The Difficulty of Crossing a Field & The Little Match Girl Passion


For the west coast premiere of this double bill, Lang’s music is paired with the creative direction of Imago Theatre’s Artistic Co-Director Jerry Mouawad.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a new, and largely unheralded, composition as I was by David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion,” wrote Pulitzer juror Tim Page. A narrative written by Lang but inspired by Hans Christian Andersen takes the story of a young girl cruelly cast out into the cold and tenderly—almost magically—elevates and transforms her plight.

It’s Pre-Civil War in the American South, and a slave owner disappears in plain view of his family, neighbors, and slaves. Set to haunting, emotional music, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field is a story about those he leaves behind. Everyone around him saw the same thing, but each one interprets it in a different way.

Sung in English with text projected above the stage. The running time is approximately two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission.

Download the Newmark Theatre seating map. What to know before you go? Read the program here.

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Williamson Girl
Cree Carrico

Mrs. Williamson/Mezzo-Soprano Soloist
Hannah Penn

Boy Sam/Tenor Soloist
Martin Bakari

Presiding Magistrate
Todd Van Voris

Virginia Creeper/Soprano Soloist
Lisa Williamson

Andrew/Bass Soloist
Christian Zaremba

Mr. Williamson
Michael Streeter

Old Woman/Slave
Nicole Mitchell

Armour Wren
Allen Nause

Damien Geter
Ernest C. Jackson Jr.
Laila Murphy


Hal France

Jerry Mouawad

Scenic Designer
Daniel Meeker

Costume Designer
Shana Targosz

Lighting Designer
Connie Yun

Plot & Program Notes

“Portland Opera has developed a reputation for presenting moving, innovative productions from brilliant composers who may be less well-known to our opera audiences,” says Christopher Mattaliano. “Composers the likes of Philip Glass, Claudio Monteverdi, John Adams, Dominick Argento, and Francesco Cavalli have graced our theaters with beautiful, powerful works that showcase all that opera has to offer. For 2017, we are thrilled to continue this tradition with two deeply affecting works by the American composer, David Lang.”

Based on a one-page story by the 19th century American writer Ambrose Bierce, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field is part courtroom drama, and part cosmic mystery. In the pre-Civil War South, the slave owner Williamson walks across his field and disappears in plain view of his family, his neighbors and his slaves, forever altering the relationships among them.

Each witness has a distinct response to this loss, revealed in a series of narrative “tellings” throughout the course of the opera. Hannah Penn (Julie, Show Boat, 2015), will sing the role of Mrs. Williamson. Christian Zaremba, “a stage animal with a big bass voice,” according to The New York Times and Martin Bakari, a “golden” and “velvety” tenor will both make their Portland Opera debuts.

In 2008, David Lang won the Pulitzer Prize for his highly original and deeply moving score The Little Match Girl Passion. Lang based his work on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of a little girl selling matches, who, after seeing visions of her beloved Grandmother and the warmth of past Christmases in the flames of her matches, succumbs to cold and dies.

Lang was fascinated by the tale’s Christian overtones and the parallels between the little match girl’s suffering, death and transfiguration and those of Christ. Using Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion as an inspiration and reference, Lang integrates biblical text into the story, providing both a commentary and spiritual reflection on the story of the little girl.

Born in 1957, Lang is an enormous presence in the new music scene. Critics call his work “fresh, emotional and infinitely approachable.” Conductor Hal France, who last appeared at Portland Opera to conduct Show Boat (2015), will take the podium. Jerry Mouawad, Artistic Co-Director of Imago Theatre, is making his Portland Opera directing debut.