Show artwork for The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings

The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings

Composed by Missy Mazzoli, with libretto by Royce Vavrek

Now Streaming

Digital Short

Explore the dark side of the American Dream in this new Digital Short.

Alone in the woods, a young man is pursued by a horrifying specter and by visions of his deceased sisters. A meditation on the precarious uncertainty of the American Dream and the role that uncontrollable forces play in our lives, The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings is inspired by a harrowing scene from the opera Proving Up, by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek. 

Based on a short story by Karen Russell, their opera depicts a 19th-century farming family striving to "prove up" by fulfilling the tough requirements of the Homestead Act to earn the deed to their land. Directed by James Darrah, the new Digital Short visualizes the appearance of the opera's ghostly Sodbuster, a failed homesteader driven mad by his inability to fulfill the Act's most daunting and seemingly arbitrary requirement: obtaining a glass window for his farmhouse. With Mazzoli's deeply unsettling (and strikingly beautiful) score setting the scene, The West is a Land exposes the desperation of hardworking Americans abandoned to their ruin.

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"'Little House on the Prairie' meets 'The Shining'"

Meghan KlinkenborgSchmopera

"Tense, creepy....Ms. Mazzoli's score, for just a dozen or so players, is a landscape of shimmering aridity."

Zachary WoolfeNew York Times


Missy Mazzoli
Royce Vavrek
James Darrah

Musical Performers

Bass Soloist
Andrew Harris
Soprano Soloist
Cree Carrico
Mezzo-Soprano Soloist
Abigail Nims
Tenor Soloist
Michael Slattery
Christopher Rountree
Instrumental Ensemble
International Contemporary Ensemble

Onscreen Performers

Kendall Teague
The Sodbuster
Sam Shapiro
Faith Fidgeon
Lindsey Matheis
Zachary Dushenko

Notes, Lyrics & Credits

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Notes, Lyrics & Credits

A Note from Composer Missy Mazzoli
My 2018 opera Proving Up, created in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek and based on a short story by Karen Russell, is a surreal meditation on the origins and dark realities of the American Dream, as told through the fictional story of a struggling family of homesteaders. The work dwells more in questions than answers: In a country where we imagine all success to be earned, is failure also earned? What happens when conditions become so extreme that the only way to achieve the American Dream is to resort to cruelty, thievery and manipulation? No character illustrates this darkness more viscerally than the Sodbuster, a gaunt and ghostly villain, a walking symbol of fate, death and pure rotten luck who cheerfully sings “the west is a land of infinite beginnings” as he wreaks havoc. The Sodbuster comes in many forms and with many faces, but rest assured, in the end, he comes for us all.

Story Background
American homesteaders had to "prove up" the land they settled in order to obtain the deed. They had to fulfill the daunting requirements of the Homestead Act, which included five years of harvest, building a dwelling, and perhaps the most elusive element of all: obtaining a glass window for their home. One family, with possession of a glass window, sends their son on a mission to share their precious commodity with distant neighbors who are expecting a visit from a government inspector. He comes face to face with a strange figure who knows all too well the cost of the American Dream.

The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings
(The Sodbuster's Aria)
Text by Royce Vavrek

Suns, moons, droughts, famines!
No sense to go counting tragedies...
The west is a land of infinite beginnings.
Don't you agree? Miles Zegner?
A family, I may have, I did have.
Parents, buried back east.
A wife, but she wasn't worth much...
So impatient! She lost faith.
Lost her will to prosper.
Had to make a break, make a fresh start.
Drove her off or plowed her under!
Kids... Had them. Sicklings. Weak ones.
Sons, daughters...
None lasted. They couldn't take it.
Wasted away. They were weak. Weak!

The West is a land of infinite beginnings.
Isn't that right? Miles Zegner?
Pick up, start again.
File a pre-empt. Stake a new claim.
I've made a stake to my claim.
Fulfilled each of the Act's stipulations.
Each one, Miles Zegner.
Each one but glass.
I'm in real need, Miles.
I've got all other proof, all but the final stipulation.

Missy Mazzoli, composer 
Royce Vavrek, libretto 
Concept and Direction by James Darrah
Director of Photography: Adam Larsen
Additional Photography (Los Angeles): Michael Elias Thomas
Costume Design: Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko
Lighting Design (Los Angeles): Pablo Santiago
Editor: Gabe Stowers
Video Art and Title Design: Yee Eun Nam and Yuki Izumihara
Additional Editing: Adam Larsen
Steadicam Operator: Gio Barot
Choreography: Lindsey Matheis
First Assistant Camera (Los Angeles): Kristi Hoi
Live Sound Mixing (Los Angeles): Dylan Carlson
Unit Production Manager (Los Angeles): Tony Shayne
Location Managers (North Carolina): Bill and Margie Imus
Location Director (Los Angeles): Jonny Black
Location Manager and Casting (North Carolina): Sam Shapiro

Vocal Cast
Sodbuster: Andrew Harris 
Miles: Michael Slattery
Sister Taller: Abigail Nims 
Sister Littler: Cree Carrico 

Film Cast
Sodbuster: Sam Shapiro
Miles: Kendall Teague
Zegner Sisters: Lindsey Matheis and Faith Fidgeon
Sodbuster (Los Angeles): Zachary Dushenko
Special appearances by Talise Trevigne, John Moore and Missy Mazzoli

Digital Effects 
Yuki Izumihara 
Yee Eun Nam 

Audio Recording Credits
Missy Mazzoli, Opera Omaha, the International Contemporary Ensemble and Christopher Rountree all make their Pentatone debut. 

Special thanks to Bill and Margie of Minglewood Preserve, Katherine Clanton and Opera Omaha, Sam Shapiro, Annie Saunders and Missy Mazzoli

Filmed at Minglewood Preserve in North Carolina (2020) and at Wilhardt and Naud in  Los Angeles (2021)

Artwork for The West is a Land of Infinite Beginnings
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