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Commentary

11 Dec 2004

Bolcom in Chicago

Marriage and manners By George Loomis [Financial Times] Published: December 10 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 10 2004 02:00 The general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, William Mason, likes to put his company's relationship with William Bolcom in...

Marriage and manners

By George Loomis [Financial Times]
Published: December 10 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 10 2004 02:00

The general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, William Mason, likes to put his company's relationship with William Bolcom in historical context. "It's our hope that 100 years from now, just as people speak of Verdi in Venice and Milan, and Rossini in Naples, they will speak of Bolcom in Chicago." Even granting the surge of new operas in the US, Mason's allusion to 19th-century Italy is audacious. Yet one cannot deny that Bolcom's ties to the Lyric, where on Saturday A Wedding becomes his third world premiere for the company and where a fourth opera is in progress, represent something special among the big American opera houses.

It is heartening to find an operatic audience approaching a new work with an earlier age's inkling of what to expect stylistically. Having experienced McTeague (1992) and A View from the Bridge (1999), the Chicago audience can be confident that the new opera will have sure theatrical values, ingratiatingly written vocal lines and music with a broad eclectic underpinning. And just as A View from the Bridge profited from Arthur Miller's personal contribution as his play was turned into an opera, so too Robert Altman has helped shape A Wedding out of his 1978 film; Altman also stages the opera, as he did McTeague.

Unlike its predecessors at the Lyric, A Wedding is a comedy -a chance, perhaps, to write something in the style of Rossini, whose celebrated affability Bolcom himself brings to mind? "Don't I wish!" he said in the apartment of his long-time collaborator Arnold Weinstein in Manhattan's Chelsea Hotel. "I adore Rossini. I wish I could write like that!" His modesty notwithstanding, Bolcom's music has a similar power to captivate, and the "multifarious styles" that his works draw on are deployed in so personal and inventive a manner that he's never accused of writing down to the public.

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