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Musto: Bastianello; Bolcom: Lucrezia - Two New Comic Operas / New York Festival Of Song

Musto / Bolcom / New York Festival Of Song / Cooke
Release Date: 10/12/2010 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9299   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John MustoWilliam Bolcom
Performer:  Matt BoehlerPatrick MasonSasha CookePaul Appleby,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Festival of Song
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

MUSTO Bastianello. BOLCOM Lucrezia Paul Appleby, Matt Boehler, Patrick Mason, Lisa Vroman, Sasha Cooke (voc); Michael Barrett, Steven Blier (pn) BRIDGE 9299A/B (2 CDs: 151:13 Text and Translation) Live: Caramoor, NY 3/2008)

This is a delightful release. It’s such a great gift to get a double-dose of what’s rare in opera today—comic opera (no one dies!), and works that are not rehashes of recent or well-known Read more novels/plays/films (Bolcom’s Lucrezia is a reimagining of Machiavelli’s farce La Mandragola, but there is a nearly five-century hiatus between the original production and this version). Add to this the personality, quality, and wit of the pieces themselves, and the verve of these performances, and you have a winner.

Both these operas were commissioned as a buffa set by the New York Festival of Song (Michael Barrett and Steven Blier, co-directors, are the pianists here). William Bolcom’s Lucrezia is meant to be a transposition of Machiavelli to 19th-century Spain, in the musical tradition of the zarzuela , the national popular music theater. There are lots of “neo-Carmenisms” here, but as always, the composer’s understanding of the roots of whatever tradition he appropriates is so strong that any sense of imitation is swept away. And there are truly hilarious moments, perhaps the best being the title character’s tender and moving aria, “I Like Sex.”

John Musto is a composer whose work I’ve already written about and praised, and Bastianello continues to convince me that he is not just the leading vocal composer of his generation, but perhaps also the leading one of opera. This piece is based on an Italian folktale about a man who becomes enraged at his wedding feast, when his wife accidentally lets the wine run out. Storming off, he curses her and all his relatives, vowing he won’t return until he meets a set of fools worse than them. Of course he does, in a series of encounters with dunces that top any stupidity you have imagined. And then, at last, he meets a man whose tragic mistake causes him to see his own foolishness, and he returns home to love and community (and the ultimate birth of a son, who turns out to be the opera’s narrator). While not wanting to diminish the accomplishment of Bolcom, a real master, Musto’s voice strikes me as deeper and more personal here. His music is resolutely tonal, but it never sounds like a knockoff of something else, and above all, it pushes toward a core of human feeling. It’s full of little motives and progressions that are memorable. The music reinforces the poignancy of the story, and one comes out of it with renewed appreciation of the fragility and ever-present sadness of life, even amid its joys. (And the sadness itself is set up for hilarity: I can’t stop humming and chuckling over the ditty “Life,” where the young bride suddenly realizes that things probably won’t, indeed can’t , turn out for the best, rather like the classic Peggy Lee song Is That All There Is? )

Both libretti are by Mark Campbell, who collaborated with Musto on two earlier operas (one of which, Later the Same Evening , I recently reviewed here). He’s got a great gift for the telling zinger, beautifully crafted and paced to the demands of the music’s pacing. The performances are expansive, confident, over the top. Everyone seems to be having a splendid time. And while the performances are live, the audiences must have been told to be silent, because there’s not a peep until the applause for each, so the ambient sonic environment is immaculately clean.

This might end up a Want List item.

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Works on This Recording

Bastianello by John Musto
Performer:  Matt Boehler (Bass), Patrick Mason (Baritone), Sasha Cooke (Mezzo Soprano),
Paul Appleby (Tenor), Lisa Vroman (Soprano), Steven Blier (Piano),
Michael Barrett (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Festival of Song
Written: USA 
Lucrezia by William Bolcom
Performer:  Lisa Vroman (Soprano), Paul Appleby (Tenor), Sasha Cooke (Mezzo Soprano),
Patrick Mason (Baritone), Matt Boehler (Bass), Steven Blier (Piano),
Michael Barrett (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Festival of Song
Written: USA 

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