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Richard Scheinin
MercuryNews.com, December 2007

"I've been riveted, listening to the exquisite detail in this opera, based on a story by Maupassant (set in France in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War) and unfolding in strict narrative fashion, building in tension, always teasing the ear with something new. Lustrous, dark, lyrical, unnerving, this is masterful word-and-mood painting by L.A.-based Hartke. Excellent cast, too…"



Anthony Tommasini
The New York Times, November 2007

Strings and Things: Classical’s Best and Brightest

“Stephen Hartke’s ambitious first opera is based on a sardonic and, finally, rather tragic short story by Guy de Maupassant. Having amply demonstrated his ingenious skills and audacious imagination as a composer of symphonic and chamber works, Mr. Hartke emerges in this engaging live recording as an opera composer to reckon with.”



Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, July 2007

Stephen Hartke's opera "The Greater Good or the Passion of Boule de Suif" was warmly received at its world premiere last summer at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., and this engaging live recording makes clear why. Hartke's music is vividly theatrical, with a wide range of dramatic effects and stylistic resources that bring the characters and situations to life, and he can write a simple and alluring vocal melody when that's what is called for. Philip Littell's libretto is based on a Guy de Maupassant story about a carriage full of travelers who run into trouble trying to escape the predations of the Franco-Prussian War, and the well-heeled courtesan who becomes their savior in the face of moralizing hypocrisy. The story unfolds with full helpings of comedy, pathos and narrative verve, and the cast -- led by former Merola soprano Caroline Worra (left) in the title role -- does a wonderful job of bringing out its twists and turns.



Scene Magazine, July 2007

This opera by American composer Stephen Hartke is alternately titled “The Passion of Boule de Suif”, which alludes to a short story by 19th century French writer Guy de Maupassant. The drama follows the travails of a number of affluent refugees fleeing the chaotic aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Characters explore various concepts including social disparity between classes, and the tension which exists between freedom and obligation. At the outset of the piece, the music of the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra starts as a whisper uttered by an enigmatic section of strings playing eerie harmonies. It is soon accentuated by single notes on a ghostly piano.

Suddenly a voice enters, and the symphonic parts organize themselves around the libretto. Later, a most unique innovation in the orchestral arrangement is introduced when the characters are eating dinner, and begin hitting soup plates which their spoons. This creates a tuneful accompaniment to an aria on war and occupation. An idiosyncratic prop-turned-instrument is enough to make this disc worth a listen, but the superior singing and musicianship on this recording is sufficient to close the sale.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

History has proved critics to be notoriously wrong in their judgement of music composed in their lifetime, but this new opera from Stephen Hartke is the most arresting stage work I have heard for many decades. On the surface The Greater Good is amusing, but in reality it is a sad reflection on humanity. It pictures a group of wealthy people escaping from the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war and now on their journey to England. They are horrified to find they are sharing the coach with the notorious prostitute, Boule de Suif. That distaste somewhat changes when they discover that only she had the good-sense to pack food for the journey, which she shares around. Stopping for an overnight stay at the inn, the German commandant belonging to the occupying army finds out that Boule is among the travellers, and demands she sleep with him before he will allow them all to leave. The thought revolts Boule, and days pass by before the travellers persuade her - for the greater good - to give herself to the man. Pleased with their success they prepare to embark together with packed meals from the innkeeper, when a dishevelled Boule emerges just in time to catch the coach. They travel on now shunning Boule, and when they open their meals, they ignore the fact that she does not have one. It is a story that brings out of Hartke a score of fun, drama and soul-searching. Stylistically it goes little further than Samuel Barber - which pleases me - the long established basis of arias and ensembles being fundamental to Hartke's concept, the general texture being tonal, with appropriate dissonances to state its 21st century status. It was as a professional boy chorister that Hartke entered into music having been born in New Jersey in 1952. Funding his studies at Yale and the University of California with work in a music publishing house, he is now one of the most sought after American composers, his wide ranging output including commissions from major orchestras and this new opera for Glimmerglass. He starts out with the advantage of knowing how to write for singers, the orchestra forming the picture backdrop for the action. Indeed the orchestral writing is superb, Hartke's knowledge of how sonorities will work out, providing some fascinating sounds, not least his interesting use of timpani. Though at times he can be demanding on the singers, there is an absence of the nonsensical requirements inflicted by many of today's composers. The role of Boule is that of a dramatic soprano, here taken with vigour, refinement and impeccable intonation by Caroline Worra, an extremely gifted young singer who has come through the Glimmerglass Young American Artists Program. As the heading suggests, this is an opera that depends on a team of singers, and there is not a weak link, the soprano, Jeanine Thames performing some feats of dexterity in her cameo role of The Old Nun, while the bass, Liam Moran impresses as Follenvie. Glimmerglass Opera started life in 1975 as a local community group formed by residents in Cooperstown, New York. Now resident in its own theatre, and with an international reputation, the company offers an opportunity for young singers, seven of this cast current members of the company's Young Artists Program. Recorded live there are stage actions but none that are obtrusive, while balance between singers and orchestra could not be bettered.



Carla Rees
MusicWeb International, July 2007

This recording features the first full-length opera by American composer Stephen Hartke. Commissioned by Glimmerglass Opera, and funded by Meet the Composer, the work is based upon Guy de Maupassant’s famous short story, Boule de Suif (roughly translated to mean ball of suet). The libretto is by Phillip Littell. Set in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war, the story tells of travelling companions escaping the town of Rouen in a stagecoach. The travellers comprise ten people of differing backgrounds, including three married couples, two nuns and the notorious prostitute, Boule de Suif. The party is detained after their first overnight stop and not allowed to continue on its journey until Boule de Suif agrees to sleep with the German military officer. She initially refuses, but after two days of cajoling from her fellow travellers, she finally relents. They continue their journey and treat her with contempt, refusing to share their food with her. The story ends with one of the travellers mocking her by whistling the Marseillaise while she cries at her forced loss of decorum and perceived betrayal of her nation.

The first Act is set almost entirely in a stagecoach and serves to focus on character relationships. As is typical of Maupassant, the story draws in the audience and allows a certain amount of empathy with its characters, before events unravel and cause thought-provoking consequences. It is perhaps unusual that such a short story could become an opera of almost two and a half hours in duration, but it was constantly engaging and the music allowed the plot to unfold at a natural pace.

The performance on this CD is consistently good from singers and orchestra alike. There are some beautiful moments and I found the work captivating from start to finish. The delivery is excellent and always convincing. Hartke’s musical language is contemporary but at times romantic in its expression. His style is individual; there are resonances of Stravinsky and Bernstein but without any hint of artificiality or pastiche. At times dark and menacing, the harmonies transport the listener into a post-war environment, with an underlying feeling of despair. Moments of brilliance stand out and add humour and personality to the characters. In summary, this is a charming work which deserves to be heard.






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7:31:04 AM, 14 July 2014
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