, to reaffirm love, to open the heart, to resurrect connection. Here for the first time, the Spider and the Fly themes are woven together, amabile; surrounded by many bell sounds, an ecstatic, rather than a threatening, web of sound is created. In Conclusion, the final section extends and enlarges this glowing rapport, though toward the end, in the bass, the Spider ostinato reappears—sly, malevolent, and unsettling still.
I have carried The Spider and the Fly longer than any other piece of mine. It was begun in 1982 at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy; continued gratefully through three other artist retreats (the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts); and finished finally in New York City on April 10, 1998.
Needless to say, I wrote other music during this lengthy period — March to Tonality, Tattoo, Haddocks' Eyes, Steps, my yet-to-be-performed opera, Dum Dee Tweedle — but always I was drawn back to my Spider sketches, to this haunting tale—longing to give it musical line and shape. The piece is dedicated to Susan Carroll Powers, in gratitude.
;...he has designed a complex musical structure around this vision... [It's] a clever work, with the sinuous Spider vocal line reflecting evil intentions and the distraught Fly a mass of jitters and indecision. There's plenty of tension, a great deal of orchestral storming about and a final, almost lyrical denouement.
Del Tredici treats this as a mini-opera, exaggerating the scale, so it becomes a scene like one witnessed by [Lewis Carroll's] Alice in one of her many changes of size. As a result, the poem's solemn piety is dissolved into a kind of wistful amusement at something from another universe
The Spider and the Fly also represents something of a watershed for the composer as he plans it to be his last Alice-like piece, ending an obsession with Carroll and other child's-view subject matter which has inspired him for over 20 years. Major works of this period include An Alice Symphony with its radical re-examination of tonality, the chart-topping Final Alice and the Pulitzer Prize-winning In Memory of a Summer Day. Recent scores such as Tattoo and Steps have tempered the richness of these pieces with more strident material, and Del Tredici is now moving on to explore new literary and musical territory.
To Del Tredici, Howitt's poem suggested a series of arias and duets—the perfect framework for this "grand fantasy of seduction, destruction, and resurrection." Shirley Fleming, in the New York Post, remarked that Del Tredici "has designed a complex musical structure around this vision....[lt's] a clever work, with the sinuous Spider vocal line reflecting evil intentions and the distraught Fly a mass of jitters and indecision. There's plenty of tension, a great deal of orchestral storming about and a final, almost lyrical denouement." Edward Rothstein (The New York Times) observed, "Mr. Del Tredici treats this as a mini-opera, exaggerating the scale, so it becomes a scene like one witnessed by [Lewis Carroll's] Alice in one of her many changes of size. As a result, the poem's solemn piety is dissolved into a kind of wistful amusement at something from another universe.