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The Making of For Whom the Bell Tolls, An Opera in Progress

Hemingway was a larger-than-life personality. In his popular novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls", he sees himself in the character of Robert Jordan, and idealistic young American in 1930's fascist Spain, who accepts a doomed mission to blow up a bridge. Through his lyrical melody-driven music, Brian Grundstrom brings out the emotional depths of the characters and brings new insight to this Hemmingway classic. Using the full versatility of opera, Dorsen's libretto and Grundstrom's music are able not only to explore Hemingway's themes of trust, loyalty, honor, love betrayal, fear pain, loss and sacrifice, but add modern insight into the toxic nature of Jordan's (Hemingway's) masculinity, as his notions of honor clash with the reality of the situation.

Although set in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, the story remains current today. In his novel, Hemingway portrays the individual lives of a band of partisans involved in the terrible destruction and violence of war. The characters are richly drawn and we see lives filled with emotion. Through opera we will convey to our audience what it might be like to be part of such violence, to choose sacrifice or betrayal, to love, and to survive.

The final scene from Act 1 from For Whom the Bell Tolls Opera has been recorded by Maestro Erik E Ochsner. The artistic team talks about the opera, including tenor Jesús Daniel Hernández, soprano Kelly Curtin, mezzo Suzanne S. Chadwick and Baritone Jose Sacín.

  • Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
  • David M. Dorsen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Erik E. Ochsner
    Music Director
    Music Director, SONOS Chamber Orchestra
  • Jesús Daniel Hernández
    Key Cast
    "Robert Jordan (tenor)"
  • Librettist David Dorsen
    Key Cast
    "Sordo/Pablo (baritone)"
  • Kelly Curtin
    Key Cast
    "Maria (soprano)"
  • Suzanne S. Chadwick
    Key Cast
    "Pilar (mezzo)"
  • Soprano Kelly Curtin
    Key Cast
    "Maria (soprano)"
  • Todd Clark
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Music Video, Short
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 8 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 26, 2016
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Brian Wilbur Grundstrom

A composer equally accustomed to writing for orchestra, opera, film, theater, chorus, piano and chamber ensembles, Grundstrom’s voice includes a strong affinity for long melodic lines, distinctive tonal harmonic vocabulary, engaging rhythms, skillfully executed counterpoint, and dramatic imagery.
Audiences take to his compositions immediately, finding in his music traces of Copland and Puccini, along with a bit of film score.
Classically trained in piano from Gettysburg College, he continued studies with John David Earnest. His awards include Outstanding Emerging Artist in the 2013 DC Mayor’s Arts Awards, eight artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and a Gold Peer Award for Children of Zeus – a 46-minute work for chorus and orchestra. Maestro Erik E. Ochsner writes “Many audiences cringe at the thought of new music. We had such positive feedback from audiences on how much they enjoyed Grundstrom's work. It is modern, yet tonal.”
Brian is currently working on an opera for Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. His compositions can be heard at www.brianwilbur.com.

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Director Statement

Three scenes from the opera have been recorded, and are accompanied by video - "Robert Jordan Doesn't Teach English" being one of them. In addition, the London Symphony has recorded the overture.

We are looking forward to a piano vocal reading of the entire opera soon, along with an upcoming concert premiere! Stay tuned!

Watch the other scenes:

Robert Jordan Doesn't Teach English

Maria Meets Robert Jordan

Seattle Opera Director Christina Scheppelmann interviews the creatives: