There is a tragic side to Joplin's only surviving opera, Treemonisha, in spite of its sparkling tunes and, partly, ragtime rhythms. He spent the last years of his life obsessed with getting the opera staged and his experience of rejection led to his decline and early death. Fortunately he published the vocal score at his own expense in 1911. Even though the run-through performance in 1915 was a flop, this printed score enabled Gunther Schuller to orchestrate the work and obtain recognition for Joplin as more than just a composer of rags, excellent though those classics are, through the Houston Grand Opera production in 1975.
It is impossible to imagine anyone better qualified than Schuller to bring Treemonisha back to life.Read more His orchestrations show complete sympathy and idiomatic expertise, even if some decisions may still raise queries. For example, "Aunt Dinah has blowed de horn" (track 17), is marked Assai moderato con espressione but Schuller really dashes it off against all Joplin's instructions elsewhere about his rags. One can see why—the opera is starved of events and some of the straightforward narration quickly palls. Treemonisha, to Joplin's own libretto, urges education as the solution to the downtrodden Blacks' predicament. Lacking this benefit himself, Joplin could not command the theatrical skills and experience needed to make his story more than a naïve curiosity—as the stage production by the Bromley Festival Opera Company, under Gregory Rose's direction, showed in 1990. But this matters far less in a recording where mellifluous arias in the mainstream nineteenth-century Italian tradition make their effect interspersed with delightful Americanisms—the barber-shop group in "We will rest awhile" (track 6 on the second CD) and the fullyfledged delicate rag which forms the Prelude to Act 3 (track 10). Above all, perhaps, the "Real Slow Drag" at the end.
The cast is well balanced and convincing-interesting to hear Willard White, as Ned, well before his later triumphs--the recording, showing its age slightly, is adequate and the whole production much to be welcomed on to Compact Disc.
Treemonishaby Scott Joplin Performer:
Carmen Balthrop (Soprano),
Curtis Rayam (Tenor),
Ben Harney (Baritone),
Betty Allen (Mezzo Soprano),
Willard White (Bass),
Kenneth Hicks (),
Cora Johnson (Soprano),
Raymond Bazemore (Bass),
Edward Pierson (),
Dwight Ransom (),
Dorceal Duckens ()
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra,
Houston Grand Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century Written: 1911-1915; USA Venue: RCA Studio A, New York, New York Length: 90 Minutes 0 Secs. Language: English Notes: Arranger: Gunther Schuller. RCA Studio A, New York, New York (10/1975 - 12/1975)
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Troubled History of Joplin's Only OperaJuly 13, 2014By William M. (New Canaan, CT)See All My Reviews"The Houston performance here was not without criticism because of its abandonment of the dialect. A subsequent performance at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Northern Virginia restored the dialect, but played to mixed, but largely favorable, reviews. The subsequent performance by the St. Louis Opera Theater about ten years ago was well-received. There is a potential for a new performance."Report Abuse
Rarely performed American classicMay 7, 2012By Dr. Stephen Schoeman (Westfield, NJ)See All My Reviews"Scott Joplin is not just that rag composer of Hollywood movie fame. He was a serious classical composer of which Treemonisha is an excellent example. I have not listened to all of it but intend to do so. I would hope that someday the Metropolitan Opera and other opera companies will produce Treemonisha. An important change from Verdi and Puccini and Bizet and the rest who are performed to be point of serious opera going exhaustion. Dr. Stephen Schoeman"Report Abuse