First of all, aren't I lucky to have a blogging buddy so eloquent as Alex? I think his assessment of Tommasini's review of An American Tragedy rather succinctly summarizes why we find it so distressing.
Well, it only gets more depressing.
Eric Myers' confusing and ill-informed review in Variety can be added the prissy drivel by a heap of people who I have decided are afraid to committ to recognizing this opera as anything other than a somewhat enjoyable trifle.
Eric, I have never met you. You are probably a lovely, engaging, educated person. But COME ON. Let's have a look, shall we?
On the libretto:
"By streamlining the central story and details, Scheer has constructed a tight libretto, though his lyrics rarely rise to intriguing poetic heights."
Intriguing poetic heights?? This is a fast moving dramatic piece with an appealing, colloquial libretto that manages to actually lead to the development of REAL characters. I actually find it fairly remarkable. Not totally sure what you would qualify as "intriguing poetic heights" but the phrase makes me queasy. Please don't use it again.
On Nathan Gunn, and the role of Clyde:
"Nathan Gunn is a physically ideal Clyde Griffiths -- and few male opera singers would look as good in a 1906 swimsuit -- but his darkly handsome baritone is ill-suited to the character, whose youth and impetuousness demand the more callow sound of a tenor. He probably should have switched roles with William Burden, the fine, attractive tenor who played Clyde's spoiled cousin, Gilbert."
I totally agree re: the swimsuit. But I am totally overwhelmed by this comment: "He probably should have switched roles with William Burden"(!!) Please, please explain what on earth you are talking about. Is this a typo? Were you feeling rushed under a deadline? What a shame. I assume you mean that the character of Clyde would have been better interpreted by Picker as a tenor role, and Gilbert as a baritone. Yes? But this is not what you said. First, you made it about Gunn's performance, which makes no sense whatsoever. Second, you said "he probabably should have switched roles." Kiddo, he is a baritone. Do you want him to sing Gilbert an octave down? Your criticisms, in this instance, are grossly misdirected and, frankly, infuriating.
On the score:
"But all these great efforts count for little if an opera's musical component is not memorable. Despite the masterful hand of veteran conductor James Conlon, Picker's score -- though essentially accessible and tonal -- never reaches out to its audience. Instead, it seems content to comment on the action, rising and falling continuously along with a vocal line that seems similarly aimless."
Oy. I guess all I can really say is: This audience was "reached". The Friday eveing audience went crazy for Picker. To say the score did not connect with the audience is objectively an untrue statement. Personally, I think Picker proved himself to be a master at writing for the voice. We truly got to see an assemblage of some of the greatest vocal talent using their voices to their full potential. How else can we explain this?
Myers contnues and makes some potentially valuable but minor points about missed opportunities to reference music of the time period. But the closer of this review is a real kicker:
"There is worthy musical theater to be found in this story; perhaps Picker was simply the wrong composer for it. If only Stephen Sondheim had gotten there first." How delightfully cliché! First, we have Tommasini suggesting that the score is too "broadway" to be deemed significant. Now we have this guy saying "Sondheim should have written it." What are we to do? Now, I am a foaming at the mouth, rabid fan of Stephen Sondheim. But had he wanted to set this story, he would have long ago. And honestly, there are not many immediate connections to be drawn between his music and that of Tobias Picker. So, why are bringing him into the mix?
Are "we" SO desperate to not accept this opera on its own terms that we have to completely recategorize it and play "fantasy camp" with the one contemporary composer whose name is consistently met with hushed tones?
An easy closer, Mr. Myers. But I'm on to you. There is a well-written review in there somewhere. Perhaps you were simply the wrong writer for it. I'll let you know once I decide who would have done better.
I am open to suggestions.