- Little Women, opera
"Little Women" [is] the American composer Mark Adamo's operatic adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's cherished 1868 novel... Mr. Adamo's music is the most appealing when it is simplest. A confiding aria that Meg (the dusky mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato) sings about the inevitable passages of time, "Things Change, Jo," is lovely, lyrically subdued with hazy and plaintive chromatic harmony. There are other admirable qualities. Mr. Adamo has a sure sense of how to structure scenes with trios and quartets for maximum effect. And he sets English idiomatically. You seldom needed the [libretto] to understand the words being sung.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amazing: a fresh, ardent, and passionate score makes the love among these four sisters equal to the passion of Tristan und Isolde, and the often-hilarious libretto doesn't miss a beat. Not since Stratas (though down a fifth) has there been as intense a singing actress as mezzo Stephanie Novacek (she sings the intense Jo, here) and Joyce Di Donato, as elder sister Meg, bids to be the von Stade of her generation. I saw this on TV and loved it, but listened to the record only doubtfully--how could it stand up to those beautiful visuals? Here's the news, kids: even the record breaks your heart. If this kinetic, precise, nakedly emotional music is what opera's doing these days, who needs the American musical?
It's hard to believe how good this is...Adamo scrapes the sugar off the old Alcott novel to uncover such aching emotion (as well as some peppery comedy) at its core, and the music is extraordinary: a kind of quicksilver dissonance frames melody after urgent melody, leading you through the piece. And such a cast! Stephanie Novacek is a firebrand Jo, Joyce Di Donato (a young Teresa Berganza) the pliant Meg: Chad Shelton sings a silvery, ardent Laurie, Dan Belcher an opulent and unstoppable Brooke, Katherine Ciesinski a velvety, viperous Aunt March, and Chen-Ye Yuan, a baritone of chocolaty richness, walks off with the second disk with his rendition of ''Kennst du das Land,'' which, with ''Things Change, Jo'' is bound to enter the great American aria canon. I loved this on TV, but was so absorbed in the acting and the story that the music sometimes flew by: on disk, you can hear more of the tasty orchestral harmony, and the web of themes that gradually tighten into a devastatingly beautiful finale. A wonderful, wonderful disk: buy!