Gann Sings at Glimmerglass

A week from tomorrow, August 9 at 10 AM, I’ll be delivering a lecture on American opera at the Glimmerglass Festival. It’s a favorite subject of mine, and one I rarely get to talk or write much about. Other professors than myself teach copiously about opera at Bard, and one dream course I’ve never ventured is a completely non-overlapping one on experimental American opera: Virgil Thomson, Harry Partch, Robert Ashley, Philip Glass, Mikel Rouse, maybe Cage’s Europeras. But then I start thinking how reluctant I’d be to omit Copland’s The Tender Land, and The Cradle Will Rock is way too important to leave out, and Porgy and Bess would be so fun to talk about, and Nixon and China, and I have a score to Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and a rare recording of Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, and I get an itch to cover the entire canon – if indeed anything as neglected as American opera can be called a canon. In any case, next week I’ll be playing brief examples from:

The Mother of Us All (my favorite opera ever)
The Tender Land
Delusion of the Fury
Einstein on the Beach
Perfect Lives
Nixon in China

and trying to wax clever about them. Toward this end I recently spent much of a day playing through the vocal score of The Tender Land, and then in the evening listened to all of Copland’s most famous pieces – a juxtaposition that convinced me that The Tender Land is his greatest work. I can’t understand why it’s not performed in this country far more often than La Boheme, it’s so fabulous. Critic Andrew Porter, late of the New Yorker, shared so few of my opinions that he refused to speak to me the one time we met, but we both considered The Mother of Us All the greatest American opera. And I don’t know whether Bob Ashley and Harry Partch are what the Glimmerglass audience expected to be exposed to, but the people who invited me said they were looking for something different. Meanwhile, my wife and I will get to see Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, Ariadne auf Naxos, Madame Butterfly (well I’ve never seen it), and Carousel.


  1. says

    Excellent choices! I was privileged to see a great performance of Four Saints in Three Acts at a little theater in Chicago in the 90s. That’s one of my faves.
    And I think Candide is almost ruined in its better known Broadway musical version. It’s a great opera.
    I love that you allow the avant garde to exist alongside the more conventional. Segregation is such an awful idea.
    Have you considered including Davis’ Malcolm X or Amistad?

    KG replies: Thanks for the suggestions, Allan. I don’t have Amistad, but I got X out, and I’ll see what I can use.

  2. says

    A fine list! I have to admit I don’t know “The Tender Land”; I’ll have to listen. I’m intrigued by the fact that Paul Bowles wrote a couple of operas. Have you ever heard those?

    KG replies: No I haven’t. He’s not one of my favorite writers.

  3. says

    Amen. The world does not need any more Menottony. I’m a little surprised by your enthusiasm for The Tender Land. I sang in the chorus when Copland conducted a concert version at Brandeis ca. 1958, but I’ve never been able to warm to it (I do love the ballets and adore the clarinet concerto.) Maybe I should give it another try.

    KG replies: Thank you, I’ll steal Menottony from you. My VV colleague Leighton Kerner, who was generally a kind and even-tempered critic, warmed my heart once by headlining a review of a new Menotti opera, “How the Mediocre Have Fallen.”

  4. Dan Chien says

    Thanks for the talk. Beautiful day by the lake!

    KG replies: Thanks for coming. It’s refreshing to get through a lecture gig without inadvertently causing a controversy, for once.