Notes & Reviews:
Set just before World War I, Sinclair Lewis's incendiary novel Elmer Gantry tells a story of old-time religion, illicit romance and revenge. Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein's operatic adaptation is a 'marvelous amalgam of toetapping accessibility' (Opera News) full of hymns, gospel songs, marches and dance, evoking the period in a score which echoes Gershwin and Copland. This all-American production combines a first-rate cast of singers and a world-class orchestra for 'an intoxicating experience' (The New York Times). As librettist Herschel Garfein stated, Elmer Gantry has ambitions as "the great American opera", but unlike many in its genre looks like becoming a theatre favorite rather than an expensive and worthy one-off production. In line with a tradition of operas such as Porgy and Bess, Elmer Gantry has both substance and a rousing appeal to a wide audience, and is also a work which is generating interest in opera training programs. As a result this sparkling recording will be a reference for the new generation of singers as well as being a release with a strong and long-term popular appeal. About the Composer: Robert Livingston Aldridge has written over sixty works for orchestra, opera, music-theater, voice, dance, string quartet, solo and chamber ensembles. His music has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. He received a Doctorate in Composition from the Yale School of Music. Currently, he is Chair of the Department of Music at Montclair State University, where he is also a Professor of Music Composition and Theory. Artist Information: Keith Phares (Elmer Gantry) Noted by the press for his warm baritone voice, commanding stage presence and vocal authority, Keith Phares is acclaimed both on the opera and concert stage as one of today's most versatile artists. Patricia Risley (Sharon Falconer) Opera News hails Patricia Risley for "her voice... luscious and agile, her characterization both boisterous and tender" as well as her beautiful "singing with ease and certainty." Frequently sought after on national and international stages, Patricia Risley's 2010-11 season includes her debut with New York City Opera as Dinah in Bernstein's A Quiet Place. She also returns to Santa Fe Opera for Margret in Wozzeck, and Palm Beach Opera for Dorabella in Così fan tutte.
"It’s tremendous fun — full of lush, old-fashioned melodies, showbizzy orchestration, rip-roaring ensembles and pastiche hymns, spirituals and gospel numbers. Darker and deeper than Lewis’s original, it deserves a European staging. Punchy, characterful singing and feisty playing from the Milwaukee Symphony." -The Times
I'd give my opera-loving friends this prime contender for the mantle of All-American Opera, where a virile baritone, a mercurial mezzo and a fiery and somewhat strident tenor meet various choruses of school fight songs and syncopated gospel hymns. For once, an all-American story rendered operatically in purely American terms.
Robert Aldridge's Elmer Gantry... is rather charmingly old-fashioned despite its fairly modern tonal language. The music is accessible; the libretto... wisely whittles down Lewis' sprawling story of faith, its lack and its manipulation to focus on the love story between Elmer and evangelist Sharon Falconer; the tragic climax... is well played but not overplayed; there is the sort of top-notch entry aria (Sharon's) that so many operas ought to have but so many lack; and the music's blend of hymns, marches, dances and gospel songs is appropriate and almost (but not quite) on the verge of being overdone. The performers are all well-suited to their roles... handling themselves particularly well. Listeners interested in a modern retelling of a very American story that continues to have resonance at a time when fundamentalist religion is as big an element in politics as ever will find Elmer Gantry of considerable interest. ... this music goes with and tells this particular story with considerable flair, and Elmer Gantry is certainly worth a hearing. Or several.
Naxos are to be congratulated on a splendid presentation with the full text in the booklet as well as articles about the opera and the original novel, a synopsis of the former, and photographs of the production on which the recording is based. However, whilst I can admire the skill of composer and librettist I find it hard to discover much that is especially imaginative or memorable in the opera. It is never less than professionally written or performed but neither does it seem to rise far above that basic level of competence - not that this is something that can by any means be taken for granted with new operas. As it has already had three sets of performances it clearly works in the theatre, which must be the true test of opera. I look forward to hearing it live, but in the meantime I am glad to have had the opportunity to get to know it through these discs. There is much to enjoy here even if I suspect that this is not a work I will wish to return to often.
The success of Elmer Gantry isn't a tribute merely to the fact that composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein have found an all-American story but that they've rendered it operatically in purely American terms. Garfein's text, by turns funny and poignant... clarifies the story. Aldridge's music invites without pandering, deftly shading emotions at every turn. Choruses erupt in school fight songs and gospel hymns with infectiously syncopated hand-clapping. The music is through-composed yet fully of a piece with its setting - 'charged' but without smacking of either musical theatre or operatic avant-garde.
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
... it has all the earmarkings of something that might have been written in the 1930's. There is a touch of Americana in the sense that Copland's homespun nationalist strain can be heard not so much quoted from as assimilated. There's a slightly jazzy element that comes out of Gershwin. Otherwise it is highly romantic, even sentimental in its treatment of a subject that, at least when Sinclair wrote the novel, was meant to have impactful social-critical heft.
Fanfare Magazine, November/December 2012
This thoroughly engaging disc, which was actually released more than a year ago yet somehow eluded both me and our editorial leader in Tenafly, truly caught me off guard. It makes me want to see a staged production of the work and that is high praise for any opera recording.
Recording information: Uihlein Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Mi (03/19/2010-03/21/2010).
Submitted on 08/15/11 by Dan Coombs
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Works DetailsAldridge, Robert : Elmer Gantry, opera in 2 acts
- Performers: Vale Rideout (Tenor); Keith Phares (Voice); James Barany (Voice); Aaron Blankfield (Voice)
- Conductor: William Boggs
- Notes: Uihlein Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (03/19/2010-03/21/2010)
- Running Time: 5 min. 18 sec.
- Period Time: Contemporary
- Form: Opera/Operetta