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Mark Adamo: Late Victorians; Regina Coeli

Album Summary

>Adamo, Mark : Late Victorians, song cycle for voice, narrator & orchestra
>Adamo, Mark : Four Angels
>Adamo, Mark : Lysistrata
>Adamo, Mark : Alcott Music, suite for orchestra (from the opera Little Women)
Performers Conductor Ensemble
  • >

Notes & Reviews:

Acclaimed as 'one of the best opera composers of the moment', American composer-librettist Mark Adamo has also ventured into symphonic composition and other fields in each of which his theatrical sensitivity, political commitment and musical mastery are equally evident. The vivacity of his Overture to 'Lysistrata' accentuates the play's anti-war theme, while 'Alcott Music' rethinks the music from his hit opera 'Little Women.' 'Regina Coeli' pays tribute to the Queen of Heaven and 'Late Victorians' is dedicated both to the memory of those who have died and to those who have survived AIDS

I could not write. I had been asked to write: the project was to be a set of songs for mezzo-soprano. But I could not write.

We - I and thirty other people from my church, an adhoc hospice - had just buried Bob, a man we hardly knew until he fell ill with AIDS. And Don, whom I had just directed in an opera, was failing.

The thing that seemed unacceptable to me was how ordinary this was all becoming.

"We have grown accustomed to figures disappearing from the landscape. Does this not lead us to interrogate the landscape?" -Richard Rodriguez, Late Victorians

Late Victorians, an essay Richard Rodriguez wrote for Harper's, October 1990, is a memoir of San Francisco in the first years of the plague. A central image was the Victorian house: those "painted lady" Victorians that waves of San Franciscans had reclaimed, had refurbished, and were now leaving empty as AIDS swept the city. The once-haunted houses were becoming haunted once again.

I carried that essay with me everywhere the winter of 1992. But I couldn't set it. It was too long: too much. I didn't want to write this experience. I didn't recall choosing to witness it.

I needed to write this song cycle, and I could not.

I reread Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae, particularly its chapter on Emily Dickinson. Paglia's take on Dickinson was violently different from anything I'd read before. For the first time I saw an icy glee, a perverse refusal to look away, in a quatrain such as

Ruin is formal, devil's work
Consecutive and slow;
Fall in an instant no man did;
Slipping is crash's law.

That season The Washington Post asked me to review the National Chamber Orchestra's performance of a famed Haydn symphony, the "Farewell." In it, Haydn had incorporated a small staging joke. He meant to remind his patron prince that the musicians he was keeping in his country palace very much wanted - and deserved - to return to town. So Haydn wrote a last movement in which, person by person, section by section, the musicians left the stage, leaving only two violinists to carry on the song in a bare forest of music stands.

It played as a joke in 1732. But it seemed very different to me now.

I ended up writing something quite else for the song cycle. But another piece - this piece - had found shape. I started sketching it at once, and completed it in the winter of 1994. The formal, oblique Rodriguez text would be spoken. Four Dickinson poems, singing everything the Rodriguez would not say, would be sung. And the four movements would be linked by solo cadenzas written for players from each choir of the orchestra, after which they would leave the stage.

It wasn't a conscious decision, but now it seems to me that Late Victorians formally resembles nothing so much as the Stations of the Cross. In the Catholic churches I knew growing up, you will often find twelve friezes, or sculptures, representing Christ's journey to Calvary and, beyond, to transformation. During Lent, the faithful walk from frieze to frieze; meditate upon the image; and move on to the next. They make a kind of living rosary. The images themselves are static: mere panels. Jesus falls the first time. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. It is the pilgrim who is dynamic, making the journey from image to image, walking the walk. It is in the heart of the pilgrim that the experience builds.

Late Victorians is meant in tribute to the living and in memory of the dead. I owe a debt of gratitude to Sylvia Alimena, to Kent Ashcraft, to James Petosa, and to the men and women of Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. And the score is dedicated to the memories of the thousands of the fallen, particularly to those of Michael Patterson, Bob Williams, Raymond Davila, and Donald Poe.

-Mark Adamo


Late Victorians, wearing modern garb
Here's a varied program by a leading American composer of our time, both tonal and contemporary in the music he creates. One movement from a full-length concerto has been scored as a standalone piece for harp and strings, while an overture to one opera is followed by a suite from another (the much-performed "Little Women"). "Late Victorians," the title work of the disc, takes a magazine essay on AIDS, its victims and survivors, and weaves around it the poetry of Emily Dickinson; two solo voices are featured, one spoken and one sung. In a way, it derives from Haydn's "Farewell" symphony, with its vanishing musicians, but though regret and bitterness are added to the mix here, the piece is all the more effective for its generally understated tone. Performances are assured, and the recording is mostly close and clear (the harp gets a little swimmy at times). Notes are by the composer himself, who you should know if you don't.
Submitted on 04/04/10 by Jim D. 
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Works Details

>Adamo, Mark : Late Victorians, song cycle for voice, narrator & orchestra
  • Performer: Emily Pulley (Soprano)
  • Conductor: Sylvia Alimena
  • Running Time: 27 min. 32 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Vocal
  • Written: 1994

>Adamo, Mark : Four Angels :: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra
  • Performer: Dotian Levalier (Harp)
  • Conductor: Sylvia Alimena
  • Running Time: 8 min. 1 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 2006

>Adamo, Mark : Lysistrata :: Overture
  • Conductor: Sylvia Alimena
  • Running Time: 4 min. 5 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Opera/Operetta
  • Written: 2005

>Adamo, Mark : Alcott Music, suite for orchestra (from the opera Little Women)
  • Conductor: Sylvia Alimena
  • Running Time: 16 min. 22 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1999