The first-ever recording of Ned Rorem’s latest opera Our Town has been released on the New World Records label. The opera was recorded at the Monadnock Music Festival led by conductor Gil Rose.
After its celebrated premiere in 2006, composer Ned Rorem and librettist JD McClatchy’s widely acclaimed opera Our Town—based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning play by Thornton Wilder—has been recorded for the first time and released on the New World Records label in June 2017. The world-premiere album of Rorem’s latest opera was recorded in studio by Monadnock Music and new-music champion Gil Rose following their performance of the opera on August 11, 2013.
Of the new recording, Rorem made the following statement:
I am thrilled with this premiere recording of Our Town. It was an honor to work with J. D. McClatchy on Thornton Wilder’s classic American play and I hope my music stands on its own. In the end, what can be said about the music that the music can’t say better? Many thanks to Gil Rose and Monadnock Music.
The ensemble cast includes tenor Matthew DiBattista as the stage manager, soprano Margot Rood as Emily Webb and tenor Brendan Buckley as George Gibbs. Monadnock Music’s performance of the opera was additionally meaningful because it took place in Peterborough, New Hampshire—the very town that inspired Wilder’s play. The iconic town has a rich history of performances of the play—Peterborough Town House, where Rorem’s opera was presented, has in fact witnessed performances of the play that featured Hal Holbrook, James Whitmore, and Thornton Wilder himself.
Conductor Gil Rose made the following statement about the opera:
In his last operatic work, Ned Rorem captures all the depth, humor, and pathos of Wilder’s masterpiece. Like the play, the opera is a work that gives more and more with each repeated hearing. We are honored at Monadnock Music to have brought to fruition this recording. Peterborough, New Hampshire, is deeply entwined to the history of the play and the opera. We are so gratified to help bring this work to the wider world.
The CD booklet for the Our Town recording includes an essay by Daron Hagen that offers a musical analysis of the opera, in addition to an essay by Rorem titled "Scattered Notes" and McClatchy’s full libretto. In his essay, Rorem acknowledges the fact that Thornton Wilder adamantly denied many requests for rights to set the play as an opera—even from Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. It wasn’t until decades after Wilder passed away that his family entertained the idea—McClatchy approached Tappan Wilder, Thornton’s nephew, and procured rights to create a libretto. It was also McClatchy who suggested to the estate that Ned Rorem should write the opera.
Rorem’s opera was composed in 2005 and first performed by the Indiana University Opera Theater and David Effron in 2006; it was recognized as an immediate success. Musical America called it "one of those rare new operas that seem destined to survive" while The New York Times praised it as "an intimate chamber opera to match the play’s sparseness." Likewise, the Financial Times stated, "If Wilder’s play is to have music, Rorem’s is credible and often exquisite."
Since its premiere, Our Town has been widely championed, especially among universities and conservatories around the world, with significant performances at The Juilliard School, Eastman Opera, Guidhall School of Music and Drama, and Aspen Opera Theater Center. Intended from the start to be a chamber opera, the light and transparent scoring has made the work well-suited to young voices.
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