Notes & Reviews:
Scott Joplin's (1867 - 1917) opera Treemonisha is an astounding work of art, and one that resonates on many levels. It is the only opera in existence about the Reconstruction Era African-American experience written by a black man who actually lived through it. This fact alone makes it a work of tremendous significance. Further, Joplin's score is profoundly expressive and as stylistically unique as anything ever created in America. Through it, the composer vividly documents the echoes of the "field hollers," spirituals, fiddle tunes, revival hymns, and ancient African dances of his rural childhood, along with the spoken dialects of his people in their rising up from slavery. Treemonisha is Scott Joplin's statement of deep racial pride and an act of true artistic heroism - his creation of beauty in the face of almost unbearable ignorance, racism, poverty, and physical and emotional pain. His original 1911 materials for the opera were almost entirely destroyed in the early 1960s. But here now is an authentic, historically correct orchestration of this "Sleeping Beauty of American Music," performed on this world-premiere recording. Listen now as Scott Joplin - The King of Ragtime Writers - sings the song he wanted America to hear.
Rick Benjamin's reconstruction of Scott Joplin's lone surviving opera Treemonisha from the existing vocal/piano score is nothing less than a revelation of historical research and musicology. In contrast to Gunther Schuller's 1975 grand opera version with full orchestra, Benjamin aims to replicate the smaller theater pit-band aesthetic with which Joplin was familiar...
The music takes on a completely different complexion with a 12-piece ensemble that features one instrument to a part, including cornets instead of trumpets, and percussion instruments of the period. Among the inspired cast's stand-out performances are Anita Johnson's fervent yet playful traversal of the title role, plus the fluent repartée between Edward Pleasant and AnnMarie Sandy (Zodzetrick and Monisha)... Benjamin provides an extensive and detailed essay discussing the trials and tribulations Joplin experienced in his attempts to get his opera produced, illustrated by period photographs, newspaper clippings, and other relevant historic artifacts.
Beyond question, New World's Treemonisha is the most significant recording of Scott Joplin's music to be released since Dick Hyman's 1975 RCA survey of the complete piano music, which still awaits its first integral CD reissue.
BBC Music Magazine
Benjamin's recording...is perfectly balanced to get the best out of the score. Glory lies less with the singers, who range from woolly (AnnMarie Sandy's Monisha) to bright (Anita Johnson's Treemonisha). Benjamin's new orchestration and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra's punch are prize-worthy.
Benjamin's light-on-its-feet orchestration fits the music: genteel melodic lines swim like fish through pure water...Edward Pleasant and AnnMarie Sandy (Zodzetrick and Monisha) banish operatic pomp; Anita Johnson's Treemonisha is sincerely felt. The star of the show, though, remains Joplin...This is the most important document about the history of American composed music to have appeared in a long, long time.
American Record Guide, September / October 2012
The vocal writing is impressive; and the soloists are very good, particularly Anita Johnson as Treemonisha. At the end of the recording is a historical resume of the story, but I really can't tell you too much about the plot. It was never terribly well spelled out in the 1970s version, either.
Recording information: American Academy of Arts & Letters, NY (2011-05-31&2011-06-01_2011-).
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Works DetailsJoplin, Scott : Treemonisha, opera in 3 acts
- Conductor: Rick Benjamin
- Ensemble: Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
- Notes: American Academy of Arts & Letters, NY (2011-05-31&2011-06-01_2011-)
- Running Time: 7 min. 29 sec.
- Period Time: Post Romantic
- Form: Opera/Operetta
- Written: 1911
Word, Spoken : Treemonisha :: Appendix. Libretto Preface (read by Scott Joplin's closest living relative, Grandniece
- Running Time: 6 min. 32 sec.
- Period Time: Post Romantic