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5.0 out of 5 stars An unjustly neglected masterpiece
Forget what everyone says about this work: it is not a musical, a "folk opera" or a "ragtime opera", it is a full-blown romantic opera, pure and simple. Like Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" it has been mis-classified for years; unlike "Porgy", however, it has not met with the former's unmitigated success on stage or in the opera...
Published on Aug. 4 2003 by Charles Richards

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2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this, but ...
I love Scott Joplin's music, and have always been deeply moved by the story of his tragic life, especially his final descent into insanity. I was excited by the thought of this recording, and badly wanted to like it. So why don't I?
1. The libretto is really dreadful. This is by the composer, so he has no one else to blame. What's wrong with it? Not only is it...
Published on May 4 2004 by Paul A. Gerard


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2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this, but ..., May 4 2004
By 
Paul A. Gerard (Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
I love Scott Joplin's music, and have always been deeply moved by the story of his tragic life, especially his final descent into insanity. I was excited by the thought of this recording, and badly wanted to like it. So why don't I?
1. The libretto is really dreadful. This is by the composer, so he has no one else to blame. What's wrong with it? Not only is it stilted and false (as Joplin's music NEVER is) not only is the storyline puerile, but there is a strong streak of patronising condecension from the comparitively successful, educated, middle class Joplin towards "ignorant" and "superstitious" working class blacks. I find this particularly inexcusable in Joplin's case, even considered in the light of the times.
2. Generally the whole work shows poor to non-existent stagecraft. For instance, the plot is largely driven by long extended semi-recitative narrative numbers. These drag unbearably when listened to on a recording, although they may work better in a theatre I can see an audience getting lost there, too. Of course if Joplin had received a more sympathetic hearing from the highly prejudiced musical establishment of his day, and had a chance for a proper rehearsal process, he would probably have fixed a lot of this - to be fair he had little or no theatrical experience - but then we have to assess the work as we have it, rather than what might have been.
3. Finally, while the music certainly has its moments - even at its best there is little of the joyous spirit of the great rags. Joplin seems to have been over-intent on producing "serious" music, to the extent of suppressing the best of his own genius.
I am STILL glad I bought this recording - if only because it is such an important historical document. I just wish I really enjoyed listening to it. Perhaps it will grow on me - certainly I will have to give it a chance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unjustly neglected masterpiece, Aug. 4 2003
By 
Charles Richards (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
Forget what everyone says about this work: it is not a musical, a "folk opera" or a "ragtime opera", it is a full-blown romantic opera, pure and simple. Like Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" it has been mis-classified for years; unlike "Porgy", however, it has not met with the former's unmitigated success on stage or in the opera house.
Joplin's score languished for years: due mainly to the fact of his early, tragic death, and the fact that the world (or at least the U.S.) was not ready for a grand opera written by an African-American, particularly an African-American composer of "lowly" rag-time music. Certainly, some other composers of African descent had achieved some status by this time, but mostly in Europe (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor comes to mind, his oratorio "Hiawatha" was a concert favorite for years), and I think it was mostly prejudice that kept Joplin's score from being heard.
Luckily, the amazing Joplin revival in the early 70's (in no small part due to its use in the film "The Sting") enabled us to hear his final masterpiece at last, albeit without his original orchestration, which has been lost. Although it caused a brief stir and engendered a complete recording and a TV telecast (which was available for a time on VHS), we've heard little of it since.
And this is altogether puzzling, as the music is some of the most magnificent and appealing ever to be written for the operatic stage. True, it's not forward-looking (much of it hearkens back to Weber and Bellini) and the libretto is not a literary masterpiece (but few are). However, it shows signs of genius that are hard to ignore: Monisha's opening aria, the duet for Monisha and Ned in the third act; and, in particular, the choral writing -- "We Want You to be Our Leader" is nothing short of breathtaking in its complexity and beauty.
There are also plenty of delightful lighter passages as well, full of the magic of Joplin's piano compositions; in fact, the mixture of light and heavier music in the score is perfectly constructed.
But, despite its successful debut in the 70's, the work has never taken hold in the operatic repertoire. Some see it merely as a curiosity; in an artical in the LA times a number of years ago which dealt with operatic works by African-Americans, it was labeled as nothing more than an "entertainment". This is unjust in the extreme. Anyone listening to this work who can remain unmoved and/or uplifted by it must have a heart of stone or a massive chip on their shoulder.
This recording remains, alas, the only complete one to date, and it is simply wonderful, a fantastic record of a lovingly felt undertaking. The cast is perfect, with Balthrop, Allen and White being the standouts, and Schuller's conducting of his re-constructed orchestrations shows his love for and complete understanding of this score. I only say alas because this is a score that's worthy of new interpretation; this only may happen once the work is (finally) taken seriously as the first great American opera. Hopefully this day will eventually come.
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5.0 out of 5 stars GREATEST AMERICAN COMPOSER, July 4 2003
By 
Dr. Socrates (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
This is how I first heard this recording of Treemonisha: In 1978, when I was teaching English in Caracas, Venezuela, I turned the radio on and an opera was playing. I am no opera fan, but after a mere few seconds of listening, I ran to get my tape recorder and recorded the whole thing, not having any idea what it was. I listened in amazement, wondering and wondering what this MIRACLE was. I had never heard anything remotely like it. I am very well versed in music, have written thousands of tunes myself. I know the great composers inside out. Who could this giant be? The only composer that came to mind was Victor Herbert, because I had never heard his music (and he looked distinguished). I couldn't wait for the opera to end, even as I wanted it to go one forever. Finally, I hear the name Scott Joplin, unfamiliar to me. For the next year I listen to this recording about a hundred times, and say to myself, this is the greatest American opera, more impressive than "Porgy and Bess", far more sincere, authentic, charming. It makes most other music sound contrived and overly clever.
Next year, I'm in Los Angeles, and the first thing I do is run to the library to find out who this Scott Joplin is. I found records of his piano rags, and of Treemonisha. The piano music is just as breathtaking. And all this greatness from a humble saloon pianist and a "Negro"! I was in awe. I proclaimed him the greatest American composer, period.
If Gilbert and Sullivan had written Treeminisha, wouldn't it be considered the magnum opus? I think so! Scott Jopin's entire work belongs in every house.
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5.0 out of 5 stars GREATEST AMERICAN COMPOSER, July 4 2003
By 
Dr. Socrates (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
This is how I first heard this recording of Treemonisha: In 1978, when I was teaching English in Caracas, Venezuela, I turned the radio on and an opera was playing. I am no opera fan, but after a mere few seconds of listening, I ran to get my tape recorder and recorded the whole thing, not having any idea what it was. I listened in amazement, wondering and wondering what this MIRACLE was. I had never heard anything remotely like it. I am very well versed in music, have written thousands of tunes myself. I know the great composers inside out. Who could this giant be? The only composer that came to mind was Victor Herbert, because I had never heard his music (and he looked distinguished). I couldn't wait for the opera to end, even as I wanted it to go one forever. Finally, I hear the name Scott Joplin, unfamiliar to me. For the next year I listen to this recording about a hundred times, and say to myself, this is the greatest American opera, more impressive than "Porgy and Bess", far more sincere, authentic, charming. It makes most other music sound contrived and overly clever.
Next year, I'm in Los Angeles, and the first thing I do is run to the library to find out who this Scott Joplin is. I found records of his piano rags, and of Treemonisha. The piano music is just as breathtaking. And all this greatness from a humble saloon pianist and a "Negro"! I was in awe. I proclaimed him the greatest American composer, period.
If Gilbert and Sullivan had written Treeminisha, wouldn't it be considered the magnum opus? I think so! Scott Jopin's entire work belongs in every house.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The first 'American' musical wasn't Showboat., Dec 23 2002
By 
David B "Piano David" (GOUROCK, Renfrewshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
Jerome Kern's 1927 broadway show "Showboat" is generally credited as the first 'American' musical. Yet, much of it sounds very European, looking to Lehar and Friml: think of numbers like "Only make believe I love you".
From a decade earlier than Showboat comes Joplin's "Treemonisha", a wonderful piece which is wholly American in idiom from start to finish, without a European number in it. Gunther Shuller's orchestration is lively and sympathetic. Not all of the singing is wholly admirable (though some of it is), and the libretto is of course somewhat execrable. But what stands out, oh, a mile, is the MUSIC. If only Joplin had had better opportunities open to him - perhaps collaboration with a good librettist, and Broadway connections to get the thing produced, what a show this might have been. As it is, we must be grateful that this production was recorded, so that we have the opportunity to enjoy Joplin's music, and musicologists can assess Joplin's rightful position in the development of American music.
A delight.
...
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's American and it's great., June 4 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
The story of Scott Joplin's futile efforts to get Treemonisha performed or even recognized in his life time is tremendously sad. Thankfully the music has survived and was performed/produced so wonderfully well by Houston Grand Opera. This recording is as uniquely American as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess or Rhapsody in Blue. Listen to the music!! It's American and it's great!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars If not THE most lyrical opera ever written, Oct. 24 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
Plain and simply one of the most memorable pieces of music ever written- opera or whatever. You will remember almost all of the music after listening.
Watch out- it's addictive (especially "A Real Slow Drag")...
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5.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked 20th century masterpice., Aug. 30 1999
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
Ignore the elitist condescension and musicological nit-picking in the Gramophone review above. Treemonisha waited 60 years for its first professional performance, by Houston Grand Opera in 1975. Apparently it's going to have to wait another 60 years for proper recognition of its remakrable music. And the music _is_ the thing. Sure, the plot is simplistic, the characters are two-dimensional... but then that's true of many an opera, yes? The music, the music. Gunther Schuller's vivid period orchestration provides a solid foundation for a fine group of singers and an outstanding chorus. What is alas necessarily msising from the CD is the dancing. Rags were _dance_ music. And what carried the HGO production from the fine to the sublime was the dancing. A commercial video of the original HGO production was released on Sony which caught a great deal of the celebratory energy released by the dancers. --Douglas Milburn
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4.0 out of 5 stars All that Joplin wanted was for it to be recognised, Aug. 21 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Scott Joplin's Treemonisha [Original Cast Recording] (Audio CD)
Throughout Joplin's short 49 year long life, all he wanted to do was put forward the seriousness of ragtime, such an effect was achieved in his great ragtime opera "Treemonisha", but it was never recognised during his lifetime. With the re-emergence of ragtime in the 1970's Joplin's music and its sometimes elusive melancholic power came through, inspiring this great recording. Carmen Balthrop and Betty Allen are superb, and the recording from the orchestra is first class. Joplin's goal on writing this opera was to mix ragtime with opera to show that it could be just as "serious" as others. It is fair to say that Joplin's attempt, as a ragtime writer and not an opera writer is impressive and admirable, just as noone would expect an opera master like Puccini or Verdi to write ragtime.
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