The world premiere of Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope, by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, forms the powerful center of the new Pentatone release . . . emotionally devastating and cathartic.Announcing the CD release of Violins of Hope.
Parsing which is more sensational, the artistry or the music, is beyond the point. Unexpected Shadows (Pentatone), the all-Heggie recital from mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, composer/pianist Jake Heggie, and cellist Matt Haimovitz, is destined to win multiple “Best Vocal Recital of the Year” awards as it makes the best possible case for the necessity and relevance of modern American classical song.
. . . Everest keeps melodramatic impulses at bay and controlled psychological tension ultimately saturates the scenario.
There are a myriad of reasons why an operatic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air should not work. And yet it does. Composer Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer have crafted a compelling 70-minute opera adapted from Krakauer’s nonfiction account of the disastrous 1996 Everest season in which eight people died.
I recommend the opera and the world premiere cast enthusiastically, with special note of Jake Heggie’s beautifully composed orchestral and vocal score and Gene Scheer’s intelligently conceived libretto.
It takes multiple ingredients for an opera to work, starting with a captivating story, which Moby-Dick” obviously has. But that sprawling novel had to be honed to a usable form, and Gene Scheer, one of today’s go-to librettists, did a first-rate job of conveying its scale and intimacy with vivid, imagistic language.
Composer Jake Heggie has found the musical equivalent of Melville's rich prose in his roiling and sparkling orchestral score, while librettist Gene Scheer perfectly captures the book's original tone and language, even as he drops the first-person narration. (Seen the movies? Scheer's tight storytelling improves upon the film condensations of the book.)
Highlights of the American side included a zingy “Lullaby of Birdland,” a crystalline “Will He Like Me?” in which one could see the shy ingenue shining through her face, and Gene Scheer’s hymnlike “Lean Away,” which she dedicated to the recently deceased genre chameleon André Previn.
Gene Scheer’s tender, hearfelt song “Lean Away” was the lone contemporary entry of the program. Better known as the librettist of Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking,” the song provided a welcome opportunity to hear Scheer’s musical voice as a composer.
The operatic version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” that opened at the San Francisco Opera on Saturday, Nov. 17 – just in time for the holidays – is everything the classic Frank Capra movie of 1946 was before it. It’s fizzy and funny, heartwarming and sentimental, and full of just enough poster-board moralism to leave everyone (except perhaps money-grubbing slumlords) feeling pretty gosh-darned good about the world.