A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears

an opera for all ages
Libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann
Based on the novel by Jules Feiffer
for 5 singers, 10 instrumentalists, and children's chorus
90 minutes

Artist Statement HERE >
Synopsis HERE >

Aria: "A Laugh is No Kinging Matter"

James Hayden, bass-baritone; Lisa Sylvester, piano

Izzy's Story

An adaptation of Jules Feiffer’s wonderfully loopy fairytale about a young royal doomed to make everyone around her laugh so hard that nothing gets done in her presence. How to cure her—and her kingdom—of this affliction? Why, send her on a quest, of course. A wild ride of a story involving endless transformation, a forest from which no one ever returns, a Sea of Malice, a Valley of Vengeance, a ruthless bully of a best friend, a spunky lady-in-waiting, a gentle giant, love at almost first sight and more.

This playful, rollicking tale, which plumbs the perils of growing up and into one’s true self, takes Izzy, our young sovereign-to-be, on a journey that tests notions of friendship, identity, and love. Challenging the conventional gender roles and relationships of the archetypal fable, the opera places a young woman at the center of a quest narrative that embraces a love of life and childlike wonder even as it explores the complex demands of adult responsibility. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears not only enchants but also provokes, asking what it means to be innocent, imaginative, and spontaneous in an unpredictable, ever-changing world. A story of self-discovery and growth, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears is about finding the strength at one’s core—a strength one didn’t even know one had—and learning what it means to grow wise and generous—in spite of oneself.


Izzy, mezzo-soprano
Lady Sadie / Lucille, soprano
Tom / Andrew, baritone
Princess Petulia / J. Wellington Wizard, soprano
King Whatchamacallit / Doveen the Serene / Philip the Giant, tenor
Children’s Chorus


Flute/alto flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet, horn, piano, harp, percussion, viola, and cello