Floyd’s Wuthering Heights conducted by Joseph Mechavich

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Floyd
LABELS: Reference Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Floyd
WORKS: Wuthering Heights
PERFORMER: Georgia Jarman, Kelly Markgraf, Susanne Mentzer, Vale Rideout, Heather Buck, Chad Shelton; Florentine Opera Chorus; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra/ Joseph Mechavich
CATALOGUE NO: FR-721 (hybrid CD/SACD)  

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Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights has been turned into an opera twice by American composers: in 1943-51, though the work wasn’t heard until its 1966 recording, by Bernard Herrmann; and in 1958 by Carlisle Floyd (who was 90 in June). Herrmann, supreme film composer that he was, went for brooding atmosphere; Floyd, setting his own well-shaped libretto, keeps things moving and paints characters vividly. But it was perhaps a mistake to make the outcast Heathcliff a heroic baritone rather than give him a darker colouring; and the score’s short on ensembles, with Heathcliff and his beloved Cathy sharing dialogue rather than duets. 

In this studio recording following a concert performance by Florentine Opera of Milwaukee, Kelly Markgraf and Georgia Jarman make a powerful impression as the ill-fated couple, and Chad Shelton’s incisive Hindley and Heather Buck’s sweet Isabella also stand out amidst a strong cast. The Florentine Opera Chorus sounds too large to represent the conversational groups of a party scene. Under opera specialist Joseph Mechavich, the Milwaukee Symphony makes its contribution with relish, though in the (stereo) balance it regularly overpowers some characters, including Susanne Mentzer’s sympathetic Nelly. The libretto provided, in the booklet and online, is that of Floyd’s original version rather than the thorough revision sung here, making it difficult to follow; and the break between the two discs is made clumsily in the middle of a line, when it could have been placed at a turning-point in the drama just over 90 seconds earlier.

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Anthony Burton