Daron Hagen: Shining Brow

Daron Hagen: Shining Brow

by JoAnn Falletta
     
 

Daron Hagen's opera "Shining Brow" deals with one of the great tragedies in American history, one that relatively few Americans know about: in 1914 a crazed servant killed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's family and burned his specially built home, the first "Taliesin," to the ground. For an America that has witnessed celebrity tragedies like the death of actor Phil… See more details below

Overview

Daron Hagen's opera "Shining Brow" deals with one of the great tragedies in American history, one that relatively few Americans know about: in 1914 a crazed servant killed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's family and burned his specially built home, the first "Taliesin," to the ground. For an America that has witnessed celebrity tragedies like the death of actor Phil Hartman, or even the assassination of John Lennon, perhaps this sad tale has lost some of its sting, but in its time it was an electrifying event and one that significantly cost Wright in terms of his reputation. The brilliant, exemplary career that followed -- in the wake of a personal tragedy that would have stopped many a stronger man than Wright -- proved more than enough to rescue him from the scandal of 1914. However, the opera makes clear that the story is a complex one, and that Wright was partly at fault for what happened, owing to his inattentiveness to personal matters and the effect his constant, "head in the clouds" visionary streak had on the people around him. Hagen composed the opera with librettist Paul Muldoon between 1989 and 1991, and since its 1993 premiere it has been given several times, always to acclaim. The Naxos recording of "Shining Brow," which is the opera's first, was made with baritone Robert Orth in the role of Wright and Brenda Harris as his ill-fated paramour, Mamah Cheney, from a semi-staged 2006 production given in Buffalo, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of JoAnn Falletta. From the recording it is easy to hear why this opera has caught on with audiences; it is suitably dramatic and moves forward with an inexorability that keeps the listener captivated. About Hagen, The New York Times commented once that he "has a gift for the big tune," and this is true; he's not afraid of melody and understands its value in keeping the action moving forward and focusing the ear. Hagen also has a gift for interesting orchestration that supports the story and adds color and also utilizes purely instrumental passages that are, in themselves, well done and are indivisibly linked to the story. "Shining Brow" is not made up of wall-to-wall singing, as so many post-modern operas are. Falletta's command of the Buffalo Philharmonic is indispensible to the success of the recording; the orchestra never covers the singers, but comes in with authority in passages where they are the main event. There is only a summary provided with no libretto, but if you speak English, you won't need one. The singing and diction are so clear throughout that everything is easily understood, not a common attribute with recorded operas in English. Some of Hagen's most inspired writing attaches to those scenes where Wright is off on a tangent, expressing his bold visions about his given profession. This naturally goes toward character building and not toward developing the plot, and many composers would find such material boring and not linger on it, but not Hagen, who understands that power of the man is principal motivation for the ultimately awful things that happen to him. "Shining Brow" is a compelling, substantive, and strong entry into the canon of American opera, and Naxos' recording of it speaks volumes about just how vital and fresh opera has become in the twenty first century.

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Product Details

Release Date:
03/31/2009
Label:
Naxos American
UPC:
0730099902076
catalogNumber:
8669020-21
Rank:
222445

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Shining Brow, opera in 2 acts and a prologue  - Daron Hagen  -  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra  - JoAnn Falletta  - Paul Muldoon  - Robert Orth  - Brenda Harris  - Elaine Valby  - Elem Eley  - James Demler  - Gilda M. Lyons  - Gilda M. Lyons  - Rob Frankenberry  - Tony Barton  -  Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus  - Matthew Curran  - Deborah Fleischer  - Eric Fleischer  - Jennifer Lynn Reckamp  - L. Brett Scott

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