Bolcom’s music humanizes Altman’s sardonic ‘Wedding’
Movie-turned-opera by U-M composer William Bolcom opens in Chicago.
By Lawrence B. Johnson / Detroit News Music Critic
CHICAGO — Think of the human condition as images in a funhouse — where individual moments may be funny, but the collective experience is closer to melancholy, distressing, bitter and bleak — and you have Robert Altman’s 1978 film “A Wedding.” Now imagine setting every facet and nuance of that play to evocative, colorful and above all compassionate music and you have William Bolcom’s operatic version of Altman’s film.
“A Wedding,” as music-drama, had its world premiere Saturday night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the experience left one reeling from the impression of comedy as a sardonic laugh at us all.
Bolcom, the Pulitzer Prize laureate who teaches at the University of Michigan has written an imaginative, stylistic quiltwork of a score, but it is largely subsumed within a play that finds little merit in any character and grows progressively darker and more severe as events wear on.
In his third commission from the Lyric Opera, after “McTeague” (1993) and “A View From the Bridge” (2000), Bolcom displays his typical flair for weaving whole cloth from a stunning array of musical threads — in this case blues, gospel and the rock ‘n’ roll that precipitated from those forms, as well as the “classical” disciplines of aria and orchestration that place this work in the legitimate tradition of opera.
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