[Met Performance] CID:351368
World Premiere
An American Tragedy {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/02/2005.

(Debuts: Jennifer Aylmer, Graham Phillips, Adrianne Lobel

Metropolitan Opera House
December 2, 2005

World Premiere

An American Tragedy {1}

Clyde Griffiths.........Nathan Gunn
Roberta Alden...........Patricia Racette
Sondra Finchley.........Susan Graham
Elvira Griffiths........Dolora Zajick
Elizabeth Griffiths.....Jennifer Larmore
Samuel Griffiths........Kim Begley
Gilbert Griffiths.......William Burden
Bella Griffiths.........Jennifer Aylmer [Debut]
Grace Marr..............Clare Gormley
Orville Mason...........Richard Bernstein
Reverend McMillan.......Mark Schowalter
Young Clyde.............Graham Phillips [Debut]
Hortense................Anna Christy

Conductor...............James Conlon

Production..............Francesca Zambello
Set designer............Adrianne Lobel [Debut]
Costume designer........Dunya Ramicova
Lighting designer.......James F. Ingalls
Choreographer...........Doug Varone
Dramaturge..............Francesca Zambello

Production a gift of the Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation.

Commission made possible by a gift of the Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation.

An American Tragedy was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and has been dedicated by the composer to his mother, Henriette Simon Picker, in memory of his father, Julian Picker.

An American Tragedy received eight performances this season.

Production photos of An American Tragedy by Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

Review of Martin Bernheimer in the February 2006 issue of Opera (UK)

The mighty Metropolitan Opera, mightily cautious when it comes to novelty, proudly and loudly mustered the premiere of Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy" on December 2. Even with a reportedly generous distribution of free tickets (the practice of "papering" seems alive if unwell at Lincoln Center), the house wasn't exactly packed. Still, those who came and stayed seemed to like what they saw and, perhaps, what they heard.

The project, the first adventure of its kind since John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby" in 1999, promised much on paper. Picker knows his way about the lyric stage. Theodore Dreiser's novel of 1925 - of class-inequity, love, death and the American dream - is well known, thanks primarily to George Stevens's film of 1951, "A Place in the Sun." Gene Scheer's libretto, despite some awkward word-setting, demonstrates enlightened shrinkage.

Francesca Zambello staged the circuitous proceedings with sharp dramatic focus and a keen eye for character delineation. Adrianne Lobel's ingenious set, sensitively lit by James F. Ingalls, accommodated the fluid action on three tiers, austere vignettes appearing and disappearing behind sliding panels. Dunya Ramicova's costumes defined the turn-of-the-century milieu meticulously. Everyone seemed to appreciate that less can be more, even in a house that celebrates the excesses of Franco Zeffirelli.

The general projection of time, place and mood was so convincing that one wanted to forgive a couple of jarring details. When, for instance, Clyde Griffiths, the troubled hero, declared his love for the socialite Sondra Finchley, he sported a swimsuit, while she, true to the libretto, modeled formal finery. Later, when Roberta Alden, Clyde's spurned girlfriend, fell from a rowing boat and drowned, one was treated to a tawdry Grand Guignol gimmick, her body twirling on wires.

The cast - call it an ensemble - offered revelations. Agile and suave, the baritone Nathan Gunn projected Clyde's agony as well as his fatal ambition with astonishing sympathy. Someday and in some opera, one hopes, he will be allowed to score his baritonal points without recourse to beefcake display. Patricia Racette managed to fuse vulnerability and ardour as Roberta, the working girl he betrays, and she floated exquisite pianissimo tones. Susan Graham exuded erotic compulsion and giddy sophistication as Sondra, who inadvertently hastens Clyde's downfall. Although Dolora Zajick sang in some lush foreign tongue that acknowledges no consonants, she brought intense pathos to the sanctimony of Clyde's mother. Keen cameos were provided by William Burden, Kim Begley and Jennifer Larmore as Clyde's well-to-do relatives. Richard Bernstein blustered darkly as Orville Mason, the district attorney. James Conlon, ever discerning and ever virtuosic, conducted as if a masterpiece were at hand.

These ears, alas, recognized no masterpiece. Picker's score is undeniably crafty, also cautious and well-mannered to a fault. It deals knowingly in second-hand operatic devices, predictable set pieces, harmonic platitudes. Cranking out good mood-music and gutsy clichés at every turn, the composer allows no surprises, no shocks, and few dissonances. The first-nighters seemed grateful. This could be the perfect modem opera for people who hate modern opera.

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