OPERA IN TWO ACTS
Based on the novel by Judith Rossner
Libretto (En) by J.D. McClatchy
Commissioned: The Santa Fe Opera
Premiere: July 27, 1996; Santa Fe Opera; George Manahan, conductor
Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)
2(2.pic).2.ca.2.bcl.0-188.8.131.52-timp(2 players preferred)-hp.pno.harmonica(or synth with harmonica sample)-str(10.8.6.6.3 minimum)-on-stage violin (in costume)
CHAMBER VERSION (2009)
Arranged by Samuel Bill
Chamber Premiere: September 10, 2009; New York, NY; DiCapo Opera Theatre; Samuel Bill, conductor; Robert Alfoldi, stage director; Sándoe Daróczi, costume design; John Farrell, stage design
Cast / Characters Emmeline Mosher · soprano
Sophie · soprano
Harriet Mosher · soprano
Ella Burling · soprano
Mrs Bass · mezzo-soprano
Aunt Hannah Watkins · mezzo-soprano
Matthew Gurney · tenor
Mr Maguire · baritone
Hooker · tenor
Simon Fenton · baritone
Henry Mosher · bass
Pastor Avery · bass
Sarah Mosher, Uncle Abner Watkins, Mr Summers, Mrs Maguire,
Townspeople · non singing/non speaking roles Children (9) ranging in age from two to twelve years
Emmeline Mosher: Patricia Racette (Soprano)
Matthew Gurney: Curt Peterson(Tenor)
Mr. Maguire: Victor Ledbetter (Baritone)
Aunt Hannah Watkins: Anne-Marie Owens (Dramatic Contralto)
Henry Mosher: Kevin Langan (Bass)
Sophie: Melanie Sarakatsannis (Soprano)
Pastor Avery: Herbert Perry (Bass)
Mrs. Bass: Josepha Gayer (Mezzo-soprano)
Reduced Version (2009)
Arranged by Samuel Bill
Chamber Version Premiere: September 10, 2009; New York, NY; DiCapo Opera Theatre; Samuel Bill, conductor; Robert Alfoldi, stage director; Sándoe Daróczi, costume design; John Farrell, stage design
Based on the novel by Judith Rossner, Emmeline is an American retelling of the Oedipus myth from the mother’s viewpoint. The opera begins in 1841, when 13-year-old Emmeline is sent to work in a Massachusetts mill to earn money. Seduced by the factory supervisor, she gives birth to a child, who is then swiftly given away. Twenty years later, Emmeline marries a young man only to discover too late that he is in fact her son. She becomes irrevocably ostracized by society. Heidi Waleson of The Wall Street Journal calls it 'a measure by which I assess the theatrical impact of other new operas. With its poetic, streamlined libretto and Mr. Picker’s vivid score, this two-hour opera is continuously gripping, without a wasted note.'
The New York Times - Bernard Holland
"Tobias Picker's Emmeline at the New York City Opera is of modest scale and manageable ambition. It deals with plain people and serious matters, neither overreaching nor understating its agenda. An admirable sense of self results in affecting simplicity. The City Opera should put Emmeline in its permanent repertory. It is a model of its kind.
"...Mr. Picker has a true ear for lyrical run-on musical sentences. They ride gracefully and take interesting directions. The language is tonal, and Picker's particular dialect has a soothing effect. Dissonance seems to be more a theatrical than a musical tool. Factory scenes turn harsh, as do moments of personal confrontation. Emmeline promotes an old habit of music that three generations of nontonalists have been unable to break: that harmony of the spirit equals musical consonance. Emmeline is in constant though never hectic motion. In private scenes, the orchestra provides a measured heartbeat. On the mill floor, it becomes a busy set of gears and whistles against which the voices sing. Sometimes the music is taken from the vernacular: period songs or Protestant anthems.
"...After wading through so many bad new American operas over the last 17 years, it is a pleasure to come across one that works this well. Emmeline has gauged its materials and the means to convey them and done so wisely. It is not much more than two hours long. There are few dead spots to slow it down; and at the end, our hearts are touched. Tuesday's audience liked Emmeline very much, and with reason."
New York Magazine - Peter G. Davis
"A visit to John Crosby's famous opera festival way out West in Santa Fe is always a pleasure, but this summer's contemporary novelty — the world premiere of Emmeline, by Tobias Picker — made the trip especially worthwhile. Unlike some tyros who have lately won much publicity playing the opera game, Picker...is a New York-born composer of proven substance and dramatic flair, who refutes the old saw that first operas and newborn kittens are best drowned at birth. The promise was always there, and some of us noticed a distinctly operatic flavor about the score for piano and orchestra that brought Picker wide attention back in 1983 — Keys to the City, an exuberant tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge on its centenary and probably the most exhilarating piece of American urban music since Bernstein's Fancy Free.
"Emmeline calls for a more interior but just as intense response, and Picker has provided it...
"Aside from being a new opera that, for once, is defined and driven by music of quality, Emmeline is remarkable for containing a central role designed to flatter the voice and probe a character's emotional dilemma through flexibly contoured, expressively exploratory vocal lines. That used to be a basic requirement for all successful operas from Monteverdi to Puccini, but most of the new American works that now proliferate are by composers with scant understanding of how the voice works and what it can do best. Picker has this know-how, and he almost always finds exactly the right emotional tone and shapely lyrical phrase to portray Emmeline's various moods, concluding with a final monologue of heart-wrenching power and beauty. The role is a gift to a talented lyric soprano, and Patricia Racette seized the moment; not many singers receive a standing ovation at the end of a new opera, a tribute to both Racette's compelling performance and Picker's compositional skill.
"The score shows a softening of Picker's manner, and some may be distressed to find the composer moving further away from the tough angular expressionism of his earlier scores and into a more tonal idiom — viewed as a whole, the opera could almost be called a two-hour elegy in B-flat minor. Some hear the influence of Barber and Copland, but perhaps more useful reference points would be the conservatively styled, eminently singable operas of Thomas Pasatiere...and Carlisle Floyd, although Picker composes with more elegance than the former and more sophistication than the latter. Hard edges are there when needed, however, particularly in the relentless music of the dehumanizing textile machines as well as in a flavoring of pop and minimalism whenever those techniques are helpful in creating the right musical atmosphere.
"[Conductor] George Manahan seemed captivated by the score's piquant instrumental color, harmonic lushness, and eagerness to communicate, and his confident conducting brought out the music's best points."
The Wall Street Journal - Heidi Waleson
"I saw Tobias Picker's powerful first opera, Emmeline at its Santa Fe Opera premiere in 1996, and again at the New York City Opera in 1998. Ever since, it has been a measure by which I assess the theatrical impact of other new operas. With its poetic, streamlined libretto by J.D. McClatchy and Mr. Picker's vivid score, this two-hour opera is continuously gripping, without a wasted note or word..."
"...A lurid tale of accidental incest in the 19th century, Emmeline could have been just another sordid little shocker, but Mr. Picker's musical invention married to J.D. McClatchy's eloquent and poetic libretto managed to avoid the obvious. Instead, the collaborators arrived at an emotional truth about the nature of love, particuarly the love between mother and child, and created a tour-de-force role for soprano along the way.
"Mr. Picker's tonal, accessible idiom manages to sound familiar and new at the same time. Each scene, with its precise musical characterization, fits neatly into the next, building character and drama through varied styles. Mr. Picker jumps right in with an orchestral funeral procession for Emmeline's youngest sibling that is melodic and full of tears rather than dirge-like. There is a quick switch to the crashing rhythms of the factory, a jagged solo flute line jars agains the laudatory chorale sung by the other working girls.
"An experienced instrumental composer, Mr. Picker might be expected to show mastery in the clarity and color of his orchestrations, but as a first-time opera composer, spurred by Mr. McClatchy's musical text, he has also written gratefully and idiomatically for voice. Coplandesque melodie express the young Emmeline's hope and innocence, but in Act II, 20 years older and filled with love for her lost child, she sounds more like Puccini's Butterfly."
Billboard - Heidi Waleson
"Have you ever heard of a contemporary opera where the audience stands up and cheers when the composer takes his bow? That's what happened at the Santa Fe Opera this summer after the final performance of Emmeline by composer Tobias Picker...
"It boasts lovely writing for voice; a poetic libretto; streamlined, dramatic pacing; vivid orchestration; and a ttile role that any soprano would kill for... This work should make it to many more opera houses."
USA Today - Mark Mobley
"For years, producers sought funding for a movie of Judith Rossner's novel Emmeline... The tale has found its rightful telling...by composer Tobias Picker and librettist J.D. McClatchy... Instead of the sensational spectacle Hollywood might have made, this Emmeline...is an affecting, alternately grave and lyric retelling of the Oedipus legend.
"Picker, a lauded composer of orchestral works, employs hymns and Copland-style sections that sit cheek by jowl with strong disonances and even post-minimalist chugging. His vocal writing is kind to the voice, and his use of the orchestra is brilliant and transparent."
The Kansas City Star - Scott Cantrell
"In his orchestral tone poems Old and Lost Rivers and The Encantadas, Picker has proved keen at setting scenes and moods and brilliant at orchestration. And so he is here, to powerful emotional effect. Emmeline is beautifully, tellingly — even, at times, luxuriantly — written; vocal lines are mainly fluent, but more angular at moments of dramatic tension.
"Picker's score is uttely postmodern in its melange of musical styles, but the mix is more artfully integrated than in, say, Stewart Wallace's recent Harvey Milk... As in Old and Lost Rivers, Picker often seems to take up where Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring leaves off, to stretch the Frenchified Americana into greater piquancy.
"The opening, with its harmonies pulling and tugging at one another, sets a seductive but disquieting mood. But then the mill is portrayed in jittery, chugging minimalism, and Emmeline gets scolded in chattering neoclassicism."
The Chicago Tribune - John von Rhein
"Imagine the Oedipus myth transplanted to the stony Protestant soil of 19th century New England and told from Jocasta's point of view. That's one way of looking at Tobias Picker's impressive first opera, Emmeline...
"Picker's unabashedly Romantic score floats singable vocal lines over broad fields of tonal harmony that echo composers from Philip Glass to Kurt Weill but most often suggest the nostalgic American idiom of Copland and Barber. Modernist dissonance and rhythmic angularity are not absent, but the composer simplifies his language to ensure that the words register clearly and that every musical gesture supports the tragedy.
"[Emmeline is] blessed with music that unerringly illuminates character and situation..."
Albuquerque Journal - Joanne Sheehy Hoover
"With Tobias Picker's Emmeline, the Santa Fe Opera has found a winner.
"...the opera possesses that rarest of contemporary qualities: true passion.
"Picker seems totally free of the modern self-consciousness that inhibits giving our emotions full rein. He has called himself a romantic, and he is right. In Emmeline, his first opera, he has found a home for his deepest feelings.
"This opera derives its force not only from emotion but also from the strength of its writing.
"Over the years in his large and varied output, which includes three symphonies and several concertos as well as many chamber works, Picker has forged a powerful, supple language perfect for storytelling.
"At the heart of this powerfully unified production lies the music. One could point to various influences, but what matters is Picker's brilliant command of musical narrative. Using a conventional orchestra, he makes sound speak in uncommonly piercing ways. Sharp dissonances and abrupt rhythms convey the spirit-killing chaos of the factory. A broad, flowing melody over a repeating ground in the low strings tenderly evokes Emmeline's dreams of happiness. The "Rock of Ages" hymn setting, fractured by a rampant fiddle solo and discordant gossip, offers a devastating send-up of religious hypocrisy..."
The Times (London) - Jamie James
"...the American composer Tobias Picker haswritten a sensational, satisfying first opera based upon dramatic material of a distinctly Grimesian mould. Emmeline, in its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera, is one of the most successful American operas in years.
"Picker possesses a distinctively American voice, at some moment recalling Copland's moody, folkish sentimentality and at others Bernstein's bittersweet drollery. But his style is original: the listener does not come away from Emmeline with the impression that he has glued together a hotchpotch of snippets. What quotation there is serves a fuction: a hoedown fiddle establishes time and place, a Lutheran hymn sets the chorus's moral tone...throughout the piece he sets his scenes with live compositional virtuosity. Picker's palette vibrates with wit, pathos and power, ranging from a berserk solo cello to represent doomed erotic tension, to powerful, unapologetic dissonance at the catastrophe."
The Independent (London)
"Picker's score is proudly, unashamedly, tonally, free-range Americana. You can trace its lines of succession through most of the great and good of America's musiical past and present. Which is not to say that it feels second-hand. Not at all. There's a voice here, an impassioned one. But you know where it's coming from. There are phrases so immediate, so strangely familiar, that we may not at once appreciate how original they are. The aching lamentoso of the opening page is a case in point. It serves notice of a symphonist's feeling for narrative and development. And of a way with vocal lines that resonates all the way back to, and beyond, Porgy and Bess. At best, Picker is eminently singable. And that's no idle compliment.
"...A simple harmonica tune is elevated to an expression of regret for lost innocence, the chanting of Emmeline's name becomes a chilling leitmotif repeatedly baying out on horns in her moment of direst need and, most striking of all, the long-awaited love duet, when it comes, is at once impatient for, and fearful of the future, trumpet and fractured piano (the orchestra's leading protagonist — a busy, unsettling, weaving voie) engaged in a nervy ragtime.
"In an inspiring final scene...Picker and McClatchy return to where things began. All the figures in Emmeline's past come together in a powerful ensemble...only to leave, one by one. So past and present, reminiscence and reality, guilty secrets and the price of them, are all one."
The Sunday Times (London) - Hugh Canning
"The unquestionable hit of the festival, however, was Picker's Emmeline. Picker's music...is accessible, exquisitely crafted, and it always serves the drama as both accompaniment and commentary... A hugely enjoyable occasion that I would gladly relive."
The New York Times - John J. O'Connor
"This operatic reading distills the inherent power of the tale. Mr. Picker's score is ominously taut, punctuated with moving solos and duets."
USA Today - David Patrick Stearns
"An important work that should put composer Tobias Picker at the forefront of the contemporary scene."
San Francisco Examiner - Allan Ulrich
"A soaring work... This may be just the most impressive American piece since Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe.
"But what's really important here is the libretto, which sings well, and Picker's style, which both allows the words to stand out with pristine clarity and flatters, rather than abuses, the human voice. The accompanying orchestral line does not lack for vibrant rhythmic figures and Picker can deploy his vocabulary in the service of uninhibited lyricism."
Washington Post - Joseph McClellan
"Picker has a sense of drama that transfers well into opera. His melodies are carefully tailored to the words and crackle with dramatic tension.
"Emmeline is the latest and one of the best in a series of new works — others include Dominck Argento's The Aspern Papers and John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles — that are winning a large and enthusiastic audience for American opera."
Dallas Morning News - Olin Chism
"One of the productions of the Santa Fe Opera last summer brought tears to the eyes of audience members. That would be unremarkable, except that this wasn't Butterfly or Pagliacci or some such predictable tear-jerker, but rather Emmeline, an opera fresh from the 1990s.
"Emmeline works very well live, and its impact gains force as one senses the audience reaction. It's hard not to be affected when a fellow listener breaks into audible sobs, as actually happened.
"Mr. Picker's music is for the most part highly effective....As drama, the opera works brilliantly.
"...an opera worth seeing."
"Superior to some other recent American operas because it is effectively written for the voice."
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Donald Rosenberg
"A gripping piece... It is worthwhile viewing for anyone who cares about American opera."
Denver Post - Jeff Bradley
"Comes across even more powerfully on television. Picker's music has a mournful cast but is both accessible and highly eclectic."
"In his notes, Picker...calls attention to the continuing 'pulse' of his music. That pulse gives this remarkably successful piece a musical narrative to match the swifty unfolded story on stage."
The Village Voice - Leighton Kerner
"Don't miss [Emmeline] — it's one of the most powerful American operas to have appeared in this half-century.
"Picker's music continues to be conservatively tonal, but with a fresh, vigorous approach... There's much exciting (and difficult) stuff for good singers to make terrific performance points with...
"The performance you'll see on TV...is living, resounding proof of the Picker-McClatchy pudding."
Los Angeles Times - Mark Swed
"...Emmeline is an accessible, well-made, intelligently produced and excellently performed opera with the high dramatic intent of examining the Oedipus drama from the point of view of Jocasta, Oedipus' mother-wife.
"...Picker, who is best known for his symphonic music and whose first opera is Emmeline, follows the familiar policy of writing an opera in graciously lyrical heightened speech, with a surprisingly unassuming role for the orchestra.
"...for opera as naturalistic theater, Emmeline is a success..."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Robert Croan
"...a very strong work.
"...Emmeline...is a thoroughly compelling show.
"Moreover, Picker's score is ear-catching and in its best moments quite haunting — inoffensive to 'phobes' of modern music, yet not in the slightest derivative or trite.
"The operatic Emmeline is simultaneously a broad American epic and an intimate personal melodrama, and with Picker's cannily crafted music, it works on just about every level."
Knight-Ridder Newspapers - Wes Blomster
"It was obvious to those present at last summer's premiere [of Emmeline] that the Santa Fe Opera had a hit on its hands.
"Tobias Picker's Emmeline is that rare contemporary composition that grips an audience and holds listeners in its bann with none of the effort often demanded by new music.
"...Emmeline is a modern classic, crafted with a sense of epic tragedy that makes its heroine, a 13-year-old textile mill worker who lived before America's Civil War, a present-day musical cousin of Richard Strauss's Electra and Salome, and of Marie, the ill-fated mate of Alban Berg's Wozzeck.
"...the finished product proves that a trio of cooks can indeed concoct a successful soup."
Time Out/New York - Ken Smith
"Packs a powerful punch, with melodies that nail the emotional core of each scene."
New Orleans Times-Picayune - Theodore P. Mahne
"A passionate new American opera shows that the form is not dead.
"I was quite taken with the work when it premiered...at the Santa Fe Opera... It not only holds up quite well but even improves on a second viewing.
"...intimacy and passion are also key elements to its success and one of the reasons that Emmeline should continue to find life on stages across the country.
"[Picker's] style is expressive, direct and smooth. ...the melodic score is satisfying, accessible and distinctly American.
"The composer makes exceptional demands on his impressive cast. His ensemble writing is strong and the solo lines soar.
"Tonight's telecast will likely convince other companies to stage the passionate work as well."
Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) - Robert Baxter
"Tobias Picker's Emmeline was the hit of last summer's Santa Fe Opera Festival. Not since John Adams' Nixon in China has a new American work elicited the critical raves that greeted the world premiere of Picker's first opera.
"Picker's music — spare and concentrated but intently lyrical — is an amalgam of Copland, Britten, Stravinsky and the American minimalists."
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (Ft. Worth, Texas) - Chris Shull
"Picker's music is American modernism at its best, and Emmeline elicits an emotional pull that is inescapable.... Without borrowing, Picker's music recalls Stravinsky, Bartok, Copland, even Philip Glass, stepping through and beyond their work. Picker's strong distinctive voice as heard in Emmeline will surely secure his place alongside these masters."