Opera has long been a very effective vehicle for transferring classic literature into a poignant musical experience. Recent indelible examples include " McTeague " by William Bolcom, " Emmeline " by Tobias Picker, " A Streetcar Named Desire " by Andre Previn and " Willie Stark " (after "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren) by Carlisle Floyd. Immediately add to this list of "must see" contemporary operas, Nicholas Maw's opera "Sophie's Choice" , an opera inspired by William Styron's acclaimed novel. (Actually, Maw's initial inspiration resulted his rental of the film version with Merryl Streep!) Nicholas Maw was born in England in 1935 and just passed away in 2009. In the 1980s, he began dividing his time between Britain and the United States, becoming a longtime resident of the Washington, D.C., area. Maw's major compositions include an evening-long concert work called Odyssey , and a Violin Concerto written in 1993 for violinist Joshua Bell. He has also written two other operas, both comedies, called One-Man Show and The Rising of the Moon . Maw contacted the author himself and asked Styron if he might be interested in writing the opera's libretto. Styron declined, but suggested that the composer write the libretto himself -- and that's exactly what Maw did. The opera was eventually composed on a commission from the BBC and London's Royal Opera House, which presented the premiere in 2002. A recent release of the Royal Opera House production, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, is certainly well worth seeing at home with a nice sound system (Opus Arte DVD 1024)! Like most of Maw's later compositions, the language is tonal and the emotional impact is strong. The cast here is the same as that from its American premiere with the Washington National Opera and features Angelika Kirchschlager as Sophie, Rod Gilfry as Nathan Landau, and Gordon Gietz as Stingo. (Gilfry in particular has made a career on contemporary opera and excels at portraying a charismatic, brooding male who is inwardly quite troubled - see his Stanley Kowalksi in Previn's "Streetcar"!) In this opera setting, strong compliments also go to the always fascinating Dale Duesing who sings the narrator (an older Stingo) For any admirer of the movie or the original novel, who might be wondering, the opera truly lives up to the searing emotional impact of both, packing music and drama you won't soon forget. Sophie has an almost ironic predilection for the poetry of Emily Dickenson. The closing scene in which Stingo discovers that Sophie has died while reading Dickenson as the narrator answers the famous question about Auschwitz ("Where was God?.... Where was Man?") will almost certainly choke one up and did bring tears to my wife. Production values are top notch and this piece and this DVD are an essentail addition to any collection of operas written over the past thirty years by wonderful composers any where.