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Little Women: An Opera in Two Acts
Catherine Ciesinski, James Maddalena, Daniel Belcher
Little Women: An Opera in Two Acts
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #2

Mark Adamo's transfer of the Louisa May Alcott novel to the opera stage is an artistic and commercial success. It's been scheduled by numerous opera companies, and this Houston Grand Opera production drew a large audience ...  more »

      
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All Artists: Catherine Ciesinski, James Maddalena, Daniel Belcher, Joyce DiDonato, Stephanie Novacek, Patrick Summers
Title: Little Women: An Opera in Two Acts
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Ondine
Original Release Date: 1/1/1997
Re-Release Date: 8/28/2001
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPC: 761195098820

Synopsis

Amazon.com's Best of 2001
Mark Adamo's transfer of the Louisa May Alcott novel to the opera stage is an artistic and commercial success. It's been scheduled by numerous opera companies, and this Houston Grand Opera production drew a large audience to its PBS broadcast. The success is due to Adamo's sense of the lyric theatre--his sharply focused libretto that clarifies both story line and the narrative's meaning, and his accessible yet sophisticated music. Little Women is about change and letting go of the past. This theme and the dramatic conflict it engenders are beautifully encapsulated in two fine Act I scenes: Jo's "Look at us, Laurie: we're perfect as we are," and Meg's aria, "Things change." Adamo's music is equal to the challenge of his ambitious agenda. The 18-piece orchestra sounds bigger than it is, perhaps because it's always active, moving the story along on its own or commenting on the characters and action. Adamo writes big arias and unapologetically includes expressive coloratura passages. He even dares to write a Schubertian aria on the text of Goethe's "Kennst du das Land," repeating it (with variations) in English. And he injects some humor into the opera, as heard in the delightful scene of Brook's proposal to Meg, an arch snippet about surtitles, and Jo at the offices of a trashy tabloid. The singers are all first-rate, but the opera rises or falls on Jo, the kind of meaty part singers would kill for. Stephanie Novak is marvelous here, singing with passion and projecting Jo's innocence as well as her journey to self-knowledge. Patrick Summers leads a definitive performance of the opera. The recording is drawn from live performances in March 2000. Ondine, a Finnish company, has done American music proud with this release. --Dan Davis
 

CD Reviews

Old Fashioned - Yet Sophisticated
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 06/26/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I like this opera...more than I wanted to at first. Adamo has a wonderful understanding of the voice. Though the orchestral effects are wonderful,especially with an 18 piece orchestra (doesn't sound so small) the drama lies squarely with the singers, as so many modern operas don't. Adamo is not afraid of real arias and ensembles and at these moments he really lets the music soar, especially Meg's beautiful aria, Things Change. Adamo is also a fine librettist. The lyrical moments are verbally poetic which calls forth rapturous music. Look again at Meg's aria. It reads like good poetry. It doesn't rhyme, but it has strong rhythm and some beautiful imagery. And the construction of the recitativo scenes is very well done also. This is not a sung play, but a real operatic libretto. The drawbacks of the opera are really in the dramatic subject itself. Though Adamo tries to inject drama in the opera by hanging on a conflict between Jo and the passage of time, this is a bit intellectual really. The novel's basic problem is that it is a series of lyric episodes with wonderful characters, but nothing really ever happens. This problem remains in the opera. It is more of a series of lyric scenes ala Eugene Onegin. This can make for moments of boredom for those who prefer opera to be shattering like Wozzeck, or biting like Three Penny Opera. The one other problem with the opera is that much of the music tend to "Micky Mouse" the stage action, especially in the more playful moments. It can make for a confusing listening experience during some of the scenes. The orchestra is crowded with interesting music motives that are dropped a moment later. Adamo could have taken a page from Russian opera here and organized the scenes with unifying devices, as Mussorgsky does in Boris, or Debussy does in Pelleas. We don't need every emotional shift illustrated in the music...just the big ones.The performances are uniformly well sung. Stephanie Novacek is wonderful as Jo, and Margaret Lloyd sings "Thing Change" marvelously. Patrick Summers does an expert conducting job. All in all, this opera deserves it's success. It is lyrical enough to satisfy the old-fashioned opera goer, and yet it is sophisticated in it's harmonic idiom and meaty."
Modern Opera Finds Its Voice
Richard O. Faulk | Houston, Texas USA | 09/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Mark Adamo's "Little Women" is one of the finest operas to come off a composer's pen in many, many years. It's probably the best new opera written recently and it's certainly the most accessible. Andre Previn must be green with envy - his "Streetcar Named Desire" doesn't contain half as much memorable music. Adamo's writing is wonderfully melodious, absolutely beautiful to the ear - anyone's ear, not just modern music snobs. When Adamo breaks into melody (and there's tons of melody here, real melody), the tonality just gushes everywhere. You'll want to hear a number of arias over and over, but the baritone aria that begins the second act will melt your heart. (Listen for it to quietly return at the opera's end). Every mezzo-soprano will soon be clamoring to play Jo. The role is challenging, dramatic and full of gorgeous music. Beth's death scene is incredibly moving, with her voice floating over Adamo's harmonies to the "heavenly meadows." The closing quartet is as lovely and bittersweet as a "Rosencavalier" in miniature. Adamo's libretto is as much of a wonder as the score. His adaptation and condensation of the story is tightly focused on Jo and the inevitable changes of maturity. But there's plenty of humor too - the words and music are a perfect match. This opera is one that will last, one that gets more beautiful on every hearing. Although this opera is being staged everywhere now - it's on its way to the New York City Opera, where Adamo is now composer in residence - it's hard to imagine a better peformance than this one. Most of the cast members created their roles at the world premiere and repeated them at the recent revival in Houston. You'll never regret having this CD. Thanks to Mark Adamo and the Houston Grand Opera."
The opera is good, but ...
Timothy Hulsey | Charlottesville, VA United States | 02/02/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Marc Adamo's _Little Women_ follows Alcott's book much more closely than it seems to. True, this opera doesn't include Jo's famous haircut, the father's service (and subsequent illness) as a military chaplain, or any of the childhood antics depicted in the book's first half. But that's because Adamo focuses his attention on the less-celebrated second half, which Alcott entitled "Good Wives" (though she sarcastically claimed "Wedding Marches" would have been more appropriate).

The opera itself is superb; among American composers, only Douglas Moore and Virgil Thomson have equalled its accomplishment. Adamo's libretto is consistently quick-witted and sharp-tongued (a trait he seems to have picked up from Alcott herself), while his music is tonal, eclectic, emotional and intelligent. Each character, it seems, has at least one moment to shine, but Professor Bhaer's German lied in Act II never fails to bring down the house. What's more, the opera stages beautifully; one gets the sense that it would be as much at home on Broadway as in the concert hall.

Unfortunately, this particular recording is live, which means that the music doesn't come across with the same clarity that a studio recording would have. It's tough to justify shelling out more than thirty bucks for manifestly inferior sound, and I wish the Houston Grand Opera had purchased some studio time so they could give this opera its due. Still, the performances are as good as they come. For fans of the work, this will be a must-own."