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Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2012

Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry is, for me, the operatic discovery of the year. Musically expressive, dramatically engaging, and emotionally moving, the work is an opera for those who do not like opera, yet it never panders to those who may not have an appreciation for the genre. Conductor William Boggs leads a cast headed by baritone Keith Phares and mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley in a resplendent production. © 2012 Fanfare

Robert Levine, July 2012

You’ll find arias, duets, and ensembles—forms familiar from centuries of opera—all lyrical and well-structured. There’s an echt-American sound to Aldridge’s music, and while I can’t pinpoint exact moments where the likes of Copland and Floyd pop up, the harmonies have that wide-open feel that are immediately recognizable.

Baritone Keith Phares’ performance of Gantry makes me wish I’d seen the show: his charisma comes through the speakers. It’s a grand, grandstanding performance, whether he’s plotting, seducing, or preaching. Frank Kelley[’s]…hysterical aria at the end of the first act, in which he laughs maniacally while plotting revenge against Gantry, is a show-stopper—and a marvelous coup-de-theatre from Aldridge. Sister Sharon Falconer…is sung by mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley. The character is as pure as snow and clearly obsessed, and Risley makes us believe her; she believes every word she preaches.

William Boggs leads this ensemble-filled, busy work with love and discernible glee; the work has great energy and so does the performance. The Florentine Opera Company and Milwaukee Symphony are excellent. I was not expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, but I can recommend it very highly. © 2012 Read complete review

Christopher Ballantine
Opera, May 2012

This superbly crafted, irresistibly enjoyable work strikes me as poised to take its place among the finest operas to have emerged from the US…The performances are wonderfully vivid: without exception, they’re vibrant, exceedingly lively and strongly sung…As the Grammy suggests, the recording is marvellously engineered—an achievement that seems greater when one remembers that it was captured ‘live’. © 2012 Opera

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, April 2012

Dramatically it is tautly constructed and, I believe, well conceived for the stage. It works well also as a listening experience and with the libretto printed in the booklet it is easy to follow the unfolding of the story. A strongly contributing factor is the music. This is music-drama at its best with Sharon’s solo marvellously beautiful and the duet that follows is a stroke of genius.

It seems that the musical inspiration flowed at its richest in the second act—but it may also be that I had assimilated the idiom more completely. Anyway the Broadway-style marching music of the next scene with wonderful rapport between solo voices and chorus is totally captivating. Frank’s long aria that follows (CD 2 tr. 4) is another highlight, as is the trio (CD 2 tr 5). As a matter of fact this opera is a pleasure to hear from beginning to end.

None of the singers were known to me but they are all first class in every respect and deeply involved. Garfein and Aldridge explicitly wrote this opera for ‘American singing-actors, who know how to internalize, then deliver, their own yeasty language, and how to sing many different kinds of American music’ (Richard Dyer again). This is graphically brought over to the listener even without the visual impression. The chorus and orchestra are excellent. William Boggs knows the score inside out…The recording can’t be faulted and I can heartily endorse the opinion of a man after the premiere turning to his wife, saying: ‘This is better than any Broadway show’. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, March 2012

…there is much to commend in the work of Aldridge and Garfein. In particular, Aldridge finds ways to use creative orchestration to give momentum and a sense of variety to a score that mostly builds upon the comparatively unsophisticated sounds of gospel music. There are hints of Copland from time to time, or perhaps one of Virgil Thompson’s documentary film scores.

The Naxos recording, made before an enthusiastic live audience, benefits from the strong leadership of conductor William Boggs over the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus.

Elmer Gantry…is an honest and finely assembled piece that makes a strong case for itself. The same cannot necessarily be said for many American operas of the last decades with higher profiles. © 2012 Opera Today Read complete review

Joshua Rosenblum
Opera News, January 2012

Keith Phares is bold, invigorating and ingratiating in the role. …Patricia Risley makes a radiant impression in her introductory aria and successfully maintains this lofty standard.

Tenor Frank Kelley…does a marvelous job with the tour-de-force Act I curtain number… The Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform exuberantly under conductor William Boggs… © 2012 Opera News Read complete review

Ken Smith
Gramophone, December 2011

I’d give my opera-loving friends this prime contender for the mantle of All-American Opera, where a virile baritone, a mercurial mezzo and a fiery and somewhat strident tenor meet various choruses of school fight songs and syncopated gospel hymns. For once, an all-American story rendered operatically in purely American terms.

Ken Smith
Gramophone, November 2011

The success of Elmer Gantry isn’t a tribute merely to the fact that composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein have found an all-American story but that they’ve rendered it operatically in purely American terms. Garfein’s text, by turns funny and poignant…clarifies the story. Aldridge’s music invites without pandering, deftly shading emotions at every turn. Choruses erupt in school fight songs and gospel hymns with infectiously syncopated hand-clapping. The music is through-composed yet fully of a piece with its setting—‘charged’ but without smacking of either musical theatre or operatic avant-garde.

Aldridge and Garfein have accomplished here what opera rarely achieves: taking a dated US cultural relic and making it relevant again.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online., October 2011

Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry…is rather charmingly old-fashioned despite its fairly modern tonal language. The music is accessible; the libretto…wisely whittles down Lewis’ sprawling story of faith, its lack and its manipulation to focus on the love story between Elmer and evangelist Sharon Falconer; the tragic climax…is well played but not overplayed; there is the sort of top-notch entry aria (Sharon’s) that so many operas ought to have but so many lack; and the music’s blend of hymns, marches, dances and gospel songs is appropriate and almost (but not quite) on the verge of being overdone. The performers are all well-suited to their roles…handling themselves particularly well. Listeners interested in a modern retelling of a very American story that continues to have resonance at a time when fundamentalist religion is as big an element in politics as ever will find Elmer Gantry of considerable interest. …this music goes with and tells this particular story with considerable flair, and Elmer Gantry is certainly worth a hearing. Or several.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, October 2011

Naxos are to be congratulated on a splendid presentation with the full text in the booklet as well as articles about the opera and the original novel, a synopsis of the former, and photographs of the production on which the recording is based. However, whilst I can admire the skill of composer and librettist I find it hard to discover much that is especially imaginative or memorable in the opera. It is never less than professionally written or performed but neither does it seem to rise far above that basic level of competence—not that this is something that can by any means be taken for granted with new operas. As it has already had three sets of performances it clearly works in the theatre, which must be the true test of opera. I look forward to hearing it live, but in the meantime I am glad to have had the opportunity to get to know it through these discs. There is much to enjoy here even if I suspect that this is not a work I will wish to return to often.

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, August 2011

…it has all the earmarkings of something that might have been written in the 1930’s. There is a touch of Americana in the sense that Copland’s homespun nationalist strain can be heard not so much quoted from as assimilated. There’s a slightly jazzy element that comes out of Gershwin. Otherwise it is highly romantic, even sentimental in its treatment of a subject that, at least when Sinclair wrote the novel, was meant to have impactful social-critical heft.

The story is set in pre-World War I small-town America. Elmer Gantry, as is clear from the beginning, is a man on the make, someone who sees the evangelical Christian revival spreading across the country as a chance to get himself ahead in life. He falls in with baptist priestess Sharon Falconer, who in the opera version at least, seems genuinely religious yet unable to recognize the plainly commercial and cynical transformation Gantry performs on her revival group…the performance seems quite good.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2011

Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry turns the clock back to Samuel Barber’s Vanessa whose roots were much embedded in the era of Puccini. That it is readily acceptable comes as a relief from much opera composed in the 20th century, its format of mixing extended arias with ensembles and choral sections ticking all the boxes for continued popularity. The libretto by Herschel Garfein is based on the 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis and relates events in an imagined world of American Revivalism. In the case of Elmer Gantry we find a man using religion to make financial profit before falling in love with the Revivalist preacher, Sharon Falconer, a love not reciprocated in a physical sense. He helps her to gain the finance to build a grand Tabernacle, but just before its opening his former girlfriend, Lulu, and her husband, the Rev. Eddie Fislinger, seek Gantry’s downfall as a false prophet by organising a seduction scene between Lulu and Gantry witnessed in secret by Eddie. They arrive at the Tabernacle’s opening to denounce him as a liar and philanderer. In the ensuing chaos a fire is started that eventually consumes Sharon and her devout followers. Elmer escapes and begins a following in a ‘New Thought’ movement. Born in 1954, Aldridge has a modest catalogue of works in many genres, my previous encounter with his music on the Naxos label coming with a highly favorable review of his Clarinet Concerto (August 2010). Working in a tonal idiom with refreshingly modern harmonies, he has, in today’s world, an uncommon ability to create lyric arias. Completed in its final form in 2007, it was begun in the 1990’s, but abortive attempts to have it staged resulted in the original score being much reduced in length to two and a half hours. Sharon, is sung with the passion of a preacher by Patricia Risley; Elmer, a baritone role, finds the much experienced Keith Phares in powerful and resourceful voice; Elmer’s accomplice, Frank, has a lyric tenor, Vale Rideout, and there follows a long list of reliable voices. The Milwaukee orchestra brings much impact, while the ‘live’ recording—the audience applause and laughter is a minor distraction—is well balanced and catches the cast’s excellent diction.

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