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Gordon GETTY (b.1933) The Canterville Ghost (2015) [62.08]
Matthew Treviņo (bass) – Sir Simon: Alexandra Hutton (soprano) – Virginia: Jonathan Michie (baritone) – Hiram Otis: Jean Broekhuizen (mezzo-soprano) – Mrs Otis: Timothy Oliver (tenor) – Cecil Cheshire: Anooshah Golesorkhi (baritone) – Canterville: Denise Werly and Rachel Marie Hauge (mezzo-sopranos) – Twins, Boys, Voices: Oper Leipzig Gewandhausorchester/Matthias Foremny
rec. Oper Leipzig, June 2015
Full text provided PENTATONE PTC5186541 SACD [62.08]
Oscar Wilde’s short stories have proved most fertile ground over the years for composers in search of opera libretti. Less wordy than his plays, they frequently plumb unexpected depths of emotion and symbolism which sets them apart from those of Hans Christian Andersen, even when their plots have surface similarities. But much of the text of these ‘fairy stories’ is given in reported speech or thoughts rather than in dialogue, and it becomes incumbent on the composer or adaptor to supply these in more tangible form for stage presentation. Gordon Getty, as usual, acts as his own librettist here, and it has to be said that he sticks pretty closely to Wilde’s original even when this results in some over-melodramatic language. One remark amused me: when Virginia refers to the Americans as having “no ruins and no curiosities” the Ghost in the original responds “You have your navy and your manners.” But, re-using exactly the same exchange two years later in his play A woman of no importance, Wilde substituted the word “mothers” for the word “navy”. Getty, perhaps wishing to spare the sensibilities of American matrons in his audience, keeps the word “navy” – which makes far less sense – and I rather wish he had taken up Wilde’s substitution.
Otherwise Getty has made a very good redaction of Wilde’s text, condensing it into twenty scenes with some additional material added at the beginning and the end. But some of the scenes are very short indeed, three dispensing with sung text altogether; and each one is separated out into a self-contained unit. That was probably inevitable, especially in realistic scenery as appears to have been the basis for the production at Leipzig opera on which this studio recording was based. But it must have made for a very stop-and-start effect in the theatre. I see that there are proposals to give the opera in Los Angeles and New York as a double-bill with Getty’s earlier Usher House (of which I reviewed the world premičre production in Cardiff for Seen and Heard three years ago, with considerable enthusiasm), and it seems to me that some revisions to provide a more continuous flow of music might be beneficial. As it is, far too many of the scenes seem to stop and start abruptly, often with only a couple of chords to begin or conclude the action.
The sheer wordiness of Wilde’s text too seems to be the source of problems. Even in the extended scene between the Ghost and Victoria, where the words cry out for some emotional and lyrical expansion, much of the action proceeds in recitative-like setting over atmospheric but fundamentally static chords. Only in the final scene (where Getty provides his own lyrics) is there any sustained melodic writing, which in the event comes rather too late after the principal action is over. Nor does Getty seem to provide enough music to accommodate some of the stage action called for in the libretto, a failing which I had previously noted in his earlier opera Plump Jack.
The full text is provided in the booklet (although there appears to have been some considerable re-arrangement in the final scene) and, apart from a couple of minor alterations and fluffed lines, the singers put across the extended dialogue well. Matthew Treviņo as the Ghost is particularly impressive, and brings plenty of light and shade to his beautiful description of his looked-for death. Jonathan Michie as the American millionaire Otis puts his comic lines over well, although he tends to punch the higher notes which pepper his vocal line; Alexandra Hutton as his daughter Virginia has more cloudy diction, but has a delectable tone. As Mrs Otis Jean Broekhuizen is a bit matronly in delivery, but the smooth tones of Timothy Oliver and Anooshah Golesorkhi as the English aristocrats are a pleasure to hear. It was a good idea to cast the tiresomely boisterous twin boys as two mezzos; Denise Werly and Rachel Marie Hauge blend well although they do not have a great deal to do. The orchestra, billed as the Oper Leipzig Gewandhaus, sounds small (strings, brass and percussion only, I think) but Matthias Foremny obtains smooth and subtle playing from his players.
In the past I have thoroughly enjoyed much of Getty’s music, especially when he allows himself to give his singers lyrical lines to sing; but, as I have observed, these seem to be in dangerously short supply here. Perhaps revision, including some expansion of the orchestral score to provide interludes between scenes, might give a more appealing impression.
While we are on the subject of settings of short stories by Oscar Wilde, can I yet again put in an appeal for someone to reissue the Argo LP recording of Malcolm Williamson’s The Happy Prince, a superb performance by an excellent cast of one the very greatest of all of Wilde treatments?