Music & Libretto by Marti Epstein

Directed by Greg Smucker (2009) / Nathan Troup (2019)

World Premiere - May 27, 2009 by Guerilla Opera



Rumpelstiltskin is a tragedy, a story about a hideously deformed little man who believes that, because of his physical appearance, he is unlovable. The little man, who has mysterious magic powers, really only wants one thing in life, and that is to love someone and have that loved returned unconditionally. Every day he sits in a tree and watches Gretchen and her father, the Miller, as they go about their daily routine. He longs for the kind of relationship they have with each other and decides that his only path to true love is to somehow have a child of his own. One day the King approaches Gretchen and Miller with an offer for Gretchen. A misleading boast leads the King to believe that Gretchen can spin gold out of straw. The greedy King decides to test her by locking her up in a room in his castle filled with straw and a spinning wheel. He tells her that if she does not complete the task, he will have her put to death. But, if she does complete the task, he will make her his bride. The little man sees this as an opportunity to be in a position to get the only thing he has ever wanted; he seizes the opportunity, helps Gretchen, and in exchange extracts a promise from her that she will give him her first-born child. It seems as if true and unconditional love is finally within his grasp. However, he ultimately loses his chance at love because of his kind nature. He takes pity on Gretchen and her love for her child, and allows her to try to guess his name in exchange for keeping her child. She miraculously discovers his name and therefore keeps her child; however, no one could have anticipated the incredible and terrible consequences of Gretchen speaking his name out loud. This is the true tragedy of the story.

Special thanks to Allegra Goodman, Jonathan Eichman, Roald Simonsen, Peggy Epstein, and Greg Smucker for their help with the libretto. — Marti Epstein



Marti Epstein (November 25, 1959) started studying composition in 1977 with Professor Robert Beadell at the University of Nebraska.  She has degrees from the University of Colorado and Boston University, and her principle teachers were Cecil Effinger, Charles Eakin, Joyce Mekeel, Bunita Marcus, and Bernard Rands. 

Marti was a fellow in composition at the Tanglewood Music Center in 1986 and 1988 and worked with Oliver Knussen and Hans Werner Henze.  As a result of her association with Henze, she was invited by the City of Munich to compose her puppet opera, Hero und Leander, for the 1992 Munich Biennale for New Music Theater.  She was on the jury for the 1994 Biennale.

Marti has received commissions from the Paul Jacobs Memorial Commissioning Fund, the CORE Ensemble, ALEA III, Sequitur New Music Ensemble, the Fromm Foundation, guitarist David Tanenbaum, the American Dance Festival, the A*DEvant-garde Festival of Munich, tubist Samuel Pilafian, flutist Marianne Gedigian, the New England Brass Quintet, the Iowa Brass Quintet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir, pianist Kathleen Supové, the CrossSound New Music Festival of Juneau Alaska, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Radius Ensemble, the Ludovico Ensemble, and the Callithumpian consort. The Longy School of Music commissioned her to compose Quartet for BSO English horn soloist Robert Sheena to be played at the Inauguration of Karen Zorn, their new president. Marti’s music has been performed all over the world by ensembles, which include the San Francisco Symphony, the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt, the Atlantic Brass Quintet, and Ensemble Modern.

The Atlantic Brass Quintet, Sequitur New Music, The Seattle Trumpet Consort, pianist Kathleen Supové, guitarist Ulf Golnast, Robert Sheena with the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble, and the University of Iowa Brass Quintet have recorded Marti’s music.  She was a resident at the MacDowell Colony in 1998 and in 1999.  She was a recipient of a 1998 Fromm Foundation Commission, and she won the 1998 Lee Ettleson Composition Prize.  She is a recipient of a 2005 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Marti is an active pianist and a devoted teacher.  She plays prepared piano with guitarist David Tronzo in the Epstein/Tronzo Duo.  She is Professor of Composition at Berklee College of Music, where she has taught harmony, counterpoint, and composition since 1991, and is also on the faculty of Boston Conservatory.