Thursday 16 November 2017
Gramophone Reviews It's A Wonderful Life
"Gene Scheer is such an accomplished librettist in his understanding of how words and music collude in the theatre, nailing the narrative concisely but letting the music run with the words towards all those emotional climacterics... Heggie, for his part, is a born melodist, purveyor of the most grateful, ‘singable’ vocal lines and a word-setter of real eloquence. "
It’s interesting – and revealing – that Pentatone has a designated ‘American Operas’ series. It’s an acknowledgement, if you like, that there is something very particular, very recognisably ‘American’ about the USA’s contribution to the genre, something that separates them from the world of international contemporary opera. It’s in their traditions, their songs, and most certainly the legacy of their musical theatre.
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That said, a conspicuous masterstroke here is the climactic scene where Clara shows the despairing George what the world might have been like without him. For this bleak, nightmarish tableau Heggie takes music out of the equation, leaving Scheer’s words to resonate against an electronically derived white noise. Sondheim did something similar in the final scene of Assassins, where the drama necessitated a stark directness that only words could provide.
It’s a chilling precursor here to the joyous resolution to come. And, in acknowledgement of the way in which this allegory and Capra’s movie speak to us all, Scheer and Heggie have a twist in store. As Clara finally gets her wings she sees something. She’s not counting stars, she’s counting angels, she says. Where? As the house lights come up she points to the audience. We all have our stories, our heartaches. But we are invited to sing. What? ‘Auld lang syne’, of course. Message received. Not a dry eye in the house – or in my living room.
Read the full review on Gramophone - November 2017 issue