Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast
Eric Fennell (
); Alison Tupay (
); Phoebe Fennell (
); Patricia Risley (
); Jan Opalach (
); Henry Fogel (
); Jung-Ho Pak, cond; Monocacy CO
NAXOS 8.669031 (52:23)
Though by no means a comedy, Paul Salerni’s one-act opera from 2004 is a lot of fun. Enjoyment comes from the neat working out of ideas, both dramatic and musical, the unfolding of the action, the deft way that universal issues are made personal, and the panache with which all this is achieved by Salerni and the forces listed above. Immediate mention must be made of Dana Gioia’s exceptionally tight and well-constructed libretto.
Antonio “Tony” Caruso was a child with a heavenly voice who “never did much with it.” Now, many years later, he is a frustrated opera singer turned radio announcer who fronts a long-running show called Opera Lover. Sadly, the radio station has changed management and the new owners are scrapping Tony’s show to replace it with mindless soft rock. During his final broadcast, the distraught Tony is visited by three ghosts: his mother (“You had a gift from God”), Maria Callas, and ultimately a Dark Woman who entices him to sing with her (namely, the figure of Death). Against this scenario of the dumbing-down of popular culture—an issue near to the hearts of
readers, no doubt—the opera deals with a time-honored theme of American drama from O’Neill through Sam Shepherd reaching even to the television program
: personal failure versus the American Dream of success.
Tony declares himself happy with his job at the radio station, but in a moment of introspection it is revealed that his life has been a litany of missed opportunities. When the ghost of Callas appears to him and invites him to sing with her—his lifelong wish—he dithers. (“Give me a moment. I’m not ready yet.”) Callas describes the difficulties and responsibilities of stardom in a terrific mock-bel canto
, but she haughtily leaves Tony to his (literally) fatal indecisiveness.
Callas’s aria is just one of the smart set pieces in Salerni’s opera. Another involves a female trio of Marketing Managers, who sing about how “old hat” the classical repertoire is (“Classical music’s gotta go. / All the surveys tell us so. / Brahms is boring, Bach is dreary,” etc), and claim people would rather tune in to mellow soft rock when they are driving or “scoring.” This lyric encapsulates the currently accepted belief that music is merely an accompaniment for doing something else—a mind-numbing soundtrack to our trivial lives. Interestingly, the Marketing Managers’ music is not in the mellow idiom they are praising. Instead, Salerni gives them an up-tempo, jazzy, close-harmony sound reminiscent of Bernstein’s
Trouble in Tahiti
. I think he does so because this style is more aggressive, but also he ironically points up the ephemeral nature of popular music: Fads come and go, while Bach, Brahms, and company remain constant and fresh.
In a distinctly American way, this work molds a tragedy of operatic proportions out of contemporary issues. A beautiful final duet brings long-awaited transfiguration for Caruso, and again Salerni is shown to have made the right choice in casting Death as a mezzo-soprano: Her warm tones are particularly apt here.
Booklet photographs show the singers taking part in a production, but this 2009 recording was made in a studio. In any event, their stage experience tells. Not only is this performance well sung by everyone—especially tenor Eric Fennell as Tony—it is convincingly acted with all the dramatic points made and words clear. The band is top-notch under Jung-Ho Pak’s confident direction, sound is excellent, and a full libretto is supplied. And, if that weren’t enough,
reviewer Henry Fogel makes a cameo appearance as the station announcer. I could listen to his dulcet tones all night long.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast by Paul Salerni
Patricia Risley (Mezzo Soprano),
Val Hawk (Soprano),
Jan Opalach (Bass Baritone),
Phoebe Fennell (Soprano),
Henry Fogel (Narrator),
Jacquelyn Familant (Soprano),
Keith Phares (Voice),
Vicki Doney (Soprano),
Disella Larusdottir (Soprano),
Alison Tupay (Mezzo Soprano),
Eric Fennell (Tenor),
Nancy Reed (Soprano)
Monocacy Chamber Orchestra
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