■ Opera on the High Line: steps along David Lang’s ‘The Mile-Long Opera’
contact with the passers-by. It wasn’t opera in any normal sense but it was musical, it was theatrical and it was pretty wonderful. The whole thing must have cost its many sponsors a fortune. Tickets were free but admittance was limited. The curious can see it via a lovely interactive video at milelongopera.com but they’ll miss the clear and cool early October autumn ambiance we were fortunate enough to experience.
Anna Christie was a play by the young Eugene O’Neill (1921) that became Greta Garbo’s first talking motion picture in 1930 and has been frequently and successfully revived on stage in New York and London. Now it has become an opera, given its premiere at the baruch performing arts center by the encompass new opera theatre (seen on October 11). Its composer, Edward Thomas, had just turned 94; the librettist, Joseph Masteroff, died very recently at 98.
Masteroff was active on Broadway; he wrote the dialogue for the musical Cabaret. Thomas has had a below-the-radar operatic career (his Desire Under the Elms, based on another O’Neill play, had its premiere in Connecticut in 1978), but has worked regularly for commercials, film and television, and as a composer-producer for singers, some classical (Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price).
Masteroff’s libretto seemed faithful to O’Neill’s plot in which Anna appears on her father’s East Coast coal barge after her mother’s death, the father having gone off to sea when she was five; she has had to prostitute herself in order to survive. Thomas’s music sounded blandly conservative, but it didn’t get in the way of the drama. What redeemed the evening was the production by Nancy Rhodes, who founded this company back in 1976, with simple but effective period-realistic sets and costumes by Charles Wittreich and Angela Huff. Rhodes enlisted Julian Wachner, an in-demand local conductor, who led
Opera, December 2018