Thérèse Raquin (2001)
Libretto by Gene Scheer & Music by Tobias Picker
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.
[Thérèse] Raquin has some superficial similarities with Emmeline, but Picker's music over five years has developed significantly. The score is of far greater sweep and complexity, bound by plainly audible leitmotivs that frequently appear in varied guises. In Raquin, Picker confidently uses set-piece arias, duets, trios, and even a septet of busy fluency that, in its "domesticity", recalls Britten's Albert Herring. His music hovers between tonality and atonality, clearly conveying emotion and emotional change. The tenor Gordon Gietz., in the role of Camille...soars magnificently in Picker's high, elegant writing.
The music possesses a high level of entertainment.
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.
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.
[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 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.