Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Naxos 8.669032-33
31 Mar 2012

Elmer Gantry the Opera

The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.

Robert Livingston Aldridge: Elmer Gantry

Gantry: Keith Phares; Sister Falconer: Patricia Risley; Frank: Vale Rideout; Eddie: Frank Kelley; Lulu: Heather Buck. Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Florentine Opera Chorus. Conductor: William Boggs.

Naxos 8.669032-33 [2CDs]

$15.99  Click to buy

His best novels came relatively early, a string of successes climaxing with the Nobel Prize for literature — the first won by an American — after Dodsworth. He continued to produce novels until his death a couple decades later; they are mostly forgotten, and even his best work merits little discussion today. His themes of the banality and hypocrisy of American middle class mores haven’t exactly lost their relevance, but they seem obvious and forced. It’s interesting that, according to Richard Dyer’s excellent booklet essay, the inspiration for composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein’s operatic adaptation of Elmer Gantry came while watching the 1960 film version. The cinematic version, with its Academy Award-winning performance in the lead by Burt Lancaster, at least retains Technicolor vividness.

The story of Elmer Gantry has a picaresque quality, as we follow a brash young athlete who, almost by accident, finds himself on the path to becoming a successful Evangelist, all the while pursuing his own need for female companionship and ego-building applause. The rather labored ironic ending finds Gantry leaving behind, if not in the dust then in the ashes of a fire, those who had helped him reach his goals, and moving onto to a vaguely “New Age” type religious re-birth. In another booklet essay, Leann Davis Alspaugh quotes the great line from H. L. Mencken that “deep within the heart of every evangelist lies the wreck of a car salesman.” Those relatively few pithy words put across the thrust of Elmer Gantry, at least as an opera. Over two hours of accomplished, professional composition and literary adaptation belabors the point at excessive length.

However, there is much to commend in the work of Aldridge and Garfein. In particular, Aldridge finds ways to use creative orchestration to give momentum and a sense of variety to a score that mostly builds upon the comparatively unsophisticated sounds of gospel music. There are hints of Copland from time to time, or perhaps one of Virgil Thompson’s documentary film scores. The problem is that when it comes time for an aria, that inspiring breath of original melodic inspiration that is found in the great operas of the standard repertory evades Aldridge. Nevertheless, when a booklet essay writer notes that the opera has already found a niche for itself at American music colleges as a fine piece to stage for aspiring singers, it’s clear that the sheer craftsmanship of Elmer Gantry the opera has earned it a kind of success.

elmerGantry_press10.gifComposer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein [Photo by Jane Kung]

The Naxos recording, made before an enthusiastic live audience, benefits from the strong leadership of conductor William Boggs over the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus. In the title role, Keith Phares offers the kind of smooth baritone reminiscent of Nathan Gunn — a handsome sound without much character. In the somewhat superfluous role of Gantry’s best friend Frank, Vale Rideout strains a bit at the high end. Patricia Risley sings the lead female role of Sister Falconer, a female evangelist who is actually more interesting as a character than Gantry. Like Phares, Risley’s seems to have adopted a vocal production arguably closer to Broadway than to an opera stage, and a little more thrust and edge would have been good. In the role of a pathetic husband that Gantry cuckolds, Frank Kelley gets a manic mad scene that should go over very well for budding character tenors looking for competition pieces in English.

Naxos manages to provide a slim booklet with informative essays, production stills, and the libretto in English. On the debit side, Naxos doesn’t provide much tracking, with the long act one, for example, on CD 1 with only 6 tracks. Although your reviewer will reserve judgment on whether Elmer Gantry the opera belongs in a CD series called “American Opera Classics,” it is an honest and finely assembled piece that makes a strong case for itself. The same cannot necessarily be said for many American operas of the last decades with higher profiles.

Chris Mullins

[Editor’s Note: Elmer Gantry received two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Album, Classical at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards (2011)]

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):