An American Tragedy

by Tobias Picker

JRP's Opera and Song Pages

 

An American Tragedy, a new opera by Tobias Picker, with a libretto by Gene Scheer based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser, received its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 2, 2005.

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"Though 'An American Tragedy' is essentially a conventional work and whole stretches of Mr. Picker's score would not be out of place in a Broadway theater, the opera is accomplished, dramatically effective and thoroughly professional. It's hard to imagine a more compelling cast. Admirers of the baritone Nathan Gunn who have been waiting for him to have a major success at the Met will cheer his portrayal of the protagonist, Clyde Griffiths, the uneducated, ambitious son of street corner evangelists in the Midwest who yearns to join the upper crust. The production by the director Francesca Zambello could not be more gripping."--Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times

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"Though commissioning new works is not quite the rarity it once was for the Met, it's still a major event that inevitably raises expectations to unrealistic heights: Will a new masterpiece spring forth from the composer's pen, or will the audience be subjected to an expensive fiasco?

"Based on a first hearing, 'An American Tragedy' is neither, but rather a work of considerable merit whose flaws need to be addressed much as Picker has attempted to do with his last opera, 'Therese Racquin.'"--MIKE SILVERMAN, Associated Press Writer, citizen.com

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"Picker's score is undeniably crafty, also cautious and well-mannered to a fault. It deals knowingly in second-hand operatic devices, cranking out good mood music and gutsy cliches at every turn. There are no surprises here, no shocks, and very few dissonances. The first-nighters seemed grateful. An American Tragedy may be the perfect modern opera for people who hate modern opera."--Martin Bernheimer in review at ft.com

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"The score's theatrical good sense is remarkable. The first act establishes a comfort zone by making obvious points in broad strokes. But Act II delivers exactly what you don't expect: scenes that gain tension by growing softer as they head toward emotional climax. Few modern operas are paced as effectively as this."-- David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer Music Critic, philly.com

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"Picker sets all this to music in a somewhat lurid operatic style, with orchestral tumult and lots of high notes for the singers. But what he's best at is something smaller, the creation of interesting and varied details, among them unexpected rhythms in the orchestra. He's not as good at writing vocal melody, and apart from music that evokes the hush of flowing water in the boating scene, he doesn't seem to have an ear for mood or atmosphere."--Greg Sandow, washingtonpost.com

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"An American Dud" was the title of Justin Davidson's review for Newsday. "The saddest part of 'An American Tragedy' is how much talent, time, good will and money were spent on such a flaccid melodrama."

"Met premiere not nearly as tragic as it might have been" was the title of the review by Willa J. Conrad, Star-Ledger Staff, nj.com

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Review by Peter G. Davis for New York Magazine

Review at Gay City News

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"The December 2 premiere of 'An American Tragedy' has turned into one of the most anticipated music events of the year. The star-studded, sexy young cast including Patricia Racette, Nathan Gunn and Susan Graham as the love triangle and Conlon (often mentioned as a potential successor to the Met's current music director, James Levine) have helped generate some of the advance buzz for this new opera. But Picker is clearly the central reason for much of this attention."--from article by Raphael Mostel at forward.com.

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"This opera could easily play on Broadway," Picker said. "The music is full of melodies, and romance. It's a love story all kinds of love, from someone who's in love with someone, who's in love with someone else, to someone who's obsessed with the symbols of the American Dream, with money, beauty."--from an article at ABC News

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A famous adaptation of Dreiser's novel is the 1951 film, A Place in the Sun, which starred Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters and won six Oscars.

 

The novel:

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, amazon.com

Related movie:

A Place in the Sun, DVD, amazon.com

 
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