Menotti: The Saint of Bleecker Street

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Menotti
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Saint of Bleecker Street
PERFORMER: Julia Melinek, Timothy Richards, Pamela Helen Stephen, John Marcus Bindel, Sandra Zeltzer; Spoleto Festival Choir & Orchestra/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9971(2)
Audiences and critics still divide over Menotti: while the immediacy of his music usually generates a positive response from the public, many professional writers complain about the tawdry nature of his librettos and their settings. This substantial 1954 score, however – the last of Menotti’s works to be premiered on Broadway – has more going for it than most. Though the plot, set in New York’s Little Italy, manages to include more emotional extremity than Tosca, Menotti clearly believes in it (though admittedly he did write it himself).

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Despite the music’s reliance on Puccini (Suor Angelica keeps coming to mind) and B-movie film-scores, the general quality of the ideas and their presentation are both considerably higher than in The Medium or The Consul. The choral and orchestral writing, in particular, are skilled and highly effective, while the closing scene – in which the sickly but mystical Annina dies after taking her vows, while her sceptical brother looks on in horror – has genuine power.

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Strong conducting from Richard Hickox holds this Spoleto Festival performance firmly together. The cast clearly relishes the post-verismo manner of the writing, and the singers throw themselves at its larger-than-life vocal gestures. George Hall