An Opera in Two Acts
Composed by William Susman
Libretto by Stuart Rojstaczer
Approximate running time: 2 hours

Edsel Ford, tenor
Eleanor Ford, soprano
Henry Ford, baritone
Clara Ford, mezzo soprano
Evangeline Dahlinger, coloratura soprano
Harry Bennett, bass
Orchestra and Chorus


Fordlandia is a family drama about the struggle between Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, over the leadership and future of Ford Motor Company. Henry's inability to relinquish the control of his company to a son he loves dearly destroys Edsel emotionally and physically. The tragedy between father and son is only mitigated by the strength and actions of their wives.

• Henry Ford is a major icon in American history
Fordlandia explores the complex interior lives and struggles of a father, son and their wives
• The women in Henry's life play a prominent and ultimately empowering role based on their will and intelligence

Fordlandia was selected for the Fort Worth Opera Frontiers Showcase
May 2 and 3, 2018, Bass Performance Hall
Fort Worth Opera Frontiers 2018 Press Release.


I Remember:
Edsel, who is gravely ill with stomach cancer, divulges to his wife that he is writing his memoirs. Eleanor encourages him and they emotionally reminisce about their life together. (Edsel and his wife Eleanor in Edsel’s bedroom, 1942. His energy level is up and he’s feeling a bit optimistic about his future. Note: Edsel called Eleanor, Ellie; Eleanor called Edsel, Ned.)
Eleanor - Soprano
Edsel - Tenor

The Believer:
Henry has been firing up a prototype car engine in the Ford family’s kitchen, which fills up with smoke. Clara runs to the back of the porch, her infant son, Edsel, in tow, to get some fresh air. In the aria, Clara sings a lullaby to Edsel about her faith that Henry will succeed in his work. The aria begins with Henry whistling a bird call, which is how Henry and Clara frequently greeted each other.
Clara - Mezzo Soprano

The Streets:
Henry Ford shows his first car to the citizens of Detroit before he takes it on its maiden voyage. He extolls about his vision of the future of "quadricycles" in America and the world. (Exterior and interior of Henry’s workshop garage, Detroit, Michigan, 1896. A small crowd of locals gathers around Henry’s garage. Henry and Ray Dahlinger open the garage door. Henry’s first car, the “quadracycle” is inside ready for its first trial run. Henry is full of himself, confident and proud of this achievement.)
Henry - Baritone

Evangeline's Song:
Evangeline, after an assignation with Henry, is left in Henry’s grand office by herself. She is radiant and opines that she isn’t just a mistress, that her role in the entire family is essential.
Evangeline - Coloratura Soprano


Our goal was to examine, in operatic form, the influence of the industrial age on the soul and spirit of America. We chose Henry Ford as our focus because without him, America would not be the world power it is today. He was a titan who greatly influenced the fabric of both American economic and social life.

As we delved into the life of Henry Ford through library research and visits to his family haunts in Detroit, we discovered a story that was intimate in scope and deeply emotional: the complex and troubled relationship between Henry Ford and his son, Edsel. For us, this relationship, filled with love, envy and betrayal, was the essence of what opera can do perhaps better than any other art form. Focusing on that relationship allowed us to not only examine how America’s rise in industrialism influenced its citizens, but also how it had a profound impact on an iconic American family. Our story evolved from a biography of one individual to an examination of the interior lives of a great American family’s wives and husbands. We wanted to examine their strengths and their flaws in detail. We also felt that this approach would work well with our musical and literary styles.

We’ve written one of two planned acts and have outlined the remaining libretto. Conversations with people in the world of opera convinced us that, because opera company directors usually like to have a creative voice in any new opera they produce, we should hold off finishing the libretto of the second act.

Fordlandia is a contemporary opera that tells a compelling, yet disturbing, story about a great American family. We are striving to involve the audience emotionally and intellectually with both our music and words. We are examining an American family, yes. But we are also, more importantly, examining the push and pull between progress and nostalgia, between love and ambition that have defined how America has evolved since its creation.