Rorem’s opera Our Town conducted by Gil Rose

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rorem
LABELS: New World Records
ALBUM TITLE: Rorem
WORKS: Our Town
PERFORMER: Matthew DiBattista, Margot Rood, Brendan Buckley, Donald Wilkinson, Krista River, David Kravitz, Angela Gooch, Glorivy Arroyo, Stanley Wilson; Monadnock Music/Gil Rose
CATALOGUE NO: Records 80790-2

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Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town finds magic in the everyday life of a small New England town, through a series of non-consecutive episodes set in the period before the First World War. Filmed in 1940 with a score by Aaron Copland, it was made into an opera only in 2005 by the veteran American composer Ned Rorem. Rorem pays occasional homage to Copland’s luminous simplicity, especially in his treatment of church hymns, but also introduces a Stravinskyan linking chord and touches of the asperity and humour of Milhaud and Poulenc, as well as devising a new other-worldly tone when the focus switches to the town’s cemetery and its inhabitants. Thanks to his experience as a song composer, he conveys the text clearly and with well-defined characters. And altogether he creates a musical world which you feel glad to re-enter after each break between the acts. 

In this well-balanced studio recording by the forces of Gil Rose’s Monadnock Music Festival, the playing of the chamber orchestra is alert, the small chorus produces pleasingly blended tone, and the cast – led by the flexible tenor Matthew DiBattista as the narrating Stage Manager – deliver words and pitches with clarity and accuracy, if not always shaped into rounded phrases. Excepted from that criticism is the soprano Margot Rood, whose instinctive musicality, pure tone and radiant upper register are reminiscent of the young Dawn Upshaw, and who brings touching conviction to the central role of Emily Webb in young life and after death. 

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Anthony Burton