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Ned Rorem: reviews of Our Town's European premiere

(August 2012)

Our Town, Ned Rorem's operatic setting of Thornton Wilder's iconic play, received its European premiere in London in May.

Ned Rorem’s opera Our Town received its European premiere in May at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. With its cast of cameo roles surrounding the three principal characters of stage manager and young lovers, and a compact chamber orchestra, it is an ideal work for conservatoire productions and for small or touring companies. Stephen Medcalf’s London staging admirably captures Thornton Wilder’s highly original dramaturgy and the theatrical journey from apple-pie charm to stark pathos.

“Wilder’s picture of life in small-town New Hampshire in the years before the first world war attracted the attention of several composers before Rorem, and his librettist JD McClatchy managed to secure the rights to adapt it. They remained very faithful to the original, making one strand of the play, the love story between George and Emily, the central focus, but preserving its overall simplicity, with a bare stage, few props and much use of mime. It could all be sentimental and too cosily American, but, in fact, it’s charming and rather touching, especially in the final act, when the action takes an unexpected twist into fantasy. Rorem’s music is spare and typically diatonic, and the writing for chamber orchestra so transparent that every word of the text is clear.” The Guardian

“Were you only to hear Act I and II of Our Town, you might think this was Rorem’s Falstaff: a comedic swansong, lit up by the sweet romance of the central couple… Then, as Wilder’s play takes a gut-wrenching turn from life to afterlife – Emily dies in childbirth and tragically attempts to relive her youth – a ghostly chorus of the deceased puts us in a considerably more wintry place. Accept this dramatic evolution and a small-scale, but beautifully concise score comes into focus, the sweet, folksy elements (the wide open harmonies of Copland, who wanted to adapt Our Town himself, are never far away) gradually telescoping into more intense territory.”
The Times

“Ned Rorem’s 2006 adaptation is exactly the sort of touching idyll the play would seem to require. A truly authentic American opera… Made when the composer was 83 and the playwright had been dead for 30 years, it is a beautifully autumnal piece of work, yet suits student performers well.”
Opera

“Rorem’s text-setting is impeccable”
The Times

Rorem’s 90th birthday is celebrated in 2013.


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Photo: Clive Barda

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