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Adamo: Late Victorians, Alcott Music, Etc / Alimena, Eclipse CO

Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559258   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mark Adamo
Performer:  Emily PulleyAndrew Sullivan
Conductor:  Sylvia Alimena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ADAMO Late Victorians. 1 Regina Coeli. 2 Lysistrata: Overture. Alcott Music Sylvia Alimena, cond; Emily Pulley (sop); 1 Andrew Sullivan (nar); 1 Dotian Levalier (hp); 2 Eclipse CO NAXOS Read more 8.559258 (56:48 Text and Translation)

“A central image was the Victorian house: those ‘painted lady’ Victorians that waves of San Franciscans had reclaimed, had refurbished, and were now leaving empty as AIDS swept the city. The once-haunted houses were becoming haunted once again.” So writes Mark Adamo in his program notes to his cantata/melodrama Late Victorians . They are nearly as expressive as the music to which he has set verse by Emily Dickinson and with which he has underscored sections of Richard Rodriguez’s memoir of the same name, describing the ravages of AIDS in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Divided into four parts, Late Victorians presents its story in the most personal of terms: the house painter who never returns to finish his work; the witty, worldly South American who is given a year to live; the funerals and the accumulating roll call of the dying; the acts of love that soften the victims’ decline into death. Each is amplified by a setting of verses by Dickinson. Adamo’s style recalls, in ways, those of Barber and of Adamo’s partner, John Corigliano, who has, of course, created in his Symphony No. 1 a very different memorial to those who were lost to this epidemic. Between scenes, Adamo places orchestral interludes with cadenzas played by soloists who, as in Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony, leave the stage when finished. It is a dignified service of remembrance, a meditation on loss, a song of praise for “the saints of this city” who care for the sick and dying, and a gentle self-referential scolding for those who sit by unmoved to act. The cumulative effect is poignant and unsettling.

Regina Coeli is the perfect work to complement, even complete, Late Victorians . The slow movement of Adamo’s concerto for harp and orchestra, Four Angels , it acts here as a plea for intercession. Originally written for the National Symphony Orchestra at the instigation of Leonard Slatkin, this is a new arrangement for chamber orchestra, strings and harp only. One must assume that most of the orchestra played the premiere of the original, as the membership of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra consists of musicians from the NSO. They and Dotian Levalier, the NSO’s solo harpist for whom the work was written, play the new version gracefully.

The rest of the program is drawn from more familiar territory, Adamo’s two highly successful operas. Little Women was the first of these, premiered in 1998, and the first version of the suite Alcott Music was written a year later, only to be withdrawn soon after its premiere. Adamo discusses the difficulties in his notes, including the problems in transferring music that was essentially vocal—Adamo purposely minimizes the instrumental in his opera—into instrumental music. Each movement is a collage of impressions drawn from themes associated with the character named, the textures often diaphanous, the mood primarily reflective for Jo and Meg and gently celebratory for Alma and Gideon’s wedding music. It is attractive and easily approached, and repeated acquaintance brings even greater appreciation. First impressions that it was a little thin have given way to appreciation of its delicacy. I fear, though, that greater familiarity has not brought larger regard for the overture written for the 2006 New York City Opera production of Lysistrata . The premiere at Houston Grand Opera the previous year had no overture and did not seem to need one. Inspired by Bernstein’s Candide Overture, this is an attempt by Adamo to write a “comparably ebullient opening.” It is a lovely but rather fragmented affair that never builds momentum as it does in Bernstein’s incomparable curtain-raiser. Only in the last minute or so, in the calypso section taken from the act I finale, do things take off; alas, too late.

Yet that is only four minutes out of nearly an hour, and a bit of an anomaly in this program anyway. There is much to savor here, much to reflect upon. It leaves one eager to see where Adamo’s creativity will take him next. Throughout the program, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra is superlative; its director, NSO horn player Sylvia Alimena, is ever sensitive to Adamo’s subtly and lyricism. Emily Pulley and Andrew Sullivan perform their parts with distinction. Naxos prices make exploration of these moving works an inexpensive experiment. Give it a try.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Late Victorians by Mark Adamo
Performer:  Emily Pulley (Soprano), Andrew Sullivan (Narrator)
Conductor:  Sylvia Alimena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Lysistrata: Overture by Mark Adamo
Conductor:  Sylvia Alimena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Alcott Music by Mark Adamo
Conductor:  Sylvia Alimena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 

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