DUM DEE TWEEDLE is total nonsense. Don't look for a normal plot or a cast of characters consistently sung. Everything, opera-wise, is askew.
The work -- a setting of Chapter 4, "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" from Through the Looking Glass
of Lewis Carroll -- is written for four solo voices (SATB), narrator, SATB chorus and orchestra. The works contains five scenes with spoken text; an Opera within an Opera (the poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter
) and a ballet, Fugue of the Hopping Oysters
. Much of the music is fast and breathless. The piece last 75-80 minutes.
Scene 1 (Introduction) is dominated by the narrator. Alice, Tweedledum and Tweedledee are the characters. It contains a duet for Tweedledum and Tweedledee (alto and bass) and a dance for all three ("Here we go 'round the mulberry bush"). The scene functions as a preparation for the Opera within an Opera.
"The Walrus and the Carpenter, Part I
" (only half of the poem is used here.) This section is entirely sung. Besides the Walrus, the Carpenter (soprano and tenor), solo roles include the "eldest Oyster" (alto). The chorus is introduced, as well, and participates frequently. Action: After the scene is vividly evoked, the Walrus and the Carpenter begin to entice the oysters to come to shore, to leave behind the safety of the sea. Only the "eldest oyster" objects. The Opera within an Opera climaxes with the Fugue of the Hopping Oysters for orchestra alone. This ballet depicts the oysters rushing heedlessly shoreward.
Scenes 2, 3 and 4 return to a melodrama format — narration with orchestra.
Scene 2, The Red King Snores
(Ostinato) -- uses the chorus and orchestra as a "snoring machine", against which the narrated action of Alice, Tweedledum and Tweedledee occurs. (They discover the Red King asleep under a tree.)
Scene 3, A New Rattle
(Bagatelle), pits the crazy antics of the two brothers against the gentle logic of Alice. A rattle is the improbable focus.
Scene 4, A Battle
(Perpetual motion), is a breathless nonsense battle between the two brothers. Alice acts as confidant, as dresser (they don elaborate costumes) and finally, as peacemaker. This leads once again (and without pause) to the Opera within an Opera -- The Walrus and the Carpenter, Part II
(the second half of the poem is used now.) This, the largest section of the piece, is entirely sung, with much ensemble work for the four solo voices and chorus. Action: The oysters, now on land, are seduced still closer to the gaping mouths of the Walrus and the Carpenter, who suddenly -- sadly — eat them. While the Walrus and Carpenter are, of course, leading characters, it is the chorus which comes to personify the frightened oysters and dominates the scene. Much is made, musically speaking, of the verse containing the famous lines 'Of shoes and ships — and sealing wax— /Of cabbages -- and kings."
Appended to the poem is an extra verse, the Moral
. In it, the action is continued and the Walrus and Carpenter fall asleep. (This verse was added by Carroll for Saville Clarke's operetta Alice
). Oysters' Revenge
, follows without pause. It begins as a duet for soprano and tenor and grows to include the other solo voices and chorus. (This text is not by Carroll.) To describe the action I quote from Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice
: "After the Walrus and Carpenter have gone to sleep, the ghosts of two oysters appear on the stage to sing and dance and punish the sleepers by stamping on their chests. Carroll felt, and apparently audiences agreed with him, that this provided a more effective ending for the episode and also somewhat mollified oyster sympathizers among the spectators." Thus concludes the Opera within an Opera.
Scene 5, The Monstrous Crow
(Pedal point), reintroduces narration, as Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Alice muse over the events in the poem. Suddenly the light darkens. An enormous bird approaches. The three characters run off into the woods. For the last time the voices of the vanished oysters are heard in an elaborate choral finale, "Feed not on us!" which concludes the work.
- David Del Tredici
"As it happened, the 1995 excerpt, Scene 1 from David Del Tredici's "Dum Dee Tweedle," was the freshest, most adventurous score of the series. Mr. Del Tredici (another Pulitzer winner, although not for this) indulges yet again in his obsession with Lewis Carroll's Alice tales. One could complain that it is not exactly an opera, since the speaking narrator (Regina Resnik was the luxury casting) plays such a prominent role and there are no real individually sung characters. So call it a stageable symphonic oratorio: the music was gorgeous and comically inventive (the notated choral snores at the end), and the potential for a dazzling staging would seem limitless.
"With its exuberant orchestral yawps and dense, consonant textures, Mr. Del Tredici's music can recall a fractured Strauss."