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Classical 101

New American Operas

It's a good time for American operas. Lyric works by American born composers are produced more often, and more importantly gain repeat productions. Two by Jake Heggie, Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick< are practically standard repertoire (like La boheme) There are as yet too few original stories. You'll recognized movies and "famous lives" sourced for these operas. That's not different at all from the uses Verdi and Puccini made of plays by Sardou, David Belasco, Shakespeare, Dumas fils or history:

The Classical Style

When's the last time you heard of a text-book set to music? Charles Rosen's iconic book on the music of Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven becomes an enjoyable opera, a farce, with music by Steven Stucky and a libretto by Jeremy Denk. Denk is a concert pianist of infinite skill, and is Artistic Director of California's Ojai Music Festival, where The Classical Style last June. Our composers are named, of course "The Big Three." They meet Charles Rosen in heaven for an all night bull session. Haydn and Mozart disagree over performance practices and Beethoven scowls at everyone. Viewed on YouTube, The Classical Style seems well constructed and good fun. Perfect for university music departments, on several levels! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1I0fbs554A "The pictures were so strange that one quite instinctively looked at anything rather at them just at first" said Gertrude Stein The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.


  Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) moved to Paris in 1903 to share an apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus with her brother, Leo. Leo eventually took off for Italy, and was replaced by Alice B. Toklas. Stein's secretary, wife, gate-keeper and muse, the two lived on at 27 convening a literary salon. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wilder, Picasso, Matisse and Man Ray were a few the guests who came and went. Stein became more famous for her life than for her work. Composer Ricky Ian Gordon teamed up with librettist Royce Varvek. The Stein-Toklas menage is re-created with the two ladies themselves, and the male roles shared by three fellas, often singing from large frames. 27 was introduced last June by the Opera Theater of St. Louis with Stephanie Blythe and Elizabeth Futral as Gertrude and Alice. The ladies lives continue to fascinate, and for that one hopes 27 finds an audience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltl05FEIxPs

Two Boys

Composer Nico Muhly has gone from choirboy to composer. Not yet 30-years-old, he has a bucket load of credits, including some wonderful church music. Two Boys is a murder mystery set in England, involving a police investigation and an innovative use of "opera on line". Two Boys had a high-profile premiere with the English National Opera in London. The Metropolitan Opera produced it last year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dEY_VGf5Lk Whether any of these operas have a shelf life remains to be seen. What's important is that American opera companies are taking the financial risk of producing new operas. Hits or misses, Bravo!

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.