Conductor Notes - Sweeney Todd

Feb 7, 2022

A Short Perspective on Sweeney Todd

The 1979 musical Sweeney Todd was the final work of an extraordinary decade of achievement in musical theatre history. In the 70s, Stephen Sondheim’s series of five groundbreaking musicals changed the landscape of Broadway. The shows were each unique and totally different and yet each bore the indisputable signature of this American master. A creative force that never stopped reaching.

Company in 1970 and Follies in 1971 brought the psychology of contemporary relationships into view. Two years later, the same impeccable insight into the human psyche combined with romantic nostalgia in A Little Night Music. In 1976 he marked the American Bicentennial with a critical look at western imperialism in Pacific Overtures.

Sondheim’s evocative musical palette infused each story with its own sound. From the delightful spinning waltzes of A Little Night Music to the energetic Japanese inspired melodies of Pacific Overtures, the pulsing of the city in Company to the stylish grace of Follies, Sondheim’s music is a marvel. This brings us to Sweeney Todd!

The music for Sweeney Todd almost never stops. Its vocalism calls equally for power and subtlety. Almost immediately as it came on the scene, the debate started: was it an opera or a musical? Though interesting to consider, the conclusion is simple. The deftness and clarity of intention in Sweeney Todd is pure theatre. Its story, themes and characters would tempt any opera composer. All said, a more convincing dramatic universe is difficult to imagine than the one Sondheim created.
The curtain rises to the strains of a dark organ as the orchestra and cast spin the melancholy tale. Theatrically brilliant numbers like Mrs. Lovett’s The Worst Pies in London and God That’s Good mingle with the poignant ballads Pretty Women, Not While I’m Around and Johanna. There are too many great songs to mention, but every single moment of this score has its purpose, time, and place.

For all of us involved, whether on stage, behind the scenes or in the pit, we are grateful to work on Sweeney Todd and thank Opera Omaha for bringing us together for the new production by Susan Clement. We proudly perform Stephen Sondheim’s masterful work for you and celebrate this monumental composer, lyricist and artist who gave the American theatre so much to chew on.

— Hal France, Conductor

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