T h e   b e t r a y a l   o f   t h r e e   o r a n g e s

for orchestra

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Program note

The Betrayal of Three Oranges is inspired by my opera-in-progress The Juggler, in collaboration with the writer Joseph Caldwell. The libretto he produced was initially inspired by a medieval fable known as The Juggler of Our Lady. In that fable, extravagant and costly gifts are set before the statues of Mary and the infant. A young boy in tattered clothes juggles in the market place for what few coppers are thrown his way, steps forward and offers the only gift he has. He juggles. In response, the statues come to life and the boy is blessed. What inspired the writer was the thought: what if the juggler couldn’t really juggle. The answer: he offers his failures – and is blessed. The writer then channeled his inspiration into the opera libretto. The protagonist, Jerry, is confronted by his vulnerability and haunted by his failure. He frequently tries to juggle oranges, but like everything else, he is never successful. The juggling is a metaphor for failure. In the opera, he inadvertently is given a shopping bag of money. He is determined to spend it feeding the poor. The opera dramatizes how this effort, like his juggling, is a failure. The money is a catalyst and by the end of the opera it helps to reveal Jerry’s truly divine and most profound offering – his failure. The Betrayal of Three Oranges is steeped in Jerry’s loving and vulnerable world, filled with longing, juggling, money and tragedy.

The Betrayal of Three Oranges is lovingly dedicated to Susan Brynteson, Joseph Caldwell and David Del Tredici.

Commissioned by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra

Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, Music Director

Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, Music Director


Saturday opened with Steven Burke’s foreboding, colorful and very cinematic “The Betrayal of Three Oranges.” Strong pulses, a big sound, interesting percussion choices, and the liquid tones of a vibraphone were like a sci-fi flick exploring alien worlds.

Geraldine Freeman, The Daily Gazette

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Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, English Horn, 2 Clarinets in Bb,  Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons

4 French Horns, 3 Trumpets in C, 2 Trombones, Bass Trombone, Tuba


3 Percussion Players




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Joseph Caldwell & Steven Burke from a performance of the opera-in-progress