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Del Tredici, David: Dum Dee Tweedle (1991-92) 80'
an opera in 10 scenes and a finale

Music Text

Lewis Carroll


for narrator, SATB soloists, chorus and full orchestra

3(II,III=picc).3(III=corA).Ebcl.3(III=bcl).3(III=dbn)-,lg)/tam-t(lg)/tgl/tamb/ratchet/whip/2wdbl(hi,lo)/5,sm)/wind machine(lg)-harp-cel-strings

Abbreviations (PDF)


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

World premiere complete

Orchestra Hall, Detroit, MI
Hila Plitmann, soprano / Scott Ramsay, tenor / Michael Kelly, baritone / Detroit Symphony Orchestra / Wayne State University Symphonic Choir / Leonard Slatkin

Composer's Notes

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 Four, "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" from Through the Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll—is in 10 scenes with a Finale. It is written for narrator, four solo voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), SATB chorus, and a large orchestra. Highlights include an Opera within an Opera (the poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter"), a ballet ("Fugue of the Hopping Oysters"), and a snoring machine (Scene 4). Much of the music is fast and breathless. The work lasts perhaps 80–90 minutes without an intermission.

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 Scene 2, 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 (soprano) and the Carpenter (tenor), solo roles include the Eldest Oyster (alto) and assorted other Oysters (sung by the bass). The chorus is introduced, as well, and participates frequently. Action: After the scene is vividly (and nonsensically) evoked, the Walrus and the Carpenter begin to entice the oysters to come to shore and leave behind the safety of the sea. Only the Eldest Oyster objects.

Scene 3 brings the Opera within an Opera to a climax with the "Fugue of the Hopping Oysters" for orchestra alone. This ballet depicts the oysters rushing heedlessly shoreward. What happens to the little ones is yet to be revealed…

Scenes 4, 5, and 6 return to a melodrama format—narration with orchestra.

Scene 4, 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 5, 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 6, 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 Scene 7, the Opera within an Opera.

Scene 7, 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."

Scene 8: 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).

Scene 9, Oysters’ Revenge, follows without pause. It begins as an off-stage 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 10, 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.

A note on the composition of Dum Dee Tweedle:

In 1988, I moved with my partner, Paul Arcomano, to an idyllic home in Sag Harbor on Long Island. I felt overwhelmed by New York City—finally—after 25 years. And Paul had AIDS. It is a strange irony that as Paul’s health declined, leading to his death in 1993, I was writing music that was relentlessly fast, breathless, and "happy." In 1995, upon completion of Dum Dee Tweedle, I sold my home in Sag Harbor and returned to New York City.

—David Del Tredici, October 24, 2013

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