The Halloween Tree (in development)

Libretto by TONY ASARO

The Halloween Tree is a new opera, commissioned by American Lyric Theater in partnership with the Bradbury estate, with music by Theo Popov and libretto by Tony Asaro. Led by a mysterious guide, a group of children undertake an unforgettable journey to find their friend Pipkin, who has disappeared on Halloween night. Through their search, the children learn about the cultural and historical traditions that have led to the contemporary celebration of Halloween today.

Commissioned by American Lyric Theater
Lawrence Edelson, Producing Artistic Director

Developed under the auspices of the Composer Librettist Development Program

MUSICAL SAMPLES Three excerpts recorded during the public InsightALT concert on October 30, 2016. Featuring Brian Wallin (Lenny), Shirin Eskandani (Kelly), Jarrett Porter (Tom), Michael Kelly (J.J.), Emma Grimsley (Lynn), members of MasterVoices, Laurie Rogers (Piano), Adam Turner (Conductor).

ROLES (all roles are sung by adult singers):
PIPKIN, a boy of 12 or 13. He is everyone’s favorite kid. (Tenor)

TOM, a boy of 12 or 13. Mexican-American. He is Pipkin’s best friend. (Baritone)

KELLY, a very athletic and scrappy tomboy. Same age as Tom and Pipkin. (Mezzo-Soprano)

J.J. – A timid youth of the same age. J.J. is a mummy for Halloween every year. (Baritone)

LYNN – The brainiac know-it-all of the group. (Coloratura Soprano)

LENNY – Lynn’s brother, is a few years younger. (High Tenor)

MOUNDSHROUD – Part crypt keeper and part Willy Wonka. He is not human, though not entirely un-human either. The extent of his supernatural abilities is not known,but the laws of physics and time don’t apply to him. (Bass)

CHORUS: SATB - 24 Voices

ORCHESTRA (24 Musicians): ( Fl. (Picc.), Ob. (E.H.), Cl. (B. Cl), Bsn. (C. Bsn.) / Hn., Tpt., Tbn., Tba / Hp., Pno. (Kbd.), Gtr. (E. Gtr., E. Bs.), Perc. / Strings (minimum

Duration: 110’ (evening length work for family audiences)


Commission: April 2015
Libretto Workshop & Reading: October 2015
Public reading part of the The Living Libretto series
Piano/Vocal Workshop & Public Concert: October 2016
Public reading part of the InsightALT series


Orchestral Workshop & Concert (complete score): October 2019 in New York City.

LICENSING: The Halloween Tree is currently in development at American Lyric Theater. If you are interested to learn more about partnering for the world premiere, please click here to send an inquiry.




From Egypt to Mexico, from prehistory to modern day, the epic journey the boys in The Halloween Tree undertake in their search for their friend Pipkin manages to combine the light humor of Alice in Wonderland with the adventurous narrative of the Odyssey and the moral underpinning of A Christmas Carol. A spoonful of mystery and a carefully-measured cup of magic are the last ingredients that make this story universally exciting.

It is right at this intersection, where everyday reality morphs into a supernatural adventure, that most successful family operas live. From Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel to Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, phantasmagorical adventures have sprouted from regular lifestyles, transporting the audience, along with the characters, into the wild world of imagination. One could make a case that heightened reality works more successfully through music and is, therefore, perfect for the highest form of musical storytelling that is opera.

“While it sticks to two of the Aristotelian unities for drama (it has one main plot and takes place within twenty-four hours),” explains librettist Tony Asaro, “The Halloween Tree disposes of the third unity, one physical location, in a daring manner by traveling through space and time. Music, however, provides a unique opportunity to embody such temporal and physical fluctuations. Opera allows for a fantastical experience in which anything and everything is possible. Furthermore, a musically-driven dramatic adaptation of this story would intensify the themes of the book—friendship and the acceptance of others, death and mortality and the macabre, and the human need to contextualize the fear and celebration of death through ritual.”

Composer Theo Popov continues, “There are moments in Bradbury’s novel that just beg for an operatic setting: the pumpkin chorus on the Halloween Tree, the funeral processions in antiquity, the lamentations of the Druids, the flight of the witches, the communal celebrations of the Mexican Day of the Dead… It is as if Bradbury himself was thinking of a dramatic setting in most scenes of the novel. Most of all, the excited pace of the narrative, which can glimpse hundreds of years of history in mere moments, makes the story ideal for a staged adventure children and parents alike would enjoy. Writing two puppet shows has taught me that kids are unfailingly enthusiastic about musically-driven drama. In fact, their unrestrained imaginations often allow them to enter the medium of singing much more successfully than adults can!”

(Credit: Eleonore Simon)

THEO POPOV joined the CLDP at American Lyric Theater in 2011, and is currently collaborating with librettist Tony Asaro on an operatic adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s beloved novel, The Halloween Tree. His first opera, Nero Artifex, received a full stage production at Princeton University to enthusiastic acclaim in March 2010. A three-act drama in Classical Latin with libretto by Mariah Min and Veronica Shi, the opera presented one of history’s most notorious emperors as a well-meaning but incapable ruler, a gullible dreamer and unfortunate artist. Since then, Theo has focused primarily on writing for the theater stage. In May 2012, his second opera Once Upon the Wind, based on the Russian folktale, “The Soldier Who Captured Death,” with libretto by Kate Light, was developed under the auspices of the Composer Librettist Development Program at the ALT during the first year of his residency. The one-act opera was subsequently performed by The Secret Opera in New York City in 2014, after being selected as a winner in the company’s inaugural Composers Competition. In addition, Theo has written two puppet shows, a number of choral and orchestral pieces, art songs, chamber and electronic music. He completed his composition degree at Princeton University, where he studied with Steve Mackey, Peter Westergaard, Bill Whelan, Barbara White, Paul Muldoon and Kofi Agawu. He has also studied theremin with Lydia Kavina, voice with David Kellett, piano with Edmund Niemann and dramaturgy with Cori Ellison.

TONY ASARO is a multi-talented artist, who has worked as a librettist, lyricist, conductor, vocalist and producer throughout New York City and the Bay Area. He is a co-founder of The FOGG Theatre, where he currently serves as Artistic Director. In 2008, he was honored with the Anna Sosenko Assist Trust Award for songwriting.  As a composer/librettist, Tony wrote the award-winning Our Country, with Dan Collins, which premiered in 2009 with the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Our Country went on to win four Planet Connections awards, including Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical, and Outstanding Book, Music & Lyrics of a Musical, and was subsequently published by NYTE Small Press in the anthology, “2010: Plays and Playwrights.” The hit show then enjoyed a successful run in at the New York Musicals Theatre Festival in 2010. Tony has produced every iteration of Our Country, including the concept album, which is available on iTunes. In addition, he has self-produced multiple readings of his show The Many, Many Men of Tony Asaro in both New York City and San Francisco, and has co-produced concerts of his own work on both coasts. Tony’s first musical, Family has enjoyed two productions–one at SCU in 1999 and one at the Ryan Repertory Theatre in New York City in 2000. An accomplished librettist, Tony has received commissions from choirs and opera companies to pen libretti for multiple operas and oratorios, including his opera All Wounds Bleed, developed at American Lyric Theater with music by composer Christopher Cerrone (a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist). Published by Schott Music, the opera was selected for showcase in OPERA America’s 2012 New Works Forum, and received its world premiere at Tulsa Opera in 2013. Most recently, Tony wrote music and lyrics for the first FOGG Theatre show The Cable Car Nymphomaniac, which will premiere in San Francisco in November. Tony holds an undergraduate degree in Theatre and Music from Santa Clara University, and a Masters Degree in Musical Theatre Writing from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU: Tisch School of the Arts. In 2011, he was a first-year Resident Artist in American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program. He returns to the CLDP to work on his original commission, The Halloween Tree.