Oscar – Review

[This review is based on mere snippets of the overall opera. The performance was part of the New Works Sampler at the 2012 Opera America Conference. Click here to find all of the works showcased at the conference or please find them at the end of this review.]

On to the third selection in the program – a co-comissioned piece by The Santa Fe Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia that “tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s last years, a period that began at the height of his fame and success and eventually ended in his death, in exile and destitution…” Composer Theodore Morrison and librettist John Cox have worked to portray Oscar, “a man of immense intellectual, artistic and personal heroism who offers us an irresistible model for understanding our own potential for courage in the face of prejudice and hatred.”

Oscar is portrayed by countertenor Randall Scotting.  Scotting has a luscious countertenor sound with all of the depth and clarity most lack while singing in the stratospheric ranges of the male voice. Several audience members thought it an interesting choice to make Oscar a countertenor and I was included among them until about halfway through the presentation. I began to consider the breadth of Wilde’s imagination, wit and lifestyle.  Albeit, I am no Oscar Wilde expert, but I know enough about his work to understand the choice. If we consider Oscar to be a cross between Voltaire, Elton John, Shakespeare, Harvey Milk, Woody Allen and a bit of Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage I think we’d all conclude that the only rational voice would be high-flying vocal acrobatics of the countertenor (the character tenor coming in a close second). It just works.

Although I’m unaware of the overall style of composition, the scene presented (Act I, sc. ii) is through-composed gliding seamlessly through Oscar’s dialogue with his friend, Ada Leverson. In their conversation, Wilde describes his infatuation with Absinthe – and boy oh boy, does he go on and on about Absinthe! The orchestration of Oscar is going to be one of the best aspects. It appears to be a potpourri of different genres like classical, jazz, post-modern and Viennese.  The waltz that Oscar indulges in with his young lover at the end of the scene is fantastic! Morrison has put a modern twist on the waltz keeping the driving oom-pa-pa pulse, but utilizing different rhythms on the weak beats and sometimes omitting the strong downbeat altogether. Morrison has created a very broken, dark and aggressive waltz form that borders semi-sadistic.  For me, this gives new meaning to one of Oscar’s most beloved quotes, “anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”

More Reviews from the New Works Sampler

Cecilio Valdés, King of Havana

The ultra-suave stylings of the first number were alluring and sexy… Read More »

Oceanic Verses

Beth Morrison Projects has been getting some seriously cool press as of late and I couldn’t help but be quite anxious to receive one of her new projects… Read More »

La Reina

Stealing the show was American Lyric Theater’s (ALT) new project, La Reina, by Jorge Sosa and screenwriter Laura Sosa… Read More »


Love/Hate is a comical fantasia that seeks to expose love’s “old paradox for a new era” by wildly portraying all stereotypical situations of relationships and enacting them simultaneously among four key characters… Read More »

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