An American Tragedy (2005)

Libretto by Gene Scheer & Music by Tobias Picker

Libretto by Gene Scheer, Music by Tobias Picker

An American Tragedy

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There's a moment early in Act II of Tobias Picker's new opera, An American Tragedy, when the elements of music, drama and stagecraft unite to create a scene of rare emotional power. Roberta Alden, the pregnant factory girl, sings an aria whose soaring melodic line evokes her longing and loneliness as she waits on the porch of her parents' home for her lover, Clyde Griffiths, to keep his promise and marry her. Meanwhile, the scene above shows him dallying with his socialite girlfriend, Sondra Finchley, on the dock of her summer house. As the two women's voices blend in a duet, they repeat the same words ("I feel like I've been waiting. A whole life waiting to be desired by someone like you S") with such starkly different meaning that the effect is wrenching. Such, at its best, is the impact of Picker's ambitious work, which had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night with a splendid cast and lavish production worthy of a project eight years in the making...a work of considerable merit.
The music is tonal and accessible, with lots of big arias to show off its principal characters, choral numbers for contrast, even dance music. ...Mr. Picker's deft musical scene changes gave the piece a cinematic flow.
An American Tragedy is a compelling mix of sex, religion and status...Picker's music has power.
Tobias Picker is very much a man of the theater. ...An American Tragedy deserves to find a comfortable place in the permanent repertory. From the opening sweep of the orchestra it has a grandeur that is cinematic; a scene in which the wealthy Samuel Griffiths is introduced with his rich cronies is a passacaglia begun by tuba and carries with it just the right gravity and pomposity....the score is attractive and picturesque...A quartet with chorus after Clyde has been accused of murder is reminiscent of moments in Britten's Peter Grimes...opera lovers, I suspect, will be more than pleased with Mr Picker's well-crafted, well-scored opera...a very potent show...It's well worth seeing.
[O]pera companies will want An American Tragedy.
[Picker] is a natural opera composer, who is supremely comfortable writing for voice and who also — mirabile dictu! — knows how to write for orchestra so that it rarely drowns out the words.
A glittering cast led by Patricia Racette, Susan Graham, and Nathan Gunn revels in this rich, voice-friendly score, which is redolent of antecedents yet no less cleverly spun.
... with an effective libretto by Gene Scheer that reduces the 900-page novel to its essential narrative strands, "An American Tragedy" has its own kind of sweep and passion... The cast seemed to relish singing Mr. Picker's opera, and that says much in its favor.
…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….
Picker knows his way about the lyric stage...An American Tragedy may be the perfect modern opera for people who hate modern opera.