Gene Scheer skillfully transmutes Charles Frazier’s ultra-discursive, stream-of-consciousness novel into dramatically viable scenes. The taciturn Southern deserter hero Inman thus becomes inevitably rather garrulous, not least in fantasy ensembles joining him with the distant object of his odyssey home, the sensitive Ada. Sensibly, the resourceful runaway slave Lucinda (merely described in the novel) here has dramatic agency and bears witness to an African-American perspective
The odyssey of the battle-scarred warrior making his precarious way back to a lover waiting at home is the oldest story in Western literature — the stuff of epic poems, plays, novels, movies and many operas. So it is a delight to report that the newest manifestation of this oft-told tale — the opera version of the best-selling novel “Cold Mountain,” just given its world premiere in Santa Fe — captures all of its adventure, romance and pathos in a fresh, vibrant musical idiom.
It's a story that could have been taken from a breaking news report: A soldier, gravely wounded in a brutal battle, flees the fighting to try and make his way home. Only this story is set during the Civil War. If that's starting to sound a little familiar, it probably should — it's the story of Cold Mountain, a best-selling novel and a star-studded 2003 movie. Now it's an opera, composed by Jennifer Higdon with a libretto by Gene Scheer. It premiered this past weekend, but its road to the stage was almost as difficult as the journey home of the main character...
...that gives Scheer a big spotlight. Words matter in "Cold Mountain" and he is alternately sparse and poetic, and always on point as his characters suffer greatly from their lost conflict and evolve as humans. They sing: Some borders can't be crossed, Some wounds will never heal, Some things you can't forget, Hearts buried beneath regret, In the end, how will I feel? Who you are the war reveals.
The climactic finale involved the local premiere of Jake Heggie’s Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (2011), an extensive ode to the agonised sculptor — Rodin’s lover — who died in 1943. Ever popular, obviously facile and increasingly daring, Heggie dealt sensitively with the introspective sentiments at hand. He juggled acerbic lyricism craftily with oppressive drama, adorning Gene Scheer’s text with florid wails and eerie melismas at jolting intervals. In the process, he made the primitive lamentations propulsive, the otherworldly illusions, delusions and allusions gripping. DiDonato sang the expansive solos with rare conviction and lustrous, subtly shaded tone.
Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain and one of the most dangerous, having claimed more than 200 lives over the past century. Until last year's fatal avalanche, the deadliest year in recorded history was 1996: 15 people died, eight of them in a single blizzard. That disaster has been chronicled in at least five books, two documentaries — and now, an opera premiering in Dallas, Texas, simply called Everest.
The life of the French sculptor Camille Claudel is a tangle of art, passion, madness and betrayal. A student and lover of Rodin’s, Claudel was a critically acclaimed artist when she began to show signs of mental distress, which led her family to commit her to an institution, where she spent the remaining 30 years of her life. On Thursday at Zankel Hall, the incandescent mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato presented the New York premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Camille Claudel: Into the Fire.” Set for voice and string quartet, the work compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.
‘Everest,” a remarkable first opera by the British composer Joby Talbot, which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera on Friday, forges art from a contemporary tragedy. Based on the true story of three climbers trapped on Mount Everest in a blizzard in May 1996 (the expedition that was chronicled by Jon Krakauer in “Into Thin Air”), this 70-minute juggernaut makes you feel disturbingly in the moment, living—and dying—along with the characters. Gene Scheer’s taut, streamlined libretto, drawn from interviews with survivors, focuses on two situations: Rob Hall (the expedition leader) and Doug Hansen push on to the summit even though Doug is unwell, and Beck Weathers stays behind and gets lost. The fragmentation of the narrative builds suspense, and the stories are welded together by a chorus that echoes and questions the climbers.
Gene was interviewed by Michael Slade for a feature article in Opera News (July 2014, Vol. 79, No. 1). "What makes a successful libretto? The key is its ability to immediately and continually engage the audience; to be succinct while simultaneously creating a layered story and complex characters..."
[Moby-Dick] is a large, epically proportioned work … the music is flawlessly beautiful, like a jewel. It is intensely lyrical, powerfully moody and superbly well paced. There are no disjunctures of style or breaks in dramatic flow; instead, Heggie has created a giant symphonic poem through which he threads the voices majestically and gloriously.