Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

Un ballo in maschera in San Francisco

The subject is regicide, a hot topic during the Italian risorgimento when the Italian peninsula was in the grip of the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the House of Savoy and the Pontiff of the Catholic Church.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

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):