Robert Livingston Aldridge’s ELMER GANTRY and some other American Operas on CD and DVD by Corliss Phillabaum ROBERT LIVINGSTON ALDRIDGE: ELMER GANTRY Boggs: Phares, Risley, Rideout, Kelley, Buck (Florentine Opera, 2010) (Naxos) (2:21:38) This live recording of Elmer Gantry derives from the highly successful 2010 Florentine Opera production and features four members of the Nashville Opera world premiere, Keith Phares in the title role, Vale Rideout as Frank Shallard, Frank Kelley as Eddie Fislinger, and conductor William Boggs. The recording was the first commercially issued Florentine Opera production and won two Grammy Awards. The recording presents this richly dramatic opera vividly. The recording balance is excellent. The fine playing of the Milwaukee Symphony is strongly present while still letting the singers’ voices come through clearly–a balance, which also reflects the composer’s skillful scoring. The cast is excellent with Keith Phares a commanding presence in the title role, which he sings with a beautifully focused baritone while projecting the text clearly. Soprano Patricia Risley captures the visionary quality of Sharon Falconer and rises to the challenge of the final scene. Tenor Frank Kelley is a colorful Eddie Fislinger and tenor Vale Rideout is effective as Frank Shallard, although he is somewhat stretched vocally by the demanding aria which ends Act One. The album is well-produced with excellent notes and a full libretto, although as is common today, the typeface is tiny. Highly recommended. ALSO BY THE CREATORS OF ELMER GANTRY PARABLES, AN INTERFAITH ORATORIO Romey: Yunus, Zaballa, Okell, Zawisza (University of Minnesota, 2012) (Naxos) (:51:23) Although Parables was originally written for concert performance, this DVD presents a staged version produced by forces from the University of Minnesota with the active cooperation of composer Robert Livingston Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein. Written for four soloists, large chorus and orchestra, Parables explores elements of commonality among three monotheistic traditions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as elements which stand in the way of a reconciliation among them. Sections of the work address concerns common to all humanity while the major sections focus on parables which all share to some degree. Other passages highlight the hostilities among the three traditions, which grow out of embedded doctrines, particularly the basic premise of each that it is the only true faith. In this staged version the orchestral and choral forces surround the stage area on risers and the large orchestra is in the pit. The soloists, each of whom is a spokesperson for one of the traditions, appear on high pulpits on the periphery and occasionally move into the open central space used by the dancers. A variety of projected images appear at the rear. The choreography expresses the general content of the material and also presents the action of each parable, joined at times by the soloists. The parables, particularly Job and Ibrahim and Ismail/Abraham and Isaac, present some of the most extreme demands of their traditions . Interjections from the soloists frequently challenge the ideas being presented. In the end no solution is offered but a challenge is issued: “Faith must be stripped of triumph. Belief must not defeat belief. When faith is stripped of triumph We will hear the God of Others speak.” In the final ensemble all the forces join in an open-ended acknowledgment that: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard What waits for us Since the beginning of time Lord For no eye has seen What waits for us What waits.” Librettist Herschel Garfein has drawn his texts from writings of all three traditions, and they are delivered both in English and in the original languages. As in Elmer Gantry, Robert Aldridge’s music is dramatic and powerful and makes full use of the capabilities of his large forces. The professional soloists sing expressively and the augmented University of Minnesota chorus not only sings with rich tone and fine diction, but performs the entire complex multilingual choral part from memory–very impressive! The orchestra under Kathy Saltzman Romey is equally fine and the good sound and vivid video presentation do full justice to an impressive and challenging work. SOME OTHER AMERICAN OPERAS ON DVD In conjunction with the original Florentine Opera production of Elmer Gantry I reviewed recordings of several other American operas, which are also based on novels. My updated discussions of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Adamo’s Little Women, and Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath are available at www.florentineopera.org, as are my discussions of recordings of the operas of Carlisle Floyd, whose Wuthering Heights was presented by Florentine Opera in January. Elmer Gantry features two central characters, who are, for better or worse, charismatic, as have numerous operas throughout the history of the form. My comments on DVD versions of three such American operas are available in the full-length version of this article on the Florentine website. The operas discussed there are Doctor Atomic by John Adams, Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie and Lizzie Borden by Jack Beeson.