MUSTO: Bastianello. BOLCOM: Lucrezia.
Appleby (Bastianello, Laurent/Lorenzo); Matt Boehler (Luciano/Chucho);
Patrick Mason (Bastianello the elder, Frediano, Ippolito, Lino/Ignacio);
Lisa Vroman (Amadora, Ettalina, Stelladora/Annunciata); Sasha Cooke (Ortensia,
Eustacia/Lucrezia); Michael Barrett & Steven Blier (pianos).
Bridge 9299 A/B (2 CDs) TT: 91:13
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Foolish husbands. A latter-day payola scandal, prosecuted by then New
York State attorney-general Eliot Spitzer (another foolish husband),
forward a large settlement that required the defendants to fund New York
music and arts programs. The New York Festival of Song (co-founded by
Michael Barrett and Steven Blier) got some of the money and commissioned
operas: one from John Musto, composer of the comic opera Volpone, and
one from the prodigious William Bolcom. In both cases, lyricist Mark
provided the librettos. Campbell, who has written librettos for at least
two other Musto operas, received the Kleban Award for lyrics from a panel
headed by Stephen Sondheim. He has branched out to working with other
composers as well.
I must say that these are as much Campbell's shows as Musto's and Bolcom's.
The texts are witty, the lyrics eminently singable and clear from the
stage. There's even, here and there, real poetry in them. Having recently
Sondheim's Finishing the Hat -- among other things, a discourse on the
art of lyrics -- I can understand why Sondheim's a fan.
Bastianello tells the tale of a husband, Luciano, who walks
out on his wife, after she spills wine, and vows not to return until
he finds six
people stupider than her. He finds five (in the process, helping them
out of the jams they've gotten themselves into) and then comes across
dragging a net across a lake at night. Years before, he got angry at
his wife and stormed out. She ran after him, fell into the lake, and
He hears her calling to him, "Save me," and tries to catch the
moon's reflection in his net. Luciano tries to point this out, but the
man doesn't pay him any attention. He has driven himself crazy with remorse
and says, "When you love someone, you have to love them all the time." Luciano
has found his sixth fool. It is he himself. He returns home and reconciles.
Musto's music comes over as a bit brittle in the first scenes. However,
as Luciano embarks on his quest, the music warms up considerably. For
the scene at the lake, Musto digs deep and brings back something beautiful
Lucrezia comes from Machiavelli's farce La Mandragola (the
mandrake), about a husband who wants a son and, because she hasn't conceived,
wife barren. A rich young man loves the wife, Lucrezia, and his servant
hatches a scheme so that the young prince can sleep with her. He poses
as a doctor who can guarantee results. He recommends to the husband a
potion -- made of mandrake root and a few drops of lime juice -- guaranteed
produce a child. The problem is that the next man to sleep with his wife
will die from the potion's side effects. So the idea is to find some
poor schmo to take the place of the husband. The proposal put to the
her, but the urging of her mother and a priest (!) gets her to reluctantly
agree. Finally, the young blade arranges to be kidnapped as the sacrifice
and sleeps with the wife. In Machiavelli's play, the lovemaking is so
spectacular for both, that the two manage to keep the arrangement permanent.
streamlines the plot a little and cuts down the number of characters.
Lucrezia overhears her would-be lover plotting and decides to go along
beginning. The lover impersonates the doctor, the priest, and the ninny.
At the play's end, the lovers confess all to one another. When the husband
enters, Lucrezia throws a pretend fit at breaking her marriage vows and
insists that the "priest" who heard her confession that day
should hear her confession four - no, seven - days a week.
Campbell also transposes the setting and updates the time to turn-of-the-century
Argentina. This allows Bolcom to create an affectionate send-up of the
clichés of Spanish music, often over-the-top. If you know the cocktail-piano
bromides of Bolcom's song "Over the Piano," you have a pretty
good idea of the broadness of the parody, and there's plenty of wit as
I actually dreaded having to review this, since I thought I'd be caught
in the precious and campy, but Campbell and his composers know the virtues
of dry wit and have keen eyes for worthy objects of satire. The performances
further sell these works. All the singers can act. All have a feeling
for comedy. Barrett and Blier provide a sparkling two-piano accompaniment
didn't miss an orchestra). My only carp is that it's two discs, one for
each opera, and Bastianello runs less than 40 minutes. Granted, you can't
fit both works on a single CD, but they could have given us some of Musto's
songs to fill out the disc space.
S.G.S. (April 2011)