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An American Tragedy

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2005/2006

  • December 29, 2005
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OPERA IN TWO ACTS

 

Libretto (Eng) by Gene Scheer

Based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser

 

Commissioned: The Metropolitan Opera The commission and production were made possible by generous and deeply appreciated gifts from the Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation

Duration: 145’

Premiere: December 2, 2005; The Metropolitan Opera; James Conlon, conductor

Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)

 

 

Orchestra Instrumentation:

2(2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2-4.2.2.1-timp.perc(glsp, xyl, vib, tub bells, crash cym, h.h, high gong, low gong, high tam-t, b.d, ratchet, slapstick, tub bell)-hp.pno(street org, church org)-str

 

Cast of characters

Clyde Griffiths · baritone | Elvira Griffiths · mezzo-soprano

Young Clyde · boy soprano | Clyde's Sisters · 5 Girls

Samuel Griffiths · tenor | Elizabeth Griffiths · mezzo-soprano

Bella Griffiths · soprano | Gilbert Griffiths · tenor

Sondra Finchley · mezzo-soprano | Roberta Alden · soprano

Orville Mason · bass-baritone | Hortense · soprano

Reverend McMillan · tenor | Grace · soprano (can be supernumerary)

SATB chorus

 

Premiere Cast:

Roberta Alden: Patricia Racette (soprano)

Sondra Finchley: Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)

Clyde Griffiths: Nathan Gunn (baritone)

Elvira Griffiths: Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)

Elizabeth Griffiths: Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano)

Samuel Griffiths: Kim Begley (tenor)

Gilbert Griffiths: William Burden (tenor)

Orville Mason: Richard Bernstein (baritone)

Hortense: Anna Christy (soprano)

 

Orchestra Instrumentation:

2(2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2-4.2.2.1-timp.perc(glsp, xyl, vib, tub bells, crash cym, h.h, high gong, low gong, high tam-t, b.d, ratchet, slapstick, tub bell)-hp.pno(street org, church org)-str

 

Cast of characters

Clyde Griffiths · baritone

Elvira Griffiths · mezzo-soprano

Young Clyde · boy soprano

Clyde's Sisters · 5 Girls

Samuel Griffiths · tenor

Elizabeth Griffiths · mezzo-soprano

Bella Griffiths · soprano

Gilbert Griffiths · tenor

Sondra Finchley · mezzo-soprano

Roberta Alden · soprano

Orville Mason · bass-baritone

Hortense · soprano

Reverend McMillan · tenor

Grace · soprano (can be supernumerary)

SATB chorus

 

Premiere Cast:

Roberta Alden: Patricia Racette (soprano)

Sondra Finchley: Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)

Clyde Griffiths: Nathan Gunn (baritone)

Elvira Griffiths: Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)

Elizabeth Griffiths: Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano)

Samuel Griffiths: Kim Begley (tenor)

Gilbert Griffiths: William Burden (tenor)

Orville Mason: Richard Bernstein (baritone)

Hortense: Anna Christy (soprano)

 

A progressive drama of temptation, responsibility, and faith. Clyde Griffiths, Midwestern missionary’s son, is a young man working as a flirtatious bellhop in Chicago. He relocates to New York upon being offered a position in his Uncle Samuel’s shirt factory. Wasting no time he pursues one of the workers there, Roberta Alden, after being warned not to by fellow workers. Clyde quickly moves on to a new love interest in Sondra Finchley. Before long, Clyde is juggling Roberta and Sondra, only to soon discover that Roberta is pregnant. It becomes clear that Sondra is Clyde’s true love and Roberta is nothing more than a burden. Clyde schemes to rid himself of the burden of an unwanted lover with a child on the way.

 

Composer Note:

Based on a true story, Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy is one of American literature's great, universal subjects. The central character Clyde Griffiths is Everyman, and his dilemma is at the heart of the American experience, then as well as now. The people upon whom Dreiser's characters were based also echo throughout the pages of the entire opera. They are the haunting spirits that made the story and the writing of the music "real" for me. The heartbreaking handwritten letters of Grace Brown, the tragic real life factory worker Dreiser brings us so painfully close to, inspired me to give them song as they are projected onto the stage in all their endless optimism and sorrow.

–Tobias Picker

Chicago Tribune - John von Rhein

"the opening night audience greeted the work as if it were a masterpiece...[Picker's] fourth opera, which the Met commissioned in 1997, is expertly made. His singable vocal lines are gathered in the kind of set pieces operagoers know and love — arias, ensembles and choruses...The orchestra writhes with dissonant agitation, and the vocal lines take on saving urgency. Similarly, the scene later in the opera when Roberta and Sondra each expresses her longing for Clyde in the same lines of text is engrossing music theater...Graham savored everything that's seductive and opulent in Sondra's music while moving the audience through her character's plight."

 

Wall Street Journal - Heidi Waleson

"The music is tonal and accessible, with lots of big arias to show off its principal characters, choral numbers for contrast, even dance music. ...Mr. Picker's deft musical scene changes gave the piece a cinematic flow."

 

 

Musical America - Patrick Smith

"[Picker] is a natural opera composer, who is supremely comfortable writing for voice and who also — mirabile dictu! — knows how to write for orchestra so that it rarely drowns out the words."

 

 

Classics Today - Robert Levine

"Tobias Picker is very much a man of the theater. ...An American Tragedy deserves to find a comfortable place in the permanent repertory. From the opening sweep of the orchestra it has a grandeur that is cinematic; a scene in which the wealthy Samuel Griffiths is introduced with his rich cronies is a passacaglia begun by tuba and carries with it just the right gravity and pomposity....the score is attractive and picturesque...A quartet with chorus after Clyde has been accused of murder is reminiscent of moments in Britten's Peter Grimes...opera lovers, I suspect, will be more than pleased with Mr Picker's well-crafted, well-scored opera...a very potent show...It's well worth seeing."

 

Time Out New York - Steve Smith

A glittering cast led by Patricia Racette, Susan Graham, and Nathan Gunn revels in this rich, voice-friendly score, which is redolent of antecedents yet no less cleverly spun."

 

 

The Financial Times - Martin Bernheimer

"Picker knows his way about the lyric stage...An American Tragedy may be the perfect modern opera for people who hate modern opera."

 

New York Post - Liz Smith

"An American Tragedy is a compelling mix of sex, religion and status...Picker's music has power."

 

New York Post - Clive Barnes

"a marvelous duet for Roberta and Sondra (both in their separated worlds) singing of their love for Clyde provided one of those moments that only the lyric theater (music or dance) can offer, with two things going on at the same time but not the same place."

 

 

The New York Sun - Jay Nordlinger

"[O]pera companies will want An American Tragedy."

 

Associated Press - Mike Silverman

"There's a moment early in Act II of Tobias Picker's new opera, An American Tragedy, when the elements of music, drama and stagecraft unite to create a scene of rare emotional power. Roberta Alden, the pregnant factory girl, sings an aria whose soaring melodic line evokes her longing and loneliness as she waits on the porch of her parents' home for her lover, Clyde Griffiths, to keep his promise and marry her. Meanwhile, the scene above shows him dallying with his socialite girlfriend, Sondra Finchley, on the dock of her summer house. As the two women's voices blend in a duet, they repeat the same words ("I feel like I've been waiting. A whole life waiting to be desired by someone like you S") with such starkly different meaning that the effect is wrenching. Such, at its best, is the impact of Picker's ambitious work, which had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night with a splendid cast and lavish production worthy of a project eight years in the making...a work of considerable merit."

 

 

New York Times - Anthony Tommasini

"[T]he opera is accomplished, dramatically effective and thoroughly professional. Many composers...could learn from Mr. Picker's know-how about the theater. An American Tragedy...works as an opera. The cast seemed to relish singing Mr. Picker's opera... and whole stretches of Mr. Picker's score would not be out of place in a Broadway theater...[C]ritics and opera buffs who want the Met to do its part to make opera a living art form have to be heartened that it presented this work, and that an audience on Friday gave a prolonged ovation to a living composer."

 

 

The New Yorker - Alex Ross

"on a primal, Pucciniesque level, [An American Tragedy] hits the mark...There are vernacular songs and religious hymns to establish the all-American scene, lush verismo textures for the lovemaking, suave Gershwinesque tunes to convey upper classes at play, distorted genre pieces à la Shostakovish and Britten for public confrontations, and, at moments of maximum fright, bursts of Berg. There's also much that's individual; Picker's harmony flirts with traditional tonality without falling prey to cliché, his orchestration achieves both transparency and power, and his crowd scenes skillfully set solo voices against a booming chorus and a churning orchestra. It's a pleasure to listen to him put one idea in front of another; a twelve-tone composer in his youth, he retains the serialist's habit of working obsessively with a tight array of notes...The score is full of such careful touches...it's a serious, substantial piece."

 

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer - David Patrick Stearns

"...the hero here is composer Picker.  He knows how to write emotionally searching arias constructed with lyrically declaimed lines and phrases that echo popular song. The orchestration is full of psychologically penetrating effects. ...The score's theatrical good sense is remarkable.... Few modern operas are paced as effectively as this."

 

Car Aria

for tenor and piano

 

Car Aria

for baritone and piano

 

Vocal Score

Piano Vocal score (revised 2013)

 

Hymn

choral score

for SATB chorus

 

Libretto: An American Tragedy

libretto by Gene Scheer

based on the book by Theodore Dreiser

 

 

Opera in Two Acts

Libretto (En) by Gene Scheer
Based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser
145’