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Mark Adamo: Little Women / Summers/Houston Opera, Novacek, DiDonato [DVD]

Album Summary

>Adamo, Mark : Little Women, opera
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Based on Louisa May Alcott's enduringly popular novel about the adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in civil-war era New England, Mark Adamo's opera 'Little Women' has been performed in more than 70 national and international engagements since its 1998 première by Houston Grand Opera and has achieved the status of an American classic. This recording, with a superb cast expertly directed for television, vividly brings to life an opera that The New Yorker hailed as "A beautifully crafted work, brilliantly molding Alcott's tale into operatic form," and The New York Times dubbed a "masterpiece".

"Now, in a splendidly crafted production from the Houston Grand Opera in March 2000, we have the opera, Little Women, composed in direct lineage of Samuel Barber’s opera, Venessa... Back in 2000 the glittering career of Joyce DiDonato was just beginning, her beautifully focused soprano making a charming Meg, Stacey Tappan and Margaret Lloyd complete the four sisters. Chad Shelton’s Laurie and Daniel Belcher make highly plausible young lovers. There are two minor male roles: Derreck Parker as Dashwood, and Chen-Ye Yuan as Jo’s eventual lover, Friedrich, their singing right out of the top drawer. The chamber orchestra of Houston Opera is admirable under the conductor, Patrick Summers, and the television director, Brian Large, again scores a triumph. It also comes on Blu-ray (NXS 0007). Hugely recommended." -David's Review Corner

"The full production that appears on this disc, staged in 2000, was later broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances series. This is a chance to own a staged recording of an opera that is performed with greater frequency every year. In the role of Jo, Stephanie Novacek is strong if a bit stoic, and Joyce DiDonato’s performance of Meg leaves no doubt as to why she was recently named Gramophone’s 'Artist of the Year.'" -Music Media Monthly

"Split into two acts, it seems to bring out an honest discourse of Miss Austen’s classic [Little Women was written by Luisa May Alcott, not Jane Austen - Ed] long missing and forgotten by the recent wave of lame, tired, homogenized, flat, dull film versions. Patrick Summers conducts the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, Peter Webster did the stage directing, Brian Large directed the HD shots and the cast out acts big name Hollywood stars as well as being exceptionally gifted singers. Bravo everyone!" -Fulvue Drive-In

"I had long despaired of ever finding a “modern” opera that I actually enjoyed. A welcome exception is Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” that premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 2000 and was telecast on Public Television... I actually felt involved with the characters, thanks mostly to the fine acting of the cast... I am thinking what a fine seasonal present this DVD would make." -Brattleboro Reformer

American Record Guide
Adamo's music is a blend of atonal and romantic that several reviewers felt detracted from a smooth integration. I found it stimulating. I agree with John Rockwell, who, in The New York Times after the March 2003 New York City Opera premiere, called Little Women a masterpiece.

This is the same production, and possibly the same recording, that appeared on Ondine in sound only in 2001 and was less than rapturously received by John Story... Story's beefs, as I understand them, are that it isn't a faithful realization of the book, that by deconstructing Jo's passage through the story psychologically it misses the whole thrust of the 19th-century original, and that the plot-driven parts of the opera are intentionally written in a 12-tone style at odds with the lyrical passages. I'm sure that's all true. I'm tempted to say that I find the opera a success not just despite these reservations but actually, in part, because of them. Maybe it helps to see it - even if, as for me, the sound is not as good because I don't have my television hooked up to my best hi-fi... this is a remarkably successful opera given an excellent performance and production.

Notes & Reviews:

Run Time: 114 min.
Region: All
Picture Format: NTSC, 16:9, Color
Sound Format(s): LPCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English


Sensitive adaptation of a literary classic in a fine performance!
Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel "Little Women" in 1868, less than fifteen years after the end of the Civil War and at a time when American women were starting to question their role in society. Alcott herself grew up watching the Civil War, was a young adult and - it is said - personally questioned women's rights and roles with respect to relationships, money and position. The protagonist, Jo, is the eldest of four sisters and views her siblings' rush to marriage, their obedience to strong relatives, including mother and father, and even the poverty of the "reconstruction" period as unacceptable situations in her mind. Critics have studied Alcott's characters and the author's own life and see direct connections to the circumstances and viewpoints of Jo. As the story progresses, Jo watches one young sister, Meg, rush into marriage to a man, Brooke, who Jo sees as domineering. She watches another, Amy, go off to pursue her dream as an artist and to eventually marry a young man who, at first, loved - and was spurned by - Jo. A poignant and heartbreaking moment in the novel and in this opera is the death of little sister Beth; mirroring the death of Louis May's actual younger sister of scarlet fever. Throughout, Jo is portrayed as a character who evolves from cynical and self sufficient to a young woman who feels alone and unsure to, ultimately, someone who finds her calling as a writer and - in the final scene - seems to be at rest with the notion of marrying a German professor, Friedrich, who she met during her studies. Mark Adamo is one of the brightest and most accessible young composers on the scene today. He composed "Little Women" for the Houston Grand Opera in 1998 and this DVD performance represents director Brian Large's television rendition but with original casting and scenery intact. Both as compelling storyline and as an opera this succeeds on all levels. Just like the novel, which, for many years, has been a thematic staple for younger readers, the drama is emotional and internal. This is not an action piece or a scenery piece. The performances thrive because of the strong performances within. Stephanie Novacek as Jo brings a strength and determination with the requisite underlying vulnerability to her performance. She sings while shedding tears during Beth's death scene. Similarly, the other sisters; Joyce DiDonato as Meg, Stacey Tappan as Beth and Margaret Lloyd as Amy reflect emotions ranging from bull-headedness to naivete and so convincingly. The male parts - as in the novel - are not the centerpiece. Yet, contemporary music star James Maddalena brings a loving, but not quite fully aware, father to life and Chad Shelton as the love struck, somewhat naive Laurie is terrific. Adamo's music is unashamedly romantic and tuneful. The signature pieces, such as "Perfect as We Are" and the four sisters' "Nocturne" are emotional gems and the Houston Opera chorus and orchestra under conductor Patrick Summers provide a warm, focused and never intrusive sound. This disc is highly recommended for fans of the novel, for fans of new opera and even for fans of some of the newer "operatic" music theater, like Adam Guettel. Adamo is an engaging, talented new voice and I, personally, look forward to San Francisco Opera's premiere of his "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" Should be terrific if "Little Women" is any indication!
Submitted on 11/17/10 by Dan Coombs 
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Works Details

>Adamo, Mark : Little Women, opera
  • Performers: Daniel Belcher (Baritone); Katherine Ciesinski (Mezzo Soprano); Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo Soprano); Gwendolyn Jones (Mezzo Soprano); Margaret Lloyd (Soprano); James Maddalena (Baritone); Stephanie Novacek (Mezzo Soprano); Derrick Parker (Baritone); Chad Shelton (Tenor); Stacey Tappan (Soprano); Chen-Ye Yuan (Baritone)
  • Conductor: Patrick Summers
  • Ensemble: Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Opera/Operetta
  • Written: 1998