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August 2, 2011 4:02 pm
With what do you pair a one-act opera inspired by Edward Hopper paintings? The Glimmerglass Festival, in the first season of Francesca Zambello’s leadership, decided on a brand new opera about Eugene O’Neill – Jeanine Tesori’s A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck. This stimulating double bill begins with John Musto’s ingenious Later the Same Evening, in which Mark Campbell’s libretto brings figures from five Hopper paintings to imaginative life, starting with a young couple (Andrea Arias Martin, in resonant voice, and Kyle Albertson) who are bored with each other in the painting “Room in New York”. An older woman in “Hotel Window” (Patricia Schuman) is fleshed out as a well-to-do widow about to date a Portuguese piano salesman.
The intriguing scenario finds these and other figures, including a would-be ballet dancer (the clear-voiced soprano Lauren Snouffer), converging on a Broadway musical. This occasions lively vocal ensembles and gives Musto a pretext for aping the musical style of the 1930s, all handled with aplomb. Yet the music also captures the tension and melancholy of the characters. Erhard Rom’s set displays the five paintings in a gallery of Hopper-like starkness. Leon Major directs with a sure touch, and conductor David Angus moves the music along engagingly.
The 45-minute Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, only the fourth world premiere in Glimmerglass’s 36-year history, presents a fanciful account by Tony Kushner, as librettist, of an actual incident on a cold night in 1951 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where O’Neill lived with his wife Carlotta.
Short of funds, sick, his career in the doldrums and his family life a mess, O’Neill ventures out into the snow after Carlotta, during an argument, calls him a “worm-picked cadaver”. There he mysteriously encounters a young woman (a vision, or not?), who sings the same pop song he had listened to earlier (before Carlotta smashed the 78) and who reminds him of his estranged daughter. Exposure to the elements lands him in hospital where a policeman’s discursive recitation of the facts sheds little light on what we witnessed.
Tesori’s score, which she conducts herself, is like Musto’s in its listener-friendly eclecticism, if not as succinctly crafted. With several recurring themes, including most obviously the pop song, the music avoids pessimism, as if to underscore that the snowy encounter was for the best. Zambello directs the piece cogently. Patricia Schuman and David Pittsinger go at it vigorously as the O’Neills, and Lindsay Russell sings the Young Woman with an alluring soprano.
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