Wednesday, February 14, 2007


My parents have already attended "The Glass Menagerie" at the Guthrie Theater, and they have recommended it to Joshua and me. They have told us that Harriet Harris creates a memorable Amanda Wingfield.

This past weekend my parents attended the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's opera, "The Grapes Of Wrath", at the Minnesota Opera. Several months ago, my parents asked Joshua and me if we wanted to attend that opera with them, and we declined.

I dislike Ricky Ian Gordon's music--he is simply not very talented, and there is no kinder way to put it--and I despise Steinbeck, and I especially despise "The Grapes Of Wrath", surely one of the worst novels ever written.

Josh is from Oklahoma and, like most Oklahoma natives, he finds the entire subject matter and treatment in "The Grapes Of Wrath" overwrought and insincere and agenda-driven.

My parents were surprised when Josh and I told them that an operatic version of "The Grapes Of Wrath" simply held no interest for us, and I think that they were slightly disappointed that we did not want to attend that opera.

However, now that my parents have seen and heard "The Grapes Of Wrath", they have informed Josh and me that, wisely, we missed a dog of a work.

Apparently the physical production was quite good, and the cast did fine work. However, the score, according to my father, was "pure claptrap". He said that "hundreds--no, thousands--of Americans must be able to write a better opera score".

My mother said that the music was "paper-thin" and that there were approximately 17 minutes of music stetched, with water, into a four-hour score.

My parents said that the only reason they were able to endure the entire four-hour performance was because the physical production was so fine.

I did point out to my parents that I had warned them that Ricky Ian Gordon's music was not any good--heaven knows, I have heard enough of it--and my father replied that "he must be the least talented composer on the planet".

No arguments from me on that point.


  1. Thanks for all the kind words.
    Ricky Ian Gordon

  2. Print This Article
    From Dust Bowl to Great American Opera
    By Wes Blomster
    February 16, 2007

    ST. PAUL, MI -- John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel “Grapes of Wrath,” a success as film and onstage, might seem too long, too complex and too freighted with despair for an opera. Indeed, when Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson first thought of such an adaptation, he toyed with the idea of staging it in several installments – a kind of American “Ring.”

    In fact, the work by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie that premiered at the Ordway Center here Feb. 10 is of monumental dimensions. With two intermissions it spans three acts and 33 scenes, runs over four hours and calls for 13 principal singers and 50 “featured roles” (as described in the program). Small wonder that Brian Leerhuber, Tom Joad in the cast, calls it “Verdi on steroids.”

    At the most, “GOW” might be the great American opera. At the least it is a decided triumph for Gordon, heretofore viewed widely as the heir to Stephen Sondheim. The score is song-based and many scenes flow easily one into the next. And although Gordon points to models in “Porgy and Bess,” “Street Scene” and Sondheim’s oeuvre, he goes beyond them in an idiom that is original and completely his.

    One recognizes, to be sure, art songs, musical comedy, jazz, traditional blues and references to the music of the time of the novel, but the composer assimilates these into an essentially contemporary style. “I want the opera to be a powerful evocation of Steinbeck’s story,” he writes in an essay, “a story about great flat distances, wide open spaces, vast silences filled with doubt, fear and hope, with pain and loss and ultimately with compassion and human kindness.”

    “GOW,” of epic sweep and mesmerizing grandeur, describes the Joad’s flight from Oklahoma to California in the depth of the Great Depression. Librettist Korie has stripped down Steinbeck’s 600 pages to a lean and singable text that retains the speech patterns of the Okies. Stage director and dramaturg Eric Simonson, a member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre for 20 years, actually appeared in Frank Galati’s stage version of “Grapes of Wrath,” playing eight minor roles in the London and Chicago productions. Set designer Allen Moyer sought inspiration in Walker Evans’ photographic documentation of the Depression. Framing the stage in a steel catwalk, he projects black and white stills and film clips on the back wall, adding impact to an already bleak atmosphere.

    The mammoth cast is without a weak link. Leerhuber -- free of references to Henry Fonda’s 1940 movie portrayal -- is a strong and sensitive Tom Joad, the son who hopes to help his mother -- mezzo Deanne Meek -- hold the family together. Tenor Roger Honeywell is lapsed preacher Jim Casy, and baritone Andrew Wilkowske is retarded son Noah, whose suicide by drowning is expanded from the novel to conclude Act Two.

    A gem of the score is baritone Robert Orth’s funereal “Little Dead Moses,” as Uncle John. He angrily -- but tenderly -- sets the still-born baby of downtrodden adolescent Rosasharn (Rose of Sharon) afloat on the river. Kelly Kaduce tops her many colleagues as Rosasharn: As in the novel, she offers her breast (something beyond Hollywood in 1940) to a starving man and then sings the concluding “One Star,” which “like a candle in a dust storm” will one day “fill the sky with silver sparkles.”

    Thus -- despite the darkness and overt tragedy of their story -- Gordon and Korie lower the curtain with hope.

    “GOW,” in sum, is not about the Okies; it is the Okies, these “tumbleweeds on the road to nowhere,” as Korie says, confronted head on. Their story is not told; it is lived out with compelling immediacy before the eyes of the audience, which makes the journey with them.
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    S; janemoss; Cookies:ON
    Show your lovely mother this. xxxooo Ricky

  3. Here is a poem that reminds me of people like you...

    "Lawrence" by Tony Hoagland

    On two occasions in the past twelve months,
    I have failed, when someone at a party
    spoke of him with a dismissive scorn,
    to stand up for D.H. Lawrence,

    a man who burned like an acetylene torch
    from one end to the other of his life.
    These individuals, whose relationship to literature
    is approximately that of a tree shredder

    to stands of old-growth forest,
    these people leaned back in their chairs,
    bellies full of dry white wine and the ova of some foreign fish,
    and casually dropped his name

    the way that pygmies with their little poison spears
    strut around the carcass of a fallen elephant.
    "O Elephant," they say,
    "you are not so big and brave today!"

    It's a bad day when people speak of their superiors
    with a contempt they haven't earned,
    and it's a sorry thing when certain other people

    don't defend the great dead ones
    who have opened up the world before them.
    And though, in the catalogue of my betrayals,
    this is a fairly minor entry,

    I resolve, if the occasion should recur,
    to uncheck my tongue and say, "I love the spectacle
    of maggots condescending to a corpse."
    or "You should be so lucky in your brainy, bloodless life

    as to deserve to lift
    just one of D.H.Lawrence's urine samples
    to your arid pychobiographic
    theory-tainted lips."

    Or maybe I'll just take the shortcut
    between the spirit and the flesh,
    and punch someone in the face,
    because human beings haven't come that far

    in their effort to subdue the body,
    and we still walk around like zombies
    in our dying, burning world,
    able to do little more

    than fight, and fuck, and crow:
    something Lawrence wrote about
    in such a manner
    as to make us seem magnificent.

  4. If there is anything worse than bad music, it is bad poetry.