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Tod Machover spent 20 years developing the idea for his opera Schoenberg in Hollywood. The long incubation paid off in a big way on November 14, when the Boston Lyric Opera gave the world premiere to critical acclaim.

In his latest opera Schoenberg in Hollywood, which debuted at the Boston Lyric Opera on November 14, Tod Machover tells the life story of composer Arnold Schoenberg, who escaped Nazis during World War II by fleeing to Los Angeles. After being offered a chance to write a score for an upcoming blockbuster film, the composer faces an identity crisis and looks back on various events in his life, played out in a pastiche of Hollywood film styles—Schoenberg’s childhood is portrayed in a silent film, while a scene reenacting his wife cheating on him is stylized as a film noir detective flick.

This imaginative treatment for the opera—based on a scenario by the late Braham Murray with a libretto by Simon Robson and direction by Karole Armitage—led the Boston Globe to exclaim in the headline of its review: “Schoenberg in Hollywood is a composer biography like no other.” The Wall Street Journal praised the well-crafted narrative of the opera as well, concluding, “In Schoenberg in Hollywood the fun is in the journey.”

Machover’s score often made references to Schoenberg’s own music, as well as music from other Hollywood films, as the Boston Globe details: “Full of the spiky dissonances Schoenberg loved, Machover’s score references a plethora of the earlier composer’s works, as well as films including ‘Psycho’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’”

The composer’s score won over the critics as well, matching the originality of the opera’s plot. The Wall Street Journal praised it as “ingeniously original music,” while Boston Classical Review described it as a “dark and brilliant score.” The latter journal went so far as to describe Machover’s score as “some of the most arresting music heard in a BLO premiere in recent seasons.”

Below is a round-up of the many outlets that covered the world premiere of Schoenberg in Hollywood:

Wall Street Journal
“ingeniously original music”

“In ‘Schoenberg in Hollywood’ the fun is in the journey”

Boston Globe
“Full of the spiky dissonances Schoenberg loved, Machover’s score references a plethora of the earlier composer’s works, as well as films including ‘Psycho’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’”

Boston Musical Intelligencer
Schoenberg in Hollywood emerges so powerfully.”

“Tod Machover’s brilliant score weaves a dense musical tapestry before tearing through it with dissonances of his own, sprinkled with electronic sound installments, it presents an array of colors and sudden transformations”

Arts Journal
“Distinctive coloristic effects gave an often-delicate tint to each scene, almost in the spirit of a cinematographer. When Machover needed extra dramatic weight, he employed electronic sound that intensified the instrumental writing and occasionally took over completely, with great effect. “

Boston Classical Review
“Crisp, occasionally funny, and delightfully odd, Schoenberg in Hollywood examines these problems through some of the most arresting music heard in a BLO premiere in recent seasons.”

“Schoenberg’s own strange, chromatic strains are frequently the focus of Machover’s dark and brilliant score.”

Photo: Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

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