OP0585. LORD BYRON (Virgil Thomson), Live Performance, 1991, w.James Bolle Cond. Monadnock Festival Ensemble; Matthew Lord, Richard Zeller, Jeanne Ommerlé, D'Anna Fortunato, etc. (Austria) 2-Koch Schwann 7124, w. Libretto-brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 099923712428
“Virgil Thomson's precise, formal music did not destine him for the role of opera composer, but his style fit so perfectly with Gertrude Stein's chanting, repetitive verse that FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS and THE MOTHER OF US ALL emerged as wonderful expressions of fantasy. The Opera opens in 1824, with the people of London singing ‘Byron is dead’. Inside Westminster Abbey, the ghosts of England's great poets prepare to welcome Byron as their peer. The poet's wife, sister, best friends, and publisher gather outside, to mourn his death and shepherd his admission to Poet's Corner. Their worries of protecting his reputation from scandal are brought to a head by disclosure of the existence of a manuscript: his autobiography. Byron's ghost enters, singing of nostalgia for the once-hated England he abandoned seven years before. In several flashbacks, we learn of Byron's life: tormented since birth by his club foot, he became a Don Juan. All seven women in the cast have been his lovers; he has even gotten his married sister pregnant: ‘I was born damned—with my twisted foot’. To elude scandal, he marries an upright young lady who wishes to reform him; but further amorous dalliance with his sister brings on a family crisis, which includes revelation of a homosexual affair as well, and leads to Byron's leaving England for good. Back at the Abbey, his friends burn his memoirs, but the Dean refuses him admission on grounds of ‘mockery, horrors, impiety, sedition, slander, profligacy, obscenity, blasphemy’. The living disperse, and the dead poets, now joined by the recently deceased Shelley, welcome Byron among them, as he sings his credo, demanding forgiveness by and for the world.
Written throughout the 1960s, to a Metropolitan Opera commission, LORD BYRON was eventually premiered by the Juilliard School in 1972. It is only a slight simplification to state that the Juilliard performance was cut and that this recording represents the full score; as with any new opera, there is extra material available, so alternate versions are possible. The central scenes - Byron's life with his mistresses and friends, his sister, and his wife - are human and moving, capturing something of the emotions of all involved. The scenes at the Abbey are less effective, being mostly sung discussions of the problem at hand, although the finale has hints of glory not realized in this production. The libretto incorporates lines of Byron's poetry; such brief excerpts seldom capture the essence of the poet's high style, but they do add tone to the opera.
Matthew Lord has a fresh, youthful-sounding tenor appropriate for Lord Byron; he has momentary pitch problems at a couple of entrances. Jeanne Ommerlé has a lovely light soprano with silky top which conquers the acoustics. D'Anna Fortunato's mezzo is the voice of reason among the principals, as her Lady Byron is in the story; this made her a standout at the performance but makes her seem weaker on the recording. The other principals sing well enough and are captured intelligibly, but this opera is filled with little duets, trios, and ensembles, for which one must keep one's nose in the provided libretto….So this performance and first recording, like the opera itself, are noble enterprises plagued by contradictions and inconsistencies - how very Byronic!”
-James H. North, FANFARE, July, 1993