For Whom the Bell Tolls - Scene from end of Act 1

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.

In this early scene, the American Robert Jordan, who has travelled to Spain to fight against the fascists, has just met a band of Guerrilla fighters for the first time. He has been assigned by an allied Russian leader to join this band and blow up a bridge as part of an offensive attack against the fascists.

Supporting Robert is Pilar who asserts her leadership of the restless guerrillas who support her over Pablo’s shiftless refusal to take action. Robert tries to avoid becoming enmeshed in their internal struggles, aware he has become disillusioned in the potential for success in their cause – and in his mission. Still he is almost immediately taken by the engaging, though guileless Maria, who for all of her traumatized past, finds herself equally drawn to him, recognizing they are both looking for something or someone to believe in and live for.

The logistics for blowing up the bridge start falling into place when El Sordo, leader of a nearby band of guerrillas, agrees to steal the horses they need to make their escape afterwards. Nevertheless Jordan learns that word has gotten out about the planned Republican offensive, compromising their success.

  • Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
  • Erik E. Ochsner
    Music Director
    Music Director, SONOS Chamber Orchestra
  • David Dorsen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jesús Daniel Hernández
    Key Cast
    "Robert Jordan (tenor)"
  • Jose Sacín
    Key Cast
    "Pablo/Sordo (baritone)"
  • Kelly Curtin
    Key Cast
    "Maria (soprano)"
  • Suzanne S. Chadwick
    Key Cast
    "Pilar (mezzo)"
  • Completion Date:
    March 23, 2016
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Cheseapeake Film Festival
    Easton, MD
    United States
    October 30, 2016
    World Premiere
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

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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: