Bernard Hermann's Wuthering Heights Opera

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Famed film composer Bernard Herrmann only wrote one opera in his long career, an adaptation of Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights''. Bronte's dark and creepy novel was an appropriate subject for the composer best known for working with Alfred Hitchcock.

Herrmann's Bronte

Composer Bernard Herrmann is one of the most celebrated composers in film history. He wrote the score for classic films ranging from Psycho to Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver. His dark, distinctive music accompanied some of the greatest scenes in film history, such as the famous 'shower scene' in Psycho, probably Herrmann's most-recognized piece of music.

But one of Herrmann's lesser-known works is an opera adaptation of Emily Bronte's classic novel Wuthering Heights. The dark Gothic novel, about the taboo love between proper Catherine and wild Heathcliff, matched Herrmann's style well. However, despite that, it took 60 years for the opera to make its theatrical debut. Though it was finished in 1951, its first full theatrical production didn't happen until 2011.

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann was born in New York in 1911. After studying music at Julliard, he took a job at the CBS radio network, eventually rising to conductor of the CBS Orchestra. Herrmann introduced many Americans to classical music, especially the works of contemporary composers.

While at CBS, Herrmann began working with Orson Welles, composing the music for Welles' radio drama programs The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The Campbell Playhouse. When Welles began directing movies, he took Herrmann with him, and Herrmann scored Welles' films Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Herrmann became one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood. In 1955, he began his long association with Alfred Hitchcock, composing scores for Hitchcock classics like Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. His dark, dreamy music for Hitchcock's films would come to define the styles of both men.

Writing and Staging Wuthering Heights

Herrmann began working on his opera adaptation of Wuthering Heights in 1943. At the time, he was scoring a film version of Jane Eyre, the novel by Emily Bronte's sister Charlotte to which Wuthering Heights is often compared. Later, on a trip to England, he visited the Bronte home in Haworth. He worked on the opera off and on in between film assignments until it was completed in 1951. His first wife, Lucille Fletcher, wrote the libretto, or lyrics.

Herrmann tried many times in his lifetime to stage the opera, but they all fell through. Conductor Julius Rudel offered to stage a production, but with cuts and a happy ending, which Herrmann refused. Finally, Herrmann self-financed a recording in 1966.

The opera was performed in a concert version in 1982, but with the cuts and happy ending Rudel had asked for. It was finally performed in its original form by the Minnesota Opera in 2011 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Herrmann's birth.

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