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The Grapes of Wrath
Minnesota Opera Chorus, Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael Korie
The Grapes of Wrath
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #3

The Grapes of Wrath/Live from the Minnesota Opera World Premiere


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CD Details

All Artists: Minnesota Opera Chorus, Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael Korie, Grant Gershon
Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: P.S. Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/2008
Re-Release Date: 8/26/2008
Album Type: Box set, Cast Recording
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaCD Credits: 3
UPC: 803607086626


Album Description
The Grapes of Wrath/Live from the Minnesota Opera World Premiere

CD Reviews

Alan Rich on the CD
Ian Lincoln | Dayton,Ohio | 09/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)


Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Composer Ricky Ian Gordon's fluent, powerful setting of a great -- maybe the greatest -- American novel, John Steinbeck's ``The Grapes of Wrath,'' is now available on a vivid, three-CD box set from PS Classics. The opera already has drawn critical raves and silenced many of the naysayers who bemoan the lack of another great American opera of the stature of ``Porgy and Bess.''

First produced by the Minnesota Opera with a young, eager and mostly unknown cast led by Grant Gershon, ``The Grapes of Wrath'' is next due, in January 2009, at Opera Pacific in California's Orange County.

Best known so far for his adroit Broadway-style ``songbooks'' that challenge the best of Stephen Sondheim, and for a quasi-operatic treatment of the classic ``Orpheus and Euridice'' legend that the Long Beach Opera Company produced last season in a rowboat in a municipal swimming pool, Gordon admits to taking a huge leap into the unknown with this treatment of Steinbeck's epic novel.

``I finally had to decide that if I was going to be a composer, this is what I had to do,'' the 52-year-old, Long Island-born composer averred in a recent telephone chat.

Steinbeck's Ending

Librettist Michael Korie arrived at a similar conclusion. Author of lighter-weight texts, including one (``Hopper's Wife'' in which the wife of the painter metamorphoses into gossip columnist Hedda), Korie took on the Dust Bowl novel at full worth, bypassing the upbeat philosophy that ends the famous John Ford film version in favor of the stark tragedy of the Steinbeck original.

``The music just came flying out of me,'' Gordon remembers. Maybe so, but nothing in his pliant score suggests any sense of airy lightheartedness.

``The last time there was rain,'' the chorus sings wistfully at the start, eyeing their parched farmland and sadly remembering better times. At the end they sing with equal sadness of ``the day the rain began,'' destroying the cotton crop and sending the wandering Joad family again on the road.

``Simple Child,'' a song for Ma Joad on the death of her child Noah, has a haunting beauty that could guarantee it a separate concert life.

Opera, like Hollywood, loves American literature, though literature doesn't always return the compliment. Creditable musical treatments in recent years, imposed upon the literature of Tennessee Williams, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald and their fellows have come -- and, for the most part, gone.

Something about this ``Grapes of Wrath,'' however, suggests a staying power. Partly it is the humility, the willingness of composer and librettist to let Steinbeck's overpowering textual lyricism rest undisturbed. Partly it is the sound of Gordon's music: chorus and orchestra joined in this ``big fat musical,'' as he calls it, in a vernacular style that works even in an operatic and a serious concert setting.

Maybe, this time, that creaky old institution known as opera really has turned a corner. It wouldn't be a moment too soon."
Pleasantly Surprised
musicluvR | 09/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The recording is great! I was expecting the music to be super modern sounding but it's got a great colloquial feel to it with banjo and harmonica. There are even some jazzy parts. The singers are fantastic and the orchestra is fabulous!"
A good first recording
William Buchanan | Pittsburgh, PA, USA | 12/27/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I sang in the third production of this work at Pittsburgh Opera where we premiered a revision prepared by Ricky Ian Gordan (composer) and Michael Korie (librettist). This revision was necessary, in part due to dramatic considerations as perceived by the composer and the librettist, but also because of its length (see addendum). Yet the original version as recorded here is a wonderful documentation of a significant American premiere by one of America's premiere vocal composers. The original cast members, many of whom sang in the Pittsburgh production, give splendid performances on this recording.

The work is an interesting pastiche of styles - if you don't like the opening, wait - it will change. Highlights include: the monumental, Copland-esque opening chorus ("The Last Time There Was Rain"); the Ragged Man's solo ("I Can't Tell You," sung with incredible insight and passion by Kelly Markgraf - he was with us in Pittsburgh and broke my heart every time he sang this, whether in rehearsal or performance - this has the ring, albeit in a modern vein, of a Verdian bass-baritone aria - think King Phillip's "Ella giammai m'amo" in Don Carlos); "Endicott Farm" (listed in the CD booklet as "My Plum Tree" and "No Work Here," it is the moral lesson of the opera according to the composer - it plums the work's dramatic and moral heart equally as well as anything by Weill or Sondheim); the haunting and beautiful "Dios Te Salve" (that owes more than a little something to Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols"), the heartfelt "Little Dead Moses" (surging with all the vigor and heart of a film score by Korngold yet written in an American popular idiom - it's sung with fervor by Robert Orth who in addition to Uncle John in Grapes of Wrath also created the role of Harvey Milk in another opera with a libretto by Korie); and the showstopper, "The Creek" (CD 2, tracks 12 and 13, it explores Copland's ouvre before morphing into Mahler and Berg) in which the slow son Noah (sung with incredible passion by Andrew Wilkowske who reprised this role in Pittsburgh) drowns himself to save his family the burden of supporting him - the Act ends with Noah floating dead in the river (suspended above the stage behind a blue scrim) while his mother - sung beautifully by Deanne Meek on this recording - enters carrying him as a baby and singing him the tenderest of lullabies (Puccini, perhaps), the most beautifully lyric, poignant and haunting moment in the opera (destined to be a popular excerpt for recitals and concerts, it was sung equally well in Pittsburgh by Elizabeth Bishop who was also in the original cast of "Harvey Milk" with Robert Orth).

Because this is CD has been put together from the original five performances in Minnesota, there are the occasional stage and audience noises as well as moments that would have benefited from a retouch in a studio (such as the chorus "It's a step up the ladder" - CD 3, track 6), yet all in all, it's a wonderful recording of the original version of this important and moving opera by one of America's gifted and lyrical composers. The booklet is a bit lean (no singers' bios, for instance). For these reasons alone I give it four stars; however, to be fair, the best way to rate this CD is as BBC Magazine would: Performance - five stars; Presentation - four stars. A recording of the revision (and a DVD too) needs to be financed. This is a work that will enter the regular opera repertoire and deserves to be mounted again and again - and it deserves YOUR attention.

ADDENDUM: The opera as recorded amounts to 3 hours 7 seven minutes of music over three acts. Adding twenty-minute intermissions after Acts I and II amounts to 3 hours and 47 minutes at minimum in performance. Many opera houses panic at the thought of exceeding 3 hours because (a) audiences are not as prone to sit as long as they used to and (b) running over 3 hours often incurs very costly overtime for stagehands and orchestra members, and opera companies are pinching pennies as much as possible, especially in the current economic situation. Pruning the score was wise for encouraging future productions (as it was, we needed to make some painful cuts in the the shorter revision in Pittsburgh to keep the show within budget). Verdi had more latitude when it came to running time (although even he capped his longest opera, Don Carlos, at about four hours). And, unlike Verdi, modern composers have little wiggle room once a show opens. Granted they are tested in workshops, but it's not until you mount the whole thing on the big stage that you see where changes might be made. Ricky was only able to get the revision done by offering to partially pay for the publication of a revised score and orchestra parts. Verdi, however, could revise the show over and over again (there are at least five versions of Don Carlos over a 20 year period - and cuts were made between the completion of the opera and its premiere as well as directly after). The current business of music makes it hard for composers to make adjustments, so Ricky is to be commended for insisting that he be allowed to tinker with the score after the parts were published. Whether the original version, or the revision, this is a truly momentous and moving piece."