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13 Dec 2004

A Wedding in Chicago: Two Reviews

Altman opera a fitting renovation By Bill Gowen Daily Herald Classical Music Critic Posted Monday, December 13, 2004 It's rare that a film director has an opportunity for a do-over. But Robert Altman is no ordinary director, having created several...

Altman opera a fitting renovation

By Bill Gowen Daily Herald Classical Music Critic
Posted Monday, December 13, 2004

It's rare that a film director has an opportunity for a do-over.

But Robert Altman is no ordinary director, having created several of the most honored films of the past 40 years.

But even he will admit "A Wedding," filmed in Lake Forest in 1977 and released by 20th Century Fox the following year, isn't on the same exalted plane as "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Nashville" or "M*A*S*H." So when composer William Bolcom approached him about turning "A Wedding" into an opera, Altman wasn't all that enthusiastic.

But their successful Lyric Opera collaboration with "McTeague" in the 1992-93 season remained fresh in Altman's mind, and after several years' contemplation, the operatic "A Wedding" was born, with Altman the stage director and co-librettist (with Bolcom's longtime librettist, Arnold Weinstein). This creative team has come up with another operatic winner in a comedy of manners that presents a glimpse of a societal clash between two disparate families, one of them uncultured and nouveau riche from Louisville, the other a snobbish, high-society clan from the North Shore. Both are hiding numerous dark secrets from their past.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Bolcom Musically Weds the Old Money to New


CHICAGO, Dec. 12 - Most composers count themselves lucky to secure even one commission from a major opera company. William Bolcom has had three in relatively quick order from one America's leading companies, the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The first resulted in the intense and gothic "McTeague," of 1992. Then came "A View From the Bridge" in 1999, a work Mr. Bolcom described as his journey into "Brooklyn verismo." On Saturday night the Lyric Opera presented the world premiere of "A Wedding," adapted from Robert Altman's 1978 film.

I wish I could report that the Lyric Opera's admirable faith in Mr. Bolcom, a prodigiously skilled composer, has emboldened him. But musically "A Wedding" plays it safe. In some ways it is the least compelling of the three works, each written with Mr. Bolcom's longtime lyricist, Arnold Weinstein, as librettist.

Be assured that you will have a good time attending "A Wedding." Mr. Altman, who collaborated with Mr. Weinstein on the libretto, has directed the striking production, drawing nuanced and vibrant portraits from a splendid cast. The creators have done an ingenious job of adapting the film into an opera that holds the stage effectively. No small feat, since the film's 48 characters had to be reduced to 16 singing parts.

Based on a story by Mr. Altman and John Considine, the film is a bleakly satirical, class-skewering tale of a wedding between Dino, the rakish son of a wealthy family from the posh Chicago suburb of Lake Forest ("old money" people) and "Muffin," the smitten and vacuous daughter of a trucking magnate from Kentucky ("new money" people who haven't yet acquired the snobbish pretensions of the old).

Still, music should come first in opera and Mr. Bolcom takes a frustratingly deferential role, as if he were afraid to impede the stage show or undermine a sight gag. The score is filled with snappy songs and dance numbers, extractable arias, clever ensembles and pleasing bits. But after a while the music seems slight. I wish Mr. Bolcom had tried to entertain his listeners a little less and challenge them a little more.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

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