The opera Sophies Choice based on the book by William Styron is a powerful story. Maw's at times is conceives his score as movie music with an emphasis on getting the words across. The main fault of the opera is that the libretto by the composer , much of it taken from the book, is overly long. Most of the scenes in Acts 1 & 2 should be trimmed and some eliminated. The work gathers momentum as it proceeds through the 3rd act and the fourth act is overwhelming. The direction is brilliant , clear and to the point and the singing actors should delight anyone interested in opera as music theatre.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
An Important ContributionApril 14 2010
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Maw's Sophie's Choice is an important contribution to the history of modern opera. Terrific performances by the cast and expertly conducted by Simon Rattle. Maw's style is as individual as the story itself. At times, in the land of Berg and Wozzeck, or Britten and Peter Grimes or even Richard Strauss' grand romantic use of the orchestra, Maw's technical facility has never been more brilliantly exposed. Apparently, the person who wrote the review saying there was "no melody" doesn't have the foggiest idea of the powerful musical content in this work. Actually, there is over three hours of melody in the opera, one after the other, interwoven in an incredibly intricate fashion. Sometimes very complex, sometimes as simple as the profoundly beautiful Dickinson settings of "Because I Could Not Stop For Death"and "Ample Make This Bed". The libretto, written by Maw, comes directly from Styron's novel and much of the vocal writing alternates from a quasi "recitative" style (which dictates the pace of action) to incredibly lyrical, dramatic high points throughout the opera. This work is not for the musically timid and will take the average listener more than one hearing to begin to comprehend its content.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Moving literary adadptationMay 24 2010
Daniel R. Coombs
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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.
Brilliantly created but no way it could workOct. 31 2014
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Nicholas Maw, a relatively decent composer, set forth to tackle the most impossible of tasks- one certainly out of respect and love- and in 2002 he premiered his opera "Sophie's Choice" based on the 1978 novel by William Styron. To begin with Styron';s novel alone would have been enough. It's seductive and poisonous words lead us to what is, arguably the most shocking literary event since Shirley Jackson;s "The Lottery," Except with "Sophie's Choice" Styron left us numb. Wounded. Forever changed. Because it was truth. It happened, whether in his ffictional form or not the logic of statistics and the Nazi Empire tells us that "Sophie's Choice" as to have happened many times. That was enough. But in 1982, Alan Pakula, bravely set forth to create a film version which ust shouldn;t have cut it. Instead what we got was a miracle of film with the premier of genuis Kevin Kline and Poeter McNichol and one of the finest performances every captured on screen by anyone: Meryl Streep as Sophie. For most of America (who missed her Oscar winning performance in "Kramer vs Kramer") there was shock that this woman had a north east, almost undescipherable accent. We saw that first in "Sophie's Choice." Her flawless Polish. German with a Polish accent, rench with a Polish accent and, o course, English with a varying of Polish accent as the months pass between her first days in Brooklyn and her last.
It was in fact the film that first attracted Maw to this work, then the novel and then he sought out Styron himself in Vineyard Haven to ask him to write the libretto. Styron declined but suggested that Maw write himself. As we've seen rom both Wagner and Sondheim, this is ALWAYS most effective.
And Maw did a good job. The trouble is that in this particular case, far too much sincerity gets lost for the sake of recititive. We';ve now all seen the famous train station scene and in our minds it must be Meryl streep- there is no way to make this moetionally true when sung. Sondheim knew that with ":Sweeney Todd". Maw, sadly, is so entrenched with the 19th century form that he would not allow so much as weeping that wasn;t sung-even if sotte voce. And sadly, this destroys the entire passion of "Sophie's Choice."
The sadder element is that EVERYTHING about this production, filmed live at the royal Opera House by the BBC, is beautiful. The sets are spectacular. The orchestrations and conducting remarkable. The singers are top notch and in addition fine actors. Angelika Kirchschlager sings beautifully but not a soul in the world could (or should) put the character of Sophie Zawostowski to song. We never see a "real" moment fom this wounded character with PTWSD and, as is often the case with traditional Opera, the singing is more impoortant than the acting here; something that even Mozart made fun of- quite openly. Some of the melodies are very moving and Maw has the skill as a composer to write almost anything. but he writes too much. Mingus said, "More can be done with silence in music than all twelve pitches in an hour." Mingus was right.
This is a remarkable effort but sadly this is a story that simply shouldn't have been set to music- at least not by the traditional Maw. Perhaps Sondheim could have done it, as he doesn't fear to rely heavily on a librettist or book writer (Sondheim always writes his own lyrics even if he "steals" concepts from the book writer, and always with permission.) and has no compunction for including the spoken word. I strongly suspect that if Styron saw this, he cringed.
You will too unless for some reason you have just recently returned from exile and know nothing about this book or film. As such, your dissapointment won;t begin to gather steam until the end of the first act, of which, thankfully there are just two.
The very ending is poignant touching and moving. The only moment in which a lump came to my throat. Maw's brilliance is evident but again, the ending was likely the easiest part to write. From the scene in Act One where we first meet Sophie and Nathan and he is screaming obscenities at her and slapping her around we feel absolutely nothing of the orror that our prtogonist Stingo, is supposed to feel. And that;s because some material simply should be left alone.
Try it if you like. But I warned you.
Just not this.
Perhaps Piccini could have done it, though it';s dounbtful. Puccini was a master of simplicity, something that Maw tends to stray from.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Not my choiceApril 5 2010
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Here is another modern opera in which the music seems secondary. Think of three recent operas from the Royal Opera - 1984, Minator and now Sophie's Choice. First of all be aware that this is a work or Wagnerian proportions running at 3 hours and 24 minutes. Thankfully it is engaging enough so that the time doesn't seem so long. But I found myself looking at a great story in a great performance with rather mundane music. I found nothing memorable about the music here, and I am not against modern opera. Maw is tonal but there is scarcely anything to catch the ear in the whole work - just a couple recitations of Emily Dickenson have any kind of melody.
On the other hand as in the two other operas mentioned above the performances are truly awesome, especially Angelika Kirchschlager as Sophie. These are also extremely demanding roles. Sophie is on stage for most of the evening and Gilfrey and Duesing are not far behind. As theater this is a wonder. But I would never think of seeing it again. Here too the DVD is the best way to see it. For one thing 5 hours in an opera house is an endurance contest. Plus you would not see the subtle acting from a seat far from the stage. These are great singing actors. But they need something great to sing.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Not a Review but a questionSept. 5 2011
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Did anyone else have a problem playing this DVD? I tried to play it on 2 different (Samsung) blu-ray players and the picture was jerky and no sound. It played fine on my newphew's xbox. I did pick the "stereo" option. Maybe it was only me but it's something to be aware of.