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Set just before World War I, Sinclair Lewis' incendiary novel Elmer Gantry tells a story of old-time religion, illicit romance and revenge. Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein' operatic adaptation is a 'marvelous amalgam of toe-tapping accessibility' fu

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Keith Phares (Elmer Gantry) - Patricia Risley (Sharon Falconer) - Vale Rideout (Frank Shallard) - Frank Kelley (Eddie Fislinger) - Heather Buck (Lulu Baines) - Florentine Opera Ch. - Florentine Opera Company - Milwaukee Symph. Orch. - William Boggs, dir.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very "American" opera a welcome addition! Aug. 15 2011
Format:Audio CD
The Christian "revivalist" movement and the history of the many people who have entered the realm of non-denomational ministry both for sincere and some insincere reasons is an important part of the American fabric. Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel "Elmer Gantry" represented this world and its archetypal protagonist in a classic way. American composer Robert Aldridge developed "Elmer Gantry" into this wonderful opera, written in 2007 and it captures the spirit of both the novel and the time period beautifully. Based on a taut but captivating libretto by Herschel Garfein, the opera is dramatically interesting and Aldridge's music is tuneful, compelling and quite nearly serves as an almost "crossover" work between the worlds of music theatre and 'grand opera' It reminded me in the best possible ways of some of the works of Carlise Floyd and a little Lee Hoiby, yet Robert Aldridge's voice is his own and very enjoyable to listen to. The storyline involving the title character's assimilation into Christian ministry as both a spiritual as well as financial venture is adhered to well. His own motivation is tested by Reverand Sharon Falconer (sung superbly by Patricia Risley) and, as in the original story, Gantry turns out to be a "survivor" (literally) but one of questionable character. Elmer Gantry is also very well portrayed by Keith Phares and the combined forces of the Milwaukee Symphony and the Florentine Opera perform brilliantly under the baton of William Boggs. Robert Aldridge is a very skilled composer and well worth getting to know (I am familiar with his also wonderful "Clarinet Concerto") His music is dramatic, enjoyable and orchestrated quite well. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New American Opera Aug. 17 2011
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I was attracted at first to this new Naxos "American Opera Classics" CD because it is performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Milwaukee's opera company, the Florentine Opera. These are venerable organizations to me because they gave me my first live exposure to symphonic and operatic music as a child in Milwaukee more than a half century ago. Probably more importantly, I wanted to hear a new American opera based upon a well-known, if not classic work of American literature. Based on Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel of the same name, "Elmer Gantry" is an opera with music by Robert Aldridge and a Libretto by Herschel Garfein that received its premiere from the Nashville Opera in 2007. The recording here is of another "heartland" performance. It is of March, 2010 live performances in Milwaukee at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts which did not exist at the time I lived in the city. The renowned singers in the cast include Keith Phares as Elmer Gantry and Patricia Risley as Sharon Falconer.

Many operas succeed almost in spite of a weak libretto, but "Elmer Gantry" is an exception. Lewis' novel tends to wander and to use one-dimensional sterotyped characters. The opera is the product of endless revisions and rewritings. Garfein has written a tight, impressive text which drives the action forward and adds strong elements of complexity to the novel. Characters are developed, and the work shows substantial sympathy with the forces underlying evangelical religion as well as with one of the characters, the woman evangelist, Sharon Falconer. The libretto and the story line are integral to this opera.

Aldridge's score has a distinctly varied American tone. It is replete with gospel singing, marches, dances, small town scenes, soliloquies, and ensemble pieces. The strongest influences on the work appear to be Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess", and the Americana music of Copland, particularly his opera "The Tender Land." The traditional hymn "What a Friend we have in Jesus" appears in a key scene and there are echoes of other gospel works; but the score and the text are original. I found that the most effective sections musically were the choral numbers, especially the gospel-inflected sections, and the soliloquies in which the primary characters show their inntermost thoughts. Sharon Falconer. Gantry's friend Frank, sung by Vale Rideout, and Eddie, sung by Frank Kelly. and even Gantry himself have long soliloquies that reveal their characters and move the action forward. The opera includes some effective moments for quartet as well. The cataclysmic scene at the end of the opera works as a drama rather than only because of the quality of the music.

The opera tells the story of Elmer Gantry, an unscrupulous hypocrite who breaks the heart of at least two women and who brazenly casts himself as an evangelist and a minister of the gospel in pursuit only of the main chance and of selfish ends. The opera captures Gantry's evil while managing to offer a more sympathetic portrayal of the rural American heartland in the early 20th century. The story is set in Kansas and Missouri.

The performance on the CD is radiant, committed and lively. It presents the work well. The recording includes a complete text of Garfein's libretto together with excellent liner notes on the opera itself and on Lewis' novel. The booklet also includes a timeline on the history of American revivialism which is useful for placing "Elmer Gantry", opera and novel, in context.

I was glad to be reminded of art in my old hometown. But I was even happier to get to know this opera which is an expression of American creativity and an artistic look at an important part of the American experience.

Total Time: 2:21:38

Robin Friedman
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning New American Opera! Jan. 8 2012
By Steven Muni - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
The January, 2012, issue of Opera News lists this as one of the top 10 opera recordings of 2011, and goes on to give just a glowing review of both the recording and the opera itself. This opera, by American composer Robert Aldridge, took 17 years from inception to its first performance in Nashville, Tennessee in 2005. Aldridge and his librettist, Herschel Garfein, have created a masterwork that stands in the front rank of American operas.

Based on Sinclair Lewis' novel Elmer Gantry, about a hypocritical Fundamentalist preacher, the opera is presented as a series of vignettes spanning a dozen years, from Gantry's decision to fake a religious conversion in order to take advantage of a free scholarship to Bible college (plus he was sleeping with the college president's daughter) to the tragic fire destroying his flashy new "tabernacle" and killing his love interest, fellow evangelist preacher Sharon Falconer (not-so-loosely based on Aimee Semple MacPherson.)

Aldridge and Garfein's Elmer Gantry is a more likeable rogue and hypocrite than was Lewis' original, and this recording of a live performance in 2007 by the Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is anchored by the bravura singing of young American baritone Keith Phares who gives a riveting performance in the title role, both dramatically and musically. As Sharon Falconer, a role originally written for the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano Patricia Risely sings spectacularly with sumptuous tone and great expressiveness. And as Eddie Fislinger, Gantry's bitter rival who sees through his hypocrisy, tenor Frank Kelly does a show-stopping Act I closing number with incredible virtuosity, a "laughing" aria demonstrating that Gantry's behavior, his success, his outright theft of one of Eddie's sermons and Gantry's seduction of his wife have rendered him virtually insane. The rest of the large cast is also first-class.

The Florentine Opera Chorus and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform brilliantly under conductor William Boggs. The score is incredibly tuneful, dramatic, and compelling. There are great gospel choral numbers, quartets, small groups--you name it. After listening to it the first time, I immediately sat down and listened to it all over again. It is amazing (and disheartening) that it took so long for the opera to be performed. Kudos to Nashville Opera and the Florentine Opera Company for giving this American classic its long overdue debut. (Major American opera companies--are you taking notice?!?)

Run, do not walk, to add this opera to your listening repertoire.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine document of a remarkable work Aug. 3 2011
By MCH_DoHo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
From the opening bars, Elmer Gantry grips you by the throat,
and the excitement and musical invention don't let up.
Aldridge's music is muscular and splendidly orchestrated,
and Garfein's libretto is by turns witty and moving. The
combination is first rate.

Exceptional moments include Frank's moving prayer, Eddie's
"laughing" aria, the Pequot Farm Instrument aria,
and the great octet with chorus.

Keith Phares sings with real dramatic impact in a complex role.

This is an excellent addition to the catalog and should be
in every opera lover's collection.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Music; Fine performances Aug. 2 2011
By R. Gawlitta - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
It may be inappropriate for me to cmmment, since I was a chorister on this recording of the live performance. As such, I had an inside appreciation of the intricacies of Aldridge's magnificent score. It's a very visual piece, that is better seen than listened to, and it's immense theatricality is diminished on this recording.The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is nothing less than perfect, with complete care to the complexities of the score, thanks to Mstro Boggs. Quite often the power of the orchestra overpowered the vocals, but the lead performers had focus and power to overcome that. Keith Phares, as Gantry, is the definitve realization of this most enigmatic charcter. Clear diction and strong voice, not to mention lady-killer looks, no one could be better. His acting is solid, with conviction. Patricia Risley is equally powerful, a forceful mezzo, as Sharon, the evangelist that Gantry tries so hard to impress. Excellent, perfect performances from Frank Kelley, Vale Rideout and Heather Buck add to the excitement of the very complex score. As I said, it's a very visual piece, and I'm sad that the fine, intuitive staging of stage director, John Hoomes, can only be appreciated through the energetic performances on this CD. So very proud to be a part of this recording.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ELMER GANTRY: From Novel To Film To The Opera Stage Dec 28 2011
By Erik North - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Many things have defined America throughout its history, and religion, as it so is throughout mankind, is no different. This is what writer Sinclair Lewis explored in his classic 1926 novel about religion, and its somewhat corrupting influence, "Elmer Gantry." In 1960, writer/director Richard Brooks made that novel into a very powerful film in which Burt Lancaster gave a hellfire performance in the title role that won him his Oscar for Best Actor that year. And forty-seven years later, in 2007, contemporary classical composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein turned Lewis' book into a great American opera of the 21st century.

Featuring Keith Phares in the titular role that Lancaster essayed on screen more than half a century ago, and produced with the participation of Milwaukee's Florentine Opera Company, this superb two-and-a-half hour slice of early 20th century Americana from Aldridge and Garfein is given excellent recording sound by the engineers at Naxos, who have given classical music listeners top-notch recordings at very reasonable prices. Even more significant, however, is the opera and performance of it in question, with William Boggs conducting the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the recording being made in March 2010. All-American influences of every kind, from white and black gospel music to the influences of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin, encompass "Elmer Gantry", while still making it a timely meditation on religion in America, both past and present, and how one man can preach the Gospel up to the hilt while repeatedly failing to live up to such lofty ideas (the most recent examples of Elmer Gantry types being Jimmy Swaggart, the late Jerry Falwell, and Ralph Reed).

I would rank this as not only one of the best recordings of any kind for 2011, but also as a pre-eminent American opera of this century and millennium. Highly recommended.
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