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December 03, 1992 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1992-12-03

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - December 3, 1992- Page 5

Bolcom's success

Avaricious melodies

BOLCOM
Continued from page 1
composing. "I think the music was
shaped by the characters. It was who
they were that made me write for
thein."
Thioughout, said the composer,
camaraderie drove the creative team
of Bolcom, Weinstein and Altman.
"Altman doesn't pretend to know
music," said Bolcom, "but he knew
what he wanted musically. And he
understands what music does. So he'd
say, 'I need something like this here,'
and I'd have to put a little into the
composition here and there, accord-
ing to what he wanted. Arnold some-
times has tune ideas, and I sometimes
have word ideas, but after 30 years,
there's a certain point where you don't
know where one leaves off and the
other begins."
Bolcom also had definite ideas
about the musicians he wanted to en-
trust with his opera. First, he enlisted
conductor Dennis Russell Davies,
with whom he has worked for 25
years. His first choice for the tragi-
cally twisted heroine, Trina Sieppe,
was soprano Catherine Malfitano. "I
had seen her in 'Lulu' of Berg here,
and I thought she was just sensa-
tional," he said, "And she's deepened
as an actress over the years. You'd
think of her doing Susanna [from
Mozart's 'Figaro'] and now she's
doing Salom6 and stuff that requires

big bravura acting, and she's terrific."
Because hehad worked before with
Timothy Nolen and found him an
easy singer to write for, Bolcom re-
quested that Lyric hire the baritone to
portray Schouler, McTeague's best
friend and eventual murder victim.
Ironically, the composer had never
met nor heard the man who would
eventually embody the title character
until, at the urging of the company's
general director, he went to Chicago
to hear Canadian Ben Heppner.
Bolcom was impressed by the burly
tenor's voice and presence, and knew
he was the man for the job.
Bolcom's choices apparently paid
off; he was thrilled with the opening
night performances. He also seemed
pleased with himself and with the
achievement of his partners-in-oper-
atic-crime. "It's been a wonderful col-
laboration. We're all very much of
the same mind on a lot of things, and
it's just been a very good time. I think
we all feel that way," he said.
While all of the reviews weren't
uniformly worshipful - all of the
critics quoted above, in fact, had some
reservations about the work -
Bolcom takes those viewspretty much
in stride. And despite the bravado of
the earlier quote and his success as
both composer and performer, he later
admitted to being a bit sensitive to
criticism. "Anything that stings, of
course it hurts. I'm sorry, I'm human.

Somebody says something nasty, I'm
angry. And sometimes I think, 'well
maybe they're right,' and then after-
wards, I have to remember, no, they're
not. It takes a little while, because
you'd love to have them love every-
thing you did."
Whetheror not the global commu-
nity of music critics ever falls into
line, Bolcom's future looks rosy.
Along with a number of smaller
projects he's looking forward to work-
ing on, he's got works for two instru-
mental heavy-hitters lined up for the
coming year: a flute concerto for
"Jimmy" Galway to be premiered in
St. Louis next fall, and a violin sonata
for Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg which
she'll play at next summer's Aspen
Music Festival.
"Frankly I'm looking forward to
something that isn't as big as what
I've had to deal with now," he said.
"It's going to be nice to take it easier."
He also seemed excited about resum-
ing his post at the University come
January. "I've missed that. I do like
teaching ... I'll have time to do it,
which I haven't had before."
And will opera junkies have to
wait long for a reteaming of the Chi-
cago Three? "It's funny, we were all
taking a bow, and the last song is
'We're dead men, what do we do
now?' in sort of a blues ... and Bob
says, 'I think I have an idea.' So I'm
trying to find out what it is."

MCTEAGUE
Continued from page 1
gratuitous, intended only to titil-
late. Some of those people were sit-
ting in front of me. "This is just like
watching television," said an older
man to his well-coiffed companion.
But they miss the point. Our society is
so desensitized to greed that to depict
avarice alone has little impact. But
stage director Robert Altman clearly
knows what still makes people twitch,
especially in the midwestern capital
of capitalism that is Chicago: sex. In
order to inspire disgust, money be-
comes sensualized to the point of per-
version.
Fittingly, the musical language
used by composer William Bolcom
allowed for the expression of a wide
range of emotions. He employed his
knack for integrating numerous and
diversemusical styles, effectively giv-
ing distinct voices to each character,
and evoking moods with amazing clar-
ity. There were musical nods to the
notable American composers of this
century, including Ives, Barber,
Copland, Gershwin and Joplin. Al-
though the overall effect might be too
eclectic for some tastes, I found the
variety refreshing and stimulating.
Technically speaking, all involved
made this a first-rate performance.
The principals were well coached dra-
matically; supported by Altman's gen-
erally fluid direction, the singers in-
habited their roles very comfortably

and with little pretense. And besides,
they sang well. That may seem like
too obvious and general a statement
to make about musicians of such cali-
ber, in a respected house like the Lyric.
I assure you, though, that truly fine
performances by all of the principals,
McTeague
Lyric Opera of Chicago
November 21, 1992
on the same night, solid both musi-
cally and dramatically, don't happen
all that often; it did tonight.
There were a few glitches here and
there, however. While players in the
pit really gave themselves to the score
(and even seemed to enjoy it), con-
ductor Dennis Russell Davies would
occasionally push Bolcom's 75-piece
(plus sampler) orchestra a bit too far,

nearly covering the singer and lyrics
entirely. A few times, Malfitano's
usually warm and shining sopranc
betrayed some rough edges on the
low and high ends. Although the pro-
gram listed an English diction coach,
there was no mention of who coached
Golden in Spanish pronunciation; her
inconsistent dialect was the only thing
that detracted from a committed and
courageous performance.
Visually, the production was out-
standing. Set designer Yuri Kuper
and costumer Jeannette Mariani suc-
cessfully evoked both the working-
class neighborhood in San Francisco
and the barren and threatening Death
Valley.
New operas of the past 50 years
have not typically been able to secure
places in the standard repertoire. Let's
hope that this musical dramaof Ameri-
can greed is the exception.
- Michelle Weger

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