Monday, December 19, 2005

Waiting For Next Saturday Afternoon's Date With The Radio

..."Between 1950 and 1990, the Met presented a grand total of three world premières. Volpe and Levine have made partial amends for that wretched record by bringing forth four new operas in the past fifteen years, with Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor” on deck for next season. Unfortunately, premières are still so infrequent that crushing expectations attend them, and disappointment inevitably ensues when a new work fails to astound Diaghilev out of his grave. Picker’s “An American Tragedy,” which had its first performance on December 2nd and plays through December 28th, has had a predictably mixed reception. Opera fans have acclaimed its solid construction and singable lines; critics, by and large, have scoffed. After two viewings, I find myself siding with the fans. The opera is a fitfully inspired creation, wavering along the fine line between tragedy and turgidity, but, on a primal, Pucciniesque level, it hits the mark.

... The first act lacks dramatic situations, and only in the second do we get to the raw meat: Roberta, pregnant and enraged, confronting Clyde in church; the death in the lake; the trial; the walk to the chair. Funny how this Gilded Age melodrama, in which obscene wealth warps the morals of all, anti-abortion laws drive young people to desperation, and capital punishment is handed down without clear physical evidence, is not quite as dated as it should be.

Picker works largely within the lingua franca that has defined mainstream American opera since Gian Carlo Menotti found a popular audience for the form after the Second World War, with “The Medium” and “The Consul.” There are vernacular songs and religious hymns to establish the all-American scene, lush verismo textures for the lovemaking, suave Gershwinesque tunes to convey the upper classes at play, distorted genre pieces à la Shostakovich and Britten for public confrontations, and, at moments of maximum fright, bursts of Berg. There’s also much that’s individual; Picker’s harmony flirts with traditional tonality without falling prey to cliché, his orchestration achieves both transparency and power, and his crowd scenes skillfully set solo voices against a booming chorus and a churning orchestra...."

Alex Ross "OPERA HOT: The Met’s fall season" The New Yorker Online December 19, 2005.

Henry Moore, Bronze Sculpture, Lincoln Center, 1962-64. (Hopefully, it is securely attached to the base of its reflecting pool.)

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