Unusual Operas

(The Muncie Star – Page T-15)


Classic Tales of doom and death are recounted in three magnificent ground-breaking works this month on NPR World of Opera, National Public Radio’s continuing series of operatic masterpieces from around the United States and the world.

NPR World of Opera has its season premiere on WBST at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. This trio for the Halloween season starts with the production of Philip Glass’s acclaimed The Fall of the House of Usher, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Minimalist composer Glass is one of the most prominent and controversial composers on the international music scene, and is known for revising traditional operatic writing, often incorporating high-tech video electronics into his productions.

Glass’s brooding, atmospheric music takes center stage in this production. David Trombley, Dwayne Croft and Sharon Baker sing the roles of the principal characters who lead listeners through Poe’s horror story about an ancestral curse and a premature burial.

The world premiere of Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus by Libby Larson has received wide critical acclaim. The opera is based on the haunting 19th-century novel by Mary Shelley. Libby Larson, regarded as one of America’s brightest young composers, created the work as an exploration of intellectual ambition, technological arrogance and isolation. All the music and vocal parts are electronically mixed.

The month concludes with The Flying Dutchman, the dark tale of a legendary voyager, doomed to roam the Earth for eternity until he can find a woman who is willing to faithful to him “until death.” The opera by Richard Wagner is heard in a production from the world-famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the venue Wagner built for his works.

Wagner was inspired to write the opera by a sailor’s tale he heard on board a ship on the North Sea in 1839. The work marked the first time Wagner used musical themes or “leitmotivs.” that now are so closely associated with his work. It was also the first time he used the orchestra more as a character itself than as an accompaniment.

Steve Curwood, host of NPR World of Opera, says, “Each of these operas reflects what I regard as opera’s gift – its magnificence as human symphony, with all the passion, cruelty and beauty of life itself.”

The Model Minority

Hard working parents and smart, obedient children who graduate from the best schools and become top professionals – this is the stereotype of Asian Americans, the so-called “model minority.”

“The Chinese American community abounds with examples that seem to bear out the stereotype, but this is only a partial truth,” says Helen Borten, producer of the first October documentary to air on Horizons, at 5:30 tonight on WBST.

Borton’s story is the first of five documentaries to profile various multicultural groups as they struggle for economic, political and social success at home and abroad.

In her story, “Chinese Americans” Climbing the Golden Mountain,” Borten reports from New York City on the success and the heartbreak of Chinese Americans as they pursue the American dream. Borten says, “School dropouts, youth gangs, garment industry sweatshops, cultural isolation and mental illness are also what many Chinese immigrants encounter after they come to America.”

In the next Horizons October documentary, airing at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14, producer Scott Schlegel spotlights the music of black women composers who struggle for recognition and acceptance in the male-dominated world of classical music.

In “Black Women Classical Composers,” Schlegel reports that getting classical music published is difficult for anyone, but it is especially hard for women. “There is a belief in the world of classical music publishing that women’s compositions are less deep, less emotionally powerful than men’s,” Schlegel says.

In the coming weeks: “Latino Performing Artists: Art for Troubled Times” and “Daughters of Zion: Women in Israel.”


At 11:30 a.m. today The Sound of Writing features “Voice From the Outer Banks” by Richard Hill. This story is the tale of  a woman dead for 175 years who still manages to speak. Richard Hill tells this outlandish tale written by the daughter of Aaron Burr.

Ursula K. LeGuin, one of the most popular authors in the genre of speculative fiction, reads “Texts,” a vignette of a woman trying to escape the pretentious communications of today.

This text of an unnerving message tells of the woman, even alone and in silence, everything she sees seems to be at once of this world and another.