The chamber piece is intriguing, evocative, highly original and curiously involving, one I would welcome hearing again. The wonder here is that the entire piece jells despite the many dissimilarities. Heggie writes in an accessible, consonant style, sympathetic to the voice, while fluent in emotional nuances and outbursts. [Heggie’s] operatic experience enables him to spark dramatic situations effectively. Heggie builds crescendos to scenes of high agitation beautifully, tackling the varied styles with a fluency of rare dispatch.
Heggie’s “To Hell and Back,” which revisits the myth of Persephone in a modern-day setting, was the radiant centerpiece of the [Philharmonia Baroque] orchestra’s program … the one-act opera is the organization’s first commissioned work … It was a bold experiment, and at Tuesday’s vibrant semi-staged performance, the results were magnificent. Heggie has given the orchestra a decidedly contemporary 40-minute score, one with echoes of Britten, Barber, Bernstein and Copland. “To Hell and Back” will come as a surprise to those who think modern opera isn’t sufficiently tuneful. Heggie has given the score some of his most arresting orchestral writing … And, as always, Heggie writes beautifully for the voice. High points, incorporating [Gene] Scheer’s eloquent prose, include a tender duet, a potent cabaret number for Anne, and a penetrating, grief-drenched aria for Stephanie. [Nicholas] McGegan and the orchestra gave the score a fervent first performance, and the soloists rose to the occasion admirably.
… it’s hard to imagine any work in recent years that has filled us with so much hope for the survival of the art form. Heggie, you see, is willing and able to grapple with opera as musical theater, as he did triumphantly in Dead Man Walking… With Last Acts, he not only returned to straightforward (and deep) human emotions but perhaps pointed to ways opera itself might find and delight a new audience…he kept the cast small [and] kept the orchestra for Last Acts tiny as well, and even played one of the two pianos himself, with a dexterity and sensitivity that recalled those scratchy recordings of Gershwin playing his stuff. The libretto by Gene Scheer is lovely: funny, sad, candid, painful, and sporting a few modern expletives that (humorously) never showed up on the HGO surtitles … The ensemble pieces for two or even all three singers are heartbreaking in their lilting harmonies. Most sounded like lullabies written to sing angels to sleep, with extraordinary orchestrations to match, and they were sung as such by von Stade with lyric baritone Keith Phares, making his HGO debut as son Charlie, and soprano Kristin Clayton as troubled daughter Beatrice. Last Acts is intimate, thought-provoking, clearly heartfelt by all concerned and touching from beginning to end
American opera in general, and the Dallas Opera in particular, took a proud step forward Friday night at Fair Park, Music Hall with the world premiere of Thérèse Raquin, a new work by American composer Tobias Picker based on the Emile Zola novel of that name. Thérèse [Raquin] is a superbly crafted stage work. It is filled with compelling music, gripping drama, and imaginative staging and special effects, and it features an excellent cast.
When Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin was premiered by the Dallas Opera, it passed the most important test from a purely musical standpoint. Picker's opera created a sound world that could be mistaken for no other. Picker is among the most accomplished American opera composers of his generation...It was a coup for Dallas to produce Picker's latest work, and he stretched the audience with complex dissonances amid the high-flying arias and ensembles.
[Thérèse Raquin] was a thrill-ride from the start. Picker's music ricocheted between daunting dissonance and yearning tonality... "Led by British mezzo-soprano Sara Fulgoni in the title role, the cast of Thérèse Raquin was packed with wonderful singing actors who kept pace with Francesca Zambello's upbeat direction and the full-bore vocal acrobatics demanded of Picker's score — requirements sometimes pushed to extremes by the composer's lush orchestration. ...a meaningful opera infused with moments of searing reflection and luxurious sensuality.
The music possesses a high level of entertainment.
Music traditionally yields the ability to be specific to an enhanced ability to make us feel emotion, and Picker's music is nothing if not emotionally charged... Broadly speaking, the composer has divided his two acts into a tonal and mostly consonant first act and, following the murder, a largely dissonant, contrapuntally turbulent second act. The design is not rigid. One of the opera's finest lyrical episodes, the heroine's aria "the white dove sat in the corner of the ark," appears in Act II. But the stylistic division does effectively reflect a fundamental darkening of tone in the lives of the characters.
The assiduously staged performance was brilliant both musically and scenically. A hand-picked, nearly ideal cast offered passionate and proficient singing in each and every role.
[Picker's] greatest accomplishments though were the ensemble scenes. Picker created extraordinary polyphonic images full of moods and character that reveal more about the persona in a few brief moments than in the solo or duet scenes. The trio with Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Suzanne was brilliant in every respect. The real showpiece, however, is undoubtedly the phenomenal septet.