Carlson: Anna Karenina

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Carlson
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Anna Karenina
PERFORMER: Kelly Kaduce, Christine Abraham, William Joyner, Brandon Jovanovich, Josepha Gayer, Robert Gierlach, Sarah Coburn, Nicholas Pallesen, Dorothy Byrne, Christian Van Horn; Saint Louis SO/Stewart Robertson
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 154

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Tolstoy’s most tormented heroine may provide rich pickings for a romantic opera, but the novel in which she appears is a trickier case for adaptation.

The late Colin Graham thought he could have got it right for Britten’s adaptation in the 1960s – a great might-have-been for Vishnevskaya and the Bolshoi. His second chance came when Florida Grand Opera commissioned an Anna Karenina from David Carlson, heard here in St Louis’s 2007 co-production.

The libretto is a clear condensation of Tolstoy’s scope, leaving it to Carlson to amplify the big emotions. His neo-Romantic score seems to emulate Prokofiev’s War and Peace by going straight to the lyric heart of his characters’ inner lives, but nowhere matches Prokofiev’s gestural range and precision.

Why does Anna so dislike her husband? What makes her fall for Vronsky? Do we care enough about the parallel relationship of Carlson’s Levin and Kitty to return to them in a rather blowsy epilogue?

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Some of the later scenes do bring feelings into tighter musical focus, such as the coming-together of husband and lover during Anna’s near-fatal illness, and her tortured reunion with her son. While few of the stalwart soloists create a lasting impact, Kelly Kaduce’s Anna is compelling. Her interpretation may well make this latest American ‘classic opera’ of more than ephemeral interest. David Nice