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Gramophone’s guide to the classical scene in the US and Canada Sounds of America

Reviews Amid much contemporary music, even Colonna is dragged into the present » The Scene Live highlights – page VII

Ash The Golden Ticket Benjamin P Wenzelberg treb ����������������������������������� Charlie Daniel Okulitch bass-bar ���������������������������������� Willy Wonka Kristin Clayton sop ��������Grandma Georgina/Mrs Gloop Jamie Barton mez ����� Grandma Josephine/Mrs Teavee Keith Jameson ten ������������������������������������������� Grandpa Joe Jason Hardy bass������� Grandpa George/Mr Beauregard Gerald Thompson counterten������������������������ Mike Teavee Krista Costin mez �������� Candy Mallow/Squirrelmistress Abigail Nims mez������������������������������������������������� Veruca Salt David Kravitz bar������������������������������������������������������ Lord Salt Ashley Emerson sop����������������������������� Violet Beauregard Andrew Drost ten ���������������������������������������Augustus Gloop Atlanta Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Peter Ash Albany F b TROY1381/2 (118’ • DDD) Recorded live, March 2012

Ash and Sturrock’s Roald Dahl opera recorded live in Atlanta More than a few works by the British novelist Roald Dahl have provided bountiful fodder for stage and screen adaptations. They include two film versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a forthcoming West End musical based on the same source starring Douglas Hodge as the eccentric candy maker Willy Wonka.

Charlie and company can also be found at the centre of an enchanting opera, The Golden Ticket, an American Lyric Theater commission that’s been performed by both Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Atlanta Opera. The 2012 Atlanta incarnation is captured live on this delightful set featuring a sweet-toned youngster, Benjamin P Wenzelberg, as Charlie and the superb bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Willy.

In their adroit transformation of Dahl’s book, composer Peter Ash and librettist Donald Sturrock have reduced, caramelised and transformed the tale of a good boy realising his dream into an uproarious and endearing operatic adventure. Ash’s score brims with tuneful and contemporary ingredients, as well as deft nods to Wagner, Britten, Bernstein and others.

The American-born composer has enormous fun with the grandparents, who at one point perform a snoring chorus, and ties things together towards the end with a jaunty Falstaff-like fugue. The only youthful character sung by an actual child is Charlie. The remaining urchins, all naughty, are cheekily assigned to adults according to voice type talks to... Peter Ash The composer on his new opera, The Golden Ticket Why did you see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory working as an opera rather than a musical? I read the book as a child, I’ve worked with the Roald Dahl Estate and conducted lots of commissions, so I knew what was already out there. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the great modern myths and bears lots of different treatments. What we’ve done is just another treatment of it. But to me, opera is the greatest art form. Some people have said this is a musical but what makes it an opera to me is that it celebrates the prodigious qualities of the human voice.

How did you define the characters? It was a gift, the way it all fell into place. Charlie is the only ‘real’ person in the piece, so he had to be played by a real child. Violet Beauregard had to be a gum-chewing coloratura soprano and Veruca Salt – my favourite character – had to be a sassy mezzo. Mike Teavee is a slightly underdeveloped, video-game-obsessed,

(coloratura soprano, tenor, countertenor, mezzo), providing telling contrasts of personality.

The Atlanta performance does a dandy job of accentuating the opera’s strengths, though seeing the production via DVD likely would reveal even more. The cast is uniformly excellent and the orchestra of two dozen players brings vivacious detailing and colour to the score under the composer’s incisive baton. Just how well the work functions can be discerned by the reactions of the audience, who guffaw at the clever wordplay and devour every morsel of this affecting operatic candy. Donald Rosenberg

JS Bach The Art of Fugue, BWV1080 Andrew Rangell pf Steinway & Sons F 30012 (74’ • DDD)

stuttering Baroque countertenor and Augustus Gloop is the stereotypical fat tenor.

How did you characterise Charlie? The drawback in having a child play the part is that I was against amplifying anyone, but we had to amplify Benjamin [P Wenzelberg] moderately, and it worked. The problem with Charlie as a character is that, when you read the book, you become Charlie – just as when you read Matilda, you become Matilda – but the danger is that, on stage, he becomes, in Roald Dahl’s words, ‘a boring little bugger’. I wanted to humanise him but not make him sentimental. He has one set piece, an aria over the top of his grandparents’ ‘snoring quartet’; and, unlike the other characters, he doesn’t sing about what he wants but instead wonders what his grandparents are feeling. He has his own interior world and in this way he becomes more human.

Rangell resumes his Bach voyage with the unfinished BWV1080 Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV1080, remains among the most prodigious models of composition in the entire history of music. But if, intellectually speaking, it looms like some formidable mountain peak and if, as Andrew Rangell puts it in his memorable accompanying essay, ‘the language is austere, the tone serious’, its chief wonder is surely its capacity ‘to blend instruction with delight’. Scholarly achievement and imaginative volition combine in music that is as moving as it is daunting. More pragmatically, Die Kunst der Fuge consists of 14 fugues and four canons deriving from the opening fugue, all encompassed within the single key of D minor.


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