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Music Text

Libretto by the composer, freely adapted from On the harmfulness of Tobacco by Chekhov and The Birds of America by J J Audubon. (E)


Bar or lowT

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York
Ian Strasfogel, director
Conductor: Philip Brunelle
Company: New Opera Theatre / Orpheus Chamber Ensemble


GENTLEMAN LECTURER Baritone or Low Tenor
Time and Place

Second half of the 19th Century- the rostrum of a provincial club, in Maryland or Virginia


A Water Bird Talk is set at a podium at a provincial club meeting in Maryland in the late 19th century.  A gentleman lecturer addresses a ladies’ club on the subject of water birds.  His descriptions of the birds’ peculiar habits come to act as metaphors for his own horribly henpecked life.  Parallels are drawn between the gentleman’s life and the birds he discusses: for example, the cormorant—whose young never leave the nest; the male phalarope—a domestically-inclined bird who remains in the nest while the female flits about; the puffin—who, once mated, remains mated for life; and the grebe—a gentle bird that is preyed upon by many enemies; it sinks out of sight when confronted by a threat.  The lecturer illustrates his talk with tinted magic-lantern slides derived from J.J. Audubon’s The Birds of America.  At the beginning of the lecture his wife reacts in the wings by coughing and clearing her throat.  Disgusted with his talk, she soon leaves, and the lecturer digresses, gradually revealing that his miserable existence is due to an overbearing, domineering wife and daughters who constantly make fun of him.



Recommended Recording

John Shirley-Quirk, Sinfonia of St Cecilia, Sara Watkins
Koch International Classics 7388

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