January 7, 1933 | Metropolitan Opera
The Emperor Jones
Composer:Louis Gruenberg
Librettist:Kathleen de Jaffa
Brutus Jones, an ex-Pullman porter, crapshooter, and escaped convict, is in the last days of his tyrannical reign over an unnamed island in the West Indies, where, for the past several years, he has ensconced himself as Emperor. As the curtain opens, his people are in rebellion against his cruelty. An off-stage chorus calls for his death and a low, ominous drumbeat is heard in the distance. There is an exchange between Jones and his underling, the cockney trader Smithers, in which Jones learns of the revolt against him. Despite the news, he puts on a pompous and carefree air, bragging to Smithers of the power he has gained since arriving on the island as a stowaway. He has convinced the natives that he can only be killed by a silver bullet, and, to reinforce this story, carries one around his neck as a charm. He tells Smithers that he plans to escape to Martinique with the money he has stolen from the natives. He has hidden some provisions in the jungle, and, resigning the job as Emperor, he leaves the palace to make his escape.

Jones, exhausted, lies in a clearing in the jungle. He has been unable to find any of his provisions, and a series of hallucinations from his past life emerge to haunt him while the jungle grows darker and the intensity of the drums increases. He sees a vision of a man he murdered in a crap game. He starts to run wildly through the jungle, shedding parts of his uniform. He then sees an image of a convict gang with a guard. A vision of a slave auction haunts him, and the auctioneer beckons to Jones to take his place on the block. Jones has fired his gun at all of these visions, and he is finally left with only his silver bullet. As daylight emerges, Jones is seen struggling and groping his way through the jungle. Finally, a witch doctor appears -- a terrifying sight -- and holding on to Jones, dances wildly about him. Soon others appear-soldiers and natives who have been hunting him-and Jones realizes that his time has come. "De silver bullet," he exclaims. He raises the gun to his head and fires. The opera comes to an end as Jones's body is borne off the stage.

Title Information

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Musical Style
Challenged by his teacher Busoni to develop a new means of musical expression, Gruenberg incorporated jazz and black spirituals in his music. He was one of the earliest American composers to use jazz rhythms in large symphonic works. His opera The Em

Original Cast
Lawrence Tibbett (Brutus Jones)
Marek Windheim (Henry Smithers)
Pearl Besuner (An Old Native Woman)
Hemsley Winfield (Congo Witch-Doctor)

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