Rick Benjamin’s reconstruction of Scott Joplin’s lone surviving opera Treemonisha from the existing vocal/piano score is nothing less than a revelation of historical research and musicology. In contrast to Gunther Schuller’s 1975 grand opera version with full orchestra, Benjamin aims to replicate the smaller theater pit-band aesthetic with which Joplin was familiar, aided by surviving Joplin orchestrations, plus instrumentation guide books relevant to the era and milieu.
The music takes on a completely different complexion with a 12-piece ensemble that features one instrument to a part, including cornets instead of trumpets, and percussion instruments of the period. Moreover, theRead more swifter, lighter instrumental textures liberate Joplin’s gorgeous vocal lines, imparting a conversational rather than histrionic quality that befits both the musical style and the still-relevant moral of Joplin’s self-penned libretto of how education, rather than superstition, provides a pathway out of poverty.
Among the inspired cast’s stand-out performances are Anita Johnson’s fervent yet playful traversal of the title role, plus the fluent repartée between Edward Pleasant and AnnMarie Sandy (Zodzetrick and Monisha). Frank Ward’s excellent diction and attractive sonority make for a fine Ned (Treemonisha’s father), although the young Willard White’s more lustrous interpretation on DG shouldn’t be missed. It’s also wonderful to hear the choral finale, “A Real Slow Drag”, without Schuller’s “grand opera” trappings. Benjamin provides an extensive and detailed essay discussing the trials and tribulations Joplin experienced in his attempts to get his opera produced, illustrated by period photographs, newspaper clippings, and other relevant historic artifacts.
Beyond question, New World’s Treemonisha is the most significant recording of Scott Joplin’s music to be released since Dick Hyman’s 1975 RCA survey of the complete piano music, which still awaits its first integral CD reissue.
Treemonishaby Scott Joplin Performer:
Darren Stokes (Bass Baritone),
Edward Pleasant (Baritone),
Frank Ward (Bass Baritone),
Anita Johnson (Soprano),
Chauncey Packer (Tenor),
Robert Mack (Tenor),
Janinah Burnett (Soprano)
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1911-1915; USA
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A RevelationOctober 3, 2012By John Rathbun (Mills River, NC)See All My Reviews"I previously performed a suite from Treemonisha, for large orchestra, soloists, and large chorus. It was somewhere between blah and mystifying. Rick Benjamin's version is a real eye-opener. His orchestration (11 + piano), apparently typical of the era and genre, sounds full, but with one on a part you hear everything, and there's a lot here to hear. Smaller choral forces are also appropriate for this music, which was intended for a smallish touring ensemble. This is NOT grand opera, and Joplin is least interesting when he tries to ape the late-romantic composers who were popular in his day. His rollicking rag-time tunes will set your toes a-tappin' and give you a semi-permanent ear worm or two. The story is more of a 'mellerdrammer' than great poetry, but it serves as an authentic glimpse of reconstruction-era life in the South when, as today, black on black predation was common. Benjamin's liner notes are extensive and very helpful. This reconstruction is a unique monument to an important American composer struggling to integrate diverse musical traditions. It's well worth the price!"Report Abuse