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Innovative Operas - 1911 and 2011


Anita Johnson, soprano; AnnMarie Sandy, mezzo-soprano; Frank Ward, Jr., Chauncey Packer etc. Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and Singers cond. Benjamin

New World 80720: 2 CDs.

This is a significant 3-Act opera from 1911, a key work in early American music.

It tells the tale of an adopted young woman discovering her roots and fights against ignorance and superstition in the African-American community, all coloured by Scott Joplin's idiosyncratic style.

It is a through-composed opera with no spoken dialogue, accompanied by an effective chamber orchestra of flute/piccolo, cornets, trombone, drums, string quintet with double bass and piano.

The singing is appropriate and good-enough, if not always what we would regard as fully opera-professional. In the recording there are some balance problems; the chorus of "corn-huskers in the distance" enters loudly, tending to put the principals Treemonisha and Remus a little in the shade, but those things mostly sort theselves out.

Rick Benjamin's reconstruction and recording of Treemonisha was a labour of love, issued beautifully packaged in a 100 page presentation, with extensive notes, illustrations and complete libretto, all put together of a quality to be expected elsewhere only from Opera Rara.

A one-off, recommended to everyone interested in the genesis of American opera.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See fuller review from Houston

William James's Varieties of Religious Experience

Experience #1 Marc Molomot (Tenor)
Experience #2 Lynn Norris (Soprano)
Experience #3 Chanda Rule (Mezzo Soprano)
Experience #4 Charles Coleman (Baritone)
William James Chester Layman & Kim Pritsker (Narrators)

Instrumentation: Electric Guitars Gene Pritsker [R] & Greg Baker
Cello Dan Barrett Double Bass Larry Goldman

Composers Concordance
COMCON 007 [Distrib: Naxos USA]

This genuine chamber opera is a ground breaking contribution to the operatic genre for the early '012s; previously released instrumental extracts from it had been hailed for theintellectual level of Gene Pritsker's compositions and his own philosophy, which blurs any notion of genre and even creates an unique idiom.

William James believed that all human response is related to religious "experience," and Pritsker suggests that this is true of music as well; Pritzker's libretto is as "intellectual" as, say, Tippett's for Midsummer Marriage, but far clearer to follow.

Pritsker's music (some 400 works) straddles all the current styles. The intellectual level of his compositions marks a radical departure from most new "classical" music. Perhaps one might point to a British composer more honoured abroad than in his own country: Jonathan Harvey, who - to make amends - is enjoying a four-day festival of Total Immersion in London right now, most of it being broadcast on BBCR3.

Do give Pritzker's chamber opera a go.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Grego Applegate Edwards