Deems Taylor: Peter Ibbetson

Deems Taylor: Peter Ibbetson

5.0 1
by Gerard Schwarz

Deems Taylor, the renowned music critic for the New York Times, was the first composer approached by Giulio Gatti-Casazza (the manager of the Metropolitan Opera) in the late '20s, at the start of a veritable flurry of commissions of works by American composers that continued for about a decade, and also resulted in Met premieres by Howard Hanson and Louis Gruenberg.…  See more details below


Deems Taylor, the renowned music critic for the New York Times, was the first composer approached by Giulio Gatti-Casazza (the manager of the Metropolitan Opera) in the late '20s, at the start of a veritable flurry of commissions of works by American composers that continued for about a decade, and also resulted in Met premieres by Howard Hanson and Louis Gruenberg. Taylor's first work, "The King's Henchman" (1927), was such a success that he was commissioned to write a second opera, for which he selected Peter Ibbetson, a novel by George Du Maurier, as his source. The opera, which featured Lawrence Tibbett, Lucrezia Bori, Edward Johnson, and Marion Telva at its 1931 premiere, was also well received, and for over half a century held the record of having more performances at the Met than any other American opera. Taylor, who served as his own librettist, created an opera that is deeply moving and has genuine dramatic power, with an ending that's achingly poignant. It's skillfully and ingeniously constructed, as well as being innovative in its extensive use of dream sequences, and in having the scenes set in Britain sing in English, and the scenes set in France sung in French. The music is thoroughly post-Romantic, with influences of Debussy, Massenet, and most prominently, Wagner, evident throughout. There is little in the opera that could mark it as an American work, except for its stylistic resemblance to American film scores of the era. It's intriguing, though, how many subsequent American operas in a conservative idiom, by composers such as Hoiby and Pasatieri, even though written generations later, inhabit virtually the same harmonic and idiomatic universe as Taylor's opera. Naxos is to be commended for making this historically significant work available to modern audiences. Based on a series of 1999 concert performances by the Seattle Symphony and Chorale, led by Gerard Schwarz, the recording features the superb Lauren Flanigan and Anthony Dean Griffey, both of whom have distinguished careers in new American operas. The entire large cast is excellent, and Richard Zeller and Lori Summers shine in the other two lead roles. The orchestra and chorale perform with commitment and polish. Naxos has already released a very fine recording of Hanson's "Merry Mount," with Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony and some of the same principals; one hopes that in the future they will tackle "The King's Henchman" and Gruenberg's "The Emperor Jones," works that should be of considerable interest, based on the tantalizing excerpts Lawrence Tibbett recorded for RCA after their premieres.

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Naxos American

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  1. Peter Ibbetson, opera, Op. 20  - Deems Taylor  - Deems Taylor  - Lauren Flanigan  - Anthony Dean Griffey  - Abraham Kaplan  - Odilon Redon  - Gerard Schwarz  - Paul Schwendener  -  Seattle Symphony Chorale  -  Seattle Symphony Orchestra  - Richard Zeller  - Charles Austin  - Eric Stark  - Gene Buchholz  - Paul Gudas  - Barry Johnson  - Thomas Philion  - Constance Collier  - Carolyn Gronlund  - Emily Lunde  - John Obourn  - Terri Richtor  - Lori Summers

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Deems Taylor: Peter Ibbetson 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ProfessorJF More than 1 year ago
A MAJOR 20th CENTURY AMERICAN OPERA - THE GAP FINALLY FILLED Review by Jerry Fink Deems Taylor was a major American music critic and composer best remembered for two operas, The King's Henchman and Peter Ibbetson ; and, his "live" appearance in the Disney feature film Fantasia . Peter Ibbetson has been considered one of the signature operas of the American "traditionalist" school of the 1920's and 30's. The work was commissioned by Gatti-Casazza for the Metropolitan Opera and premiered February 1931. It was a box-office success and ran between 1931 and 1936 giving the Met a needed financial "shot in the arm" in the bowels of the Depression. The plot of the opera was taken from George Du Maurier's novel of the same name. The timeline of the story is roughly a thirty year period between 1855 and 1887. The action takes place in both England and France with most of the French scenes sung in French and the English scenes sung in English. Peter and Mary are the adult counterparts of two children ( Gogo and Mimsey ) who grew up as children in France as very good and trusted friends . As the plot continues, their adult relationship with each other becomes more defined and, of course, more complicated. Since Mary is married, Peter will not be able to fulfill his desire for a complete relationship with the woman he loves. His relationship with his Uncle has been and continues to be unbearable. When Peter finds out that his Uncle has told others that he is really Peter's father, Peter's anger culminates in killing his Uncle. Peter ends up in prison, with his death sentence commuted to life in prison. Peter's only solace in life is reflected in two large dream scenes (one each in acts two and three). His love for Mary can only be totally fulfilled when he dreams "true". Thirty years pass. Peter is informed by his old and dear friend Mrs. Deane that Mary has passed away. As Peter lies dying, Mary appears as a spirit beckoning Peter to come with her. He dies and the opera ends with a chorus greeting a new and more beautiful day. The sound of Taylor's music is quite beautiful throughout. The orchestra is the main protagonist and plays continuously. The vocal writing is mainly declamatory with a few important arias and ensembles sprinkled appropriately throughout the work. Wagner, Massenet, Debussy, R. Strauss, Delius, and even Henry Hadley can be heard here, but in the end this is the work of an American independent musical voice. To me, the best music is found in the two dream sequences. The singers are all up to the task and I couldn't hear any glaring mistakes throughout the performance(s) of April 29th and May 1st, 1999. Anthony Dean Griffey as Peter and Lori Summers as Mrs. Deane stand out for me as giving the best performances. Gerard Schwarz obviously loves this music and prepared these performances extremely well. His knowledge of the musical idiom is flawless and the orchestra and chorus are superb. The sound is excellent for a live pick up and audience noise is minimal. The liner notes and synopsis are splendidly written by James Pegolotti. The artist bios are comprehensive. The complete libretto is available from the Naxos website with the French translations in red.