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Red Earth. Hunger​​​

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Heart of the Great Divide is a musical, poetic and visual evocation of what is unique about this brawling and bawdy mining town, perched atop the Continental Divide, with perhaps more history crammed into every nook than any city in the country. The narrative weaves together a modern perception and historical accounts from the early 20th century during Butte’s heyday as a Mecca for European immigrants in search of the American Dream.  

The libretto, written by First Look Sonoma’s director/dramaturg Missy Weaver, incorporates selections of vivid poetry by acclaimed Butte poet, the late Ed Lahey, recent recipient of the Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature. Stunning cinematic scenic design and projections and visual/aural interactive video by Matthew E. Jones will envelope the audience.


Music for Heart of the Great Divide is created by Montana’s Grammy and Emmy nominated pianist and composer, Philip Aaberg,


The production features internationally acclaimed tenor and Butte native, John Duykers, Butte native and Broadway star baritone Curt Olds, and world renowned soprano Laura Bohn. The  instrumental ensemble is comprised of pianist/composer Aaberg, Marimba Lumina performer Joel Davel and guitarist Scott Ray.


The story is told by a Town Crier character Big Mouth Craine - the itinerant Street Poet - unstuck in time, both of the modern world, and drawn into the past. He evokes vivid scenes of the early days of mining in the early 1900’s, as Copper Kings amass extravagant wealth in Montana’s ‘city of the world’. Down amid the miles of honeycombed tunnels men work like slaves and aboveground, play like kings. For every church in Butte there are six saloons, some with bars a block long and most of them open all night. As the 2nd largest city in the west next to San Francisco, Butte’s teeming metropolis flourishes from the dangerous and mind-numbing toil of immigrant miners, pulling up copper from the bowels of the earth, to electrify the world and to sheathe bullets for the First World War.  With the growing anti-war sentiment of 1917, Butte becomes a powder keg of seething labor unrest. Poignant events and intimate scenes illuminate the tough, boisterous and defiant spirit of the people of Butte.


The scenario weaves together dramatic accounts of the Granite Mountain-Speculator Mine fire through noted characters such as the heroic miner, Manus Duggan and his wife Madge, attorney Burton K. Wheeler, union activist Frank Little who was dragged through the streets and lynched, Venus Alley’s Madam Coal Oil Belle, and Montana’s first female politician Jeanette Rankin.


Looking back in time, the Spirit of the Mountains huge beatific presence looms above this lusty, rip-roaring epic of the “richest hill on earth”. Embodying the mountain, she laments the environmental devastation of a once pristine landscape ravaged by smoke-belching smelters, forever scarred by the gaping hole of its vast, poisoned pit. She marshals the people’s resilience and optimism, cheering on their determined efforts for Butte’s renewal and rebirth.


Our creative team is at the forefront of collaborative experimentation to advance the evolution of the music theater form. Melding diverse influences such as classical virtuosity, cutting-edge electronic audio and video, ethnic songs and hymns, Heart of the Great Divide offers a vibrant 21st century perspective and a potent allegory for our times.  


Plans are being made to tour the production around the country, to spread the word about the fascinating story of Butte.

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