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Rorem, Ned: Miss Julie (NPD85605/2) (Two CDs)

Rorem, Ned: Miss Julie (NPD85605/2) (Two CDs)


 
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OPERA REVIEW; 'Miss Julie,' to Rorem's Music
By JAMES R. OESTREICH
Published: December 09, 1994
"Until an ideal production is one day mounted and still reaps bad write-ups," Ned Rorem wrote of his opera "Miss Julie" a few years after the original production, "I'll continue to pass the buck in retrospect." James Robinson's production of the work by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater may not be ideal in every respect, but it is far too good to allow any buck-passing.
Nor is buck-passing needed. In its present sleek 90-minute form, Mr. Rorem's adaptation of August Strindberg's one-act play of the same name, with a libretto by Kenward Elmslie, makes for taut and persuasive musical drama.
Commissioned by the New York City Opera, "Miss Julie" was presented in 1965 in a two-hour, two-act version that was, as Mr. Rorem writes in his program notes, "a critical flop." It has since been presented only twice, notably in 1979, when Mr. Rorem and Mr. Elmslie compressed it by about 30 minutes into a single act for a production by the New York Lyric Opera. That version, with further nips and tucks, is used here.
Strindberg's anti-heroine, the jaded daughter of a count, slums recklessly with common revelers during a Midsummer Eve celebration in Sweden, taunting and squandering her fiance, Niels; seducing her father's valet, John, right under the nose of his fiancee, and stealing from the count. Sensing the desperation of her plight with a thud, she takes John's suggestion and slashes her wrists.
What Mr. Rorem learned after the original production, he said in a preconcert discussion, was that the action "has to go inexorably from A to Z without interruption." It does so now, and effectively.
Erhard Rom's set designs make literal the upstairs-downstairs conceit and give a sense of entrapment even to the outdoor scenes, with trees packed densely and tightly around.
Theodora Fried was excellent in the title role on Wednesday evening, singing with lovely tone and good range, now steely, now affecting and vulnerable. Philip Torre was stolid and powerful as John. Heather Sarris, as Christine, John's spited sweetheart; David Blackburn, as Niels, and Mark Mulligan and Laurelyn Watson, as the Young Boy and Young Girl, completed the singing cast effectively. Includes complete libretto