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Adamo: Late Victorians; Regina Coeli; Alcott Music; Overture to Lysistrata

Pulley , Sullivan , Levalier , Mark Adamo , Alimena , Eclipse Chamber Orchestra Audio CD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
listen  1. Late Victorians: I. Nineteen eighty-nine?Emily Pulley 8:22Album Only
listen  2. Late Victorians: II. He had been born in South America?Emily Pulley 6:51$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  3. Late Victorians: III. I stood aloof at Cesar's memorial service?Emily Pulley 6:14$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  4. Late Victorians: IV. Chorale - Sometimes no family came?Emily Pulley 6:37$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  5. 4 Angels: III. Regina CoeliDotian Levalier 7:55$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  6. Lysistrata: OvertureEclipse Chamber Orchestra 3:59$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  7. Alcott Music: I. JoEclipse Chamber Orchestra 9:10Album Only
listen  8. Alcott Music: II. MegEclipse Chamber Orchestra 3:48$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  9. Alcott Music: III. Alma and GideonEclipse Chamber Orchestra 3:20$0.89  Buy MP3 

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
  • Conductor: Alimena
  • Composer: Mark Adamo
  • Audio CD (November 17, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,653 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Editorial Reviews


Composer Mark Adamo is best known for his work as an opera composer, and by the release date of Naxos' Mark Adamo: Late Victorians, he has composed two of them: Little Women(1998) and Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess (2005). Operas take a long time to compose and are expensive to record well, and when you devote a lot of time to a single, focused work it can be hard to accumulate the little things you need in order to produce a single CD that affords listeners a sample of what you can do. The title work, Late Victorians (1994, but heard in a revised version), is one of those comparatively little things, a symphonic cantata with a text cobbled together from an essay included in Richard Rodriguez's Pulitzer Prize-nominated book Days of Obligation -- a book here Rodriguez controversially came out as gay -- and select poems of Emily Dickinson. The Rodriguez text concerns late Victorian houses in San Francisco, lately rehabbed, but then left vacant as their owners struggled and died with the AIDS virus. Unable to set the long, fully narrative Rodrigueztext, Adamo decided to assign some passages from it to a narrator; here read by actor/author Andrew Sullivan, and to alternate them with Dickinson's poems as sung by a soprano, that part taken here by Emily Pulley. Although it deals with AIDS, Late Victorians is neither anguished nor angry; it is quite low key and requires some amount of patience owing to the lengthy cadenzas awarded to solo instruments in the orchestra. Late Victoriansis certainly not a typical cantata as the presence of words is not continuous and the dialogue-like exchange between the speaker and singer is highly unconventional. When the soprano first comes in, you almost want to laugh, but ultimately it sounds natural and you grow used to it. The total output of the music and words, however, is very effective: this piece captures the feeling of empty ambiguity analogous to a scenario such as "I had a friend, and he died. I didn't find out about it until 18 months later...." This is a condition not imposed by the disease, but arises as an external circumstance of it. This has affected countless survivors of AIDS victims whether gay or straight, and Adamo has found the right voice for the situation in Late Victorians.

Apart from Regina Coeli, a single movement from Adamo's Concerto for harp and orchestrafeaturing soloist Dotian Levalier (2006), the rest of the music consists of "bleeding chunks" from Adamo's operas; the Overture to Lysistrata and a concert suite drawn in 2007 fromLittle Women entitled Alcott Music. It is in the latter that one can most readily understand what is so immediate and likable about Adamo's operatic work; it captures the nineteenth-century milieu of Louisa May Alcott without the built-in sentimentality associated with the era and is stated in a completely contemporary neo-Romantic idiom. Regina Coeli -- and presumably the concerto to which it is related -- seems like a nice addition to the all too slim repertoire of concertos for the harp; however, it isn't as strong as the other instrumental music here, being a little reminiscent of Ned Rorem's concerted works, though it is admittedly more studiously wrought and tasteful than Rorem typically is outside of his song literature and piano music.

Sylvia Alimena and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra plays Adamo's music with considerable warmth and the right interpretive idiom; they sound much more confident and assured onLate Victorians than they do on their recording of overtures of Florian Leopold Gassmann, issued by Naxos in the same calendar month. Since serious awareness of gay classical composers began to be recognized in the 1990s, a sort of potted and slightly condescending patina of preconceived notions has grown up around what a gay composer does and is. Such notions include a tendency toward unfashionably tonal and neo-Romantic harmonic language, a preference toward vocal music or music written for the stage and a seeming over-concern for issues impacting the gay community, including AIDS; though on the other hand, one wonders how you would be expected to ignore it? Adamo's Late Victorians isn't likely to dispel such preconceived notions, but for music that can be placed roughly within those parameters this is certainly top drawer and deserves a wider hearing well beyond the confines of the gay community. --, Uncle Dave Lewis, 2010

It is possible to admire and like the impulse behind creation of a piece of music without necessary admiring or liking the result. It is also possible to admire and like both the intention and the work, without necessarily wanting to live with the piece over time. That is the situation with Mark Adamo's Late Victorians and Hannibal Lokumbe's Dear Mrs. Parks. Adamo's half-hour work is a tribute to AIDS victims, written in 1994 and revised in 2007. There continues to be much hand-wringing about AIDS and many acknowledgments of those it has affected, especially in the artistic and homosexual communities that have been hit hardest by the disease. But after a while - with ways to prevent transmission of AIDS now well known and the unending drumbeat of requests (if not demands) for sympathy (and money) - the whole "tribute" field starts to seem a little overdone. Adamo's work is well crafted and cleverly titled: the name refers to Victorian houses in San Francisco, whose large gay community was hit especially hard by AIDS; the title was originally that of a magazine article that partly inspired Adamo's work. Other inspirations for Late Victorians were the poetry of Emily Dickinson as reinterpreted by Camille Paglia, and the device from Haydn's "Farewell" symphony in which orchestra members walked offstage in the finale. Adamo, best known as an opera composer, weaves these influences together skillfully: words from the magazine piece are spoken; four Dickinson poems are sung; and the works' four movements are tied to each other with solo cadenzas by musicians who then leave the stage (an effect missing in the recording, of course). But does the work...well, work? Certainly the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under Sylvia Alimena plays it well - this is an outstanding group in any music. But the cleverness of the concept tends to overwhelm the emotions underlying it, drawing attention more to structure and form than to the "tribute" elements that Adamo says are his main point. Furthermore, there is nothing really new in noting - however thoughtfully - that AIDS has claimed many young and worthwhile (and potentially worthwhile) lives. Listeners may not have heard Late Victorians before - this is its first recording - but they have heard its sentiments before, often, and that fact tends to vitiate the effectiveness of the piece.

The shorter works on the Adamo CD are less fraught and more effective in their own ways. Regina Coeli is the slow movement from Adamo's 2007 harp concerto, "Four Angels," here rescored for strings alone. It is a piece of subtlety and grace. Overture to "Lysistrata" (2006) is short, bright, bouncy and very much in the spirit of Leonard Bernstein's Candide overture, which Adamo cites as a source. Alcott Music, from the opera Little Women, is Adamo's revision of his Alcott Portraits of 1999, which he composed for the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. Although it is imbued with themes from the opera, the three-movement suite stands on its own as a character piece whose emotions range from dreamy and wistful to excited and exuberant. ... --, January 7, 2010

Sounds of Sorrow, Sounds of Hope: Classical Music for World AIDS Day

...Mark Adamo's Late Victorians, a work of uncertain genre whose text (a pastiche created from Richard Rodriguez's Harper's Magazine essay "Late Victorians" and poems by Emily Dickinson) is a mini-drama of San Francisco life in the age of AIDS. Naxos has recently released the world-premiere recording of this work in a performance by soprano Emily Pulley and journalist and blogger Andrew Sullivan in the narrator's role, with the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under Sylvia Alimena. Adamo's Late Victorians came about after what the composer describes as a tortuous creative process, one which began happily enough with a commission, then rode rapidly into blank slate territory. "I could not write," Adamo begins the notes that accompany the world-premiere recording of Late Victorians. "I had been asked to write: the project was to be a set of songs for mezzo-soprano. But I could not write." The thrilling terror of filling that blank slate hadn't stayed Adamo's hand; it was something altogether more somber. "We - I and thirty other people from my church, an ad-hoc hospice - had just buried Bob, a man we hardly knew until he fell ill with AIDS," Adamo continued. "And Don, whom I had just directed in an opera, was failing. The things that seemed unacceptable to me were how ordinary this was all becoming." Adamo had read Richard Rodriguez's 1990 essay "Late Victorians," a piece Adamo describes as "a memoir of San Francisco in the first years of the plague." The essay haunted him. "I carried that essay with me everywhere the winter of 1992. But I couldn't set it. It was too long: too much. I didn't want to write this experience. I didn't recall choosing to witness it. I needed to write this song cycle, and I could not." The work that was to be a song cycle for mezzo-soprano ended up a music drama for orchestra, narrator (who speaks sections of Rodriguez's essay) and soprano (who sings Dickinson's poetry). The form of Late Victorians unfolds in four seactions, each a day-in-the-life vignette, which the narrator declaims against an orchestral backdrop. The soprano role is a sort of poetic Doppelgänger of the narrator, her language the exalted yet still painfully truthful poetry of Emily Dickinson. The vignettes themselves convey emptiness ("The painter left one afternoon, saying he would return the next day, leaving behind his tubes, his brushes, his sponges and rags. He never returned ;") gallows humor ("If he's lucky, he's got a year, a doctor told me. If not, he's got two;") grief ("I stood aloof at Cesar's memorial service: the kind of party he would enjoy, everybody said;") and, finally, hope - not hope that people will stop dying of AIDS, but that others will be there to care for them as and when they do ("Sometimes no family came. Or parents came but left without reconciliation, some preferring to say cancer. But others came. Nurses, nuns, the couple from next door. They washed his dishes, they walked his dog.") In Adamo's hands, the social dissonance of the painter who never returned to finish the job is at once beautiful and full of a certain sweetly bereft questioning: And here's what hope sounds like, as neighbors and friends of the dying step in to make his journey to the grave less lonely, even if no less difficult: In other words, Late Victorians unfolds how living with AIDS - or living without AIDS, for that matter - unfolds: moment by moment, in a process that moves in one and only one direction. To Adamo, the form of the finished piece is like the Stations of the Cross. "In the Catholic churches I knew growing up, you will often find twelve friezes, or sculptures, representing Christ's journey to Calvary and, beyond, to transformation," Adamo writes. "During Lent, the faithful walk from frieze to frieze; meditate upon the image; and move on. The images themselves are static... It is the pilgrim who is dynamic, making the journey from image to image, walking the walk." The walk of the AIDS sufferer is different in the details from that of one who does not bear this cross. Adamo's Late Victorians is a powerful a reminder of the ravages of AIDS, and it no less powerfully calls upon us to admit, as did John Donne, that anyone's death diminishes us, because we are involved with humankind. -- WOSU89.7 Classical e-NOTES, Jennifer Hambrick, December 1, 2009

There is some fine music on this disc, but like many collections of contemporary works the results overall are mixed. The best extended piece is Alcott Music, a suite arranged from Adamo's opera Little Women (available on Ondine), atmospherically scored for strings, celesta, harp, and percussion. Although mostly gentle and delicate, the work's thematic content is substantial enough to sustain the listener's interest, and its timbres really are just plain lovely. The same observation applies to Regina coeli for harp and strings, the middle movement of the composer's Harp Concerto. It whets the appetite to hear the complete work--we certainly could use another good harp concerto in the repertoire. The perky overture to Lysistrata seems a trifle thin; it cries out for a memorable tune, and when one finally arrives the piece is over--but it does leave you wanting to hear more which, after all, is one of main jobs of an overture.

This brings us to Late Victorians, which consists of sensitive settings of some Emily Dickinson poems for soprano and chamber ensemble interlaced with spoken text drawn from a Richard Rodriguez (of "News Hour" fame) essay about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the 1980s. The piece doesn't work well at all. In the first place, Rodriguez's allusive and self-indulgent prose seems especially ungainly next to Dickinson's laconic but razor-sharp poetic diction. Speaker Andrew Sullivan, as is so often the case when narration intrudes, is placed far too prominently in the mix; the music seems almost an afterthought. Nor, to be frank, is Rodriguez's essay particularly compelling on its own, despite the obvious care that Adamo has taken to frame it. The end result is frustrating, like trying to hear a good piece of music on the radio while someone next to you is talking too loudly.

Finally, and this is strictly a personal observation, I am sick and tired of the politics of victimization as expressed in contemporary art music. Every group in our society has some legitimate sources of grievance or suffering, and the way that the performing arts industry seizes on them strikes me as exploitative and opportunistic. The worst recent case of this phenomenon was the flurry of atrocious 9/11 tributes, most notoriously John Adams' grotesque, award-winning piece On the Transmigration of Souls. I am not questioning Adamo's sincerity here, only his taste, and the culture that encourages the production of such pieces. I was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; my younger sister has a more severe case of the same disease and is effectively wheelchair-bound. I don't want to hear a cantata about it. I lived in the Bay Area during the 1980s, and in 1989 my best friend died of AIDS. He was a superb classical musician and scholar. I loved him and I miss him terribly. He didn't ask for a musical tribute, and he would not have chosen this one, however well-intentioned. So what's next, the Swine Flu Oratorio? The Restless Leg Syndrome Requiem?

The performances by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under Sylvia Alimena are excellent. They know Adamo's music and have worked with him extensively, and we may safely assume that they give him exactly what he wants. Soprano Emily Pulley sings the Dickinson poems very well, even if she tends to be overshadowed by the too-loud narration. For the purely instrumental works, I can recommend this disc without hesitation, and I won't lower the rating as a result of my conceptual problems with Late Victorians. You will know if you're interested in hearing it, though I can't help but feel sad that we weren't given the complete Harp Concerto instead. -- David Hurwitz,, January 2010

This is a superbly produced disc of world premiere recordings. The Naxos engineering is exemplary and the playing by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra is technically above reproach and musically dedicated. This reflects an association with the composer going back over a decade. I just wish that I enjoyed the music more.

The main work here is composer Mark Adamo's tribute to AIDS sufferers from San Francisco. The Late Victorians of the title refers to the brightly painted houses that this community (in part) lived in. The work has an unusual structure being written in four movements linked by instrumental cadenzas/meditations. Each movement in turn consists of an amalgam of spoken text, sung responses to the spoken text, and sung settings of Emily Dickinson poems. The spoken role is that of a narrator witnessing the tragedy of AIDS unfurl around him. The soprano, when in dialogue with the narrator seems to be the voice of the departed, commenting and elaborating on the narrator's observations. The Dickinson texts are a separate parallel commentary on the text and tend to be set towards the end of each movement. Mark Adamo is not a composer whose work I have heard before. The sincerity of this work is never in doubt. He likens it to a series of meditations in the style of the Stations of the Cross. An interesting thought is that - although never stated in his liner-note - I suspect Catholicism is an important element in Adamo's life or at very least he has an interest in the ritual and symbolism of it.

The use of a narrator in any musical work is always problematic. I find the text here portentous and its delivery doubly so. The music written to accompany the narrations does not strike me as particularly original. I must stress that his work is unfamiliar to me so I have not had time to absorb his musical characteristics. By far the best passages are the Dickinson settings and the solo instrumental episodes that follow. Apparently the players of these cadenzas are directed to leave the stage after their solo is done. Adamo explains that the inspiration for this moment of musical theatre is Haydn's Farewell Symphony but the image of departure here is more tragically permanent. The playing of the uncredited soloists in these passages is for me the highlight of the disc with a particularly stunning horn solo. My other problem is the lack of emotional differentiation through the four movements of this twenty-eight minute work. Another work to be written as an `AIDS Requiem' is John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 `Of Rage and Remembrance'. I do not consider that the symphony to be masterpiece that some do but I do think that Corigliano manages to encompass a far greater emotional range in that work than Adamo does here. One is on contentious and sensitive ground here so I do not wish to labour the point. Simply put, this is not a piece to which I would return on purely musical grounds.

Given the relatively short playing time of the disc I wonder why the complete Four Angels - Concerto for Harp was not included. Instead we get the slow movement alone - Regina Coeli. I see that Adamo notes this is rescored for strings alone on this recording - perhaps the orchestration of the whole work is outside the remit of the excellent Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. The orchestra, by the way, are drawn from the National Symphony Orchestra Washington, as is the harp soloist and their conductor Sylvia Alimena who is the NSO's second horn. Harpist Dotian Levalier makes a gloriously sonorous and rich sound on her harp aided by the excellent recording. Again, I'm struggling to hear great musical individuality that goes beyond clear compositional facility. Likewise the Overture to Lysistrata that follows. Adamo likens this to a latter day Candide Overture but I hear little of the sparkle and wit of that piece. Adamo does not embrace either the minimalism of an Adams or the post-modern rock idiom of a Daugherty. It is essentially tonal music with a lyrical centre reflecting his involvement in opera. One can hear in the three movements of the Alcott Music which completes the disc the influence of the voice. He describes them neatly as "a souvenir for orchestra of my opera Little Women". Not having heard the originating work it is hard know to what degree of re-composition the music has been subjected. No matter, these three movements work well in their own right. Again confident and exemplary playing from the orchestra means that the music is presented to maximum effect. I suspect this is a disc which will grow in stature as one becomes more familiar with the compositional processes at work. For the moment I would have to put my hand up and say - my failing I'm sure - not a disc that gave me much pleasure for all its undoubted merits. -- MusicWeb International, Nick Barnard, January 2010

Product Description

Acclaimed as 'one of the
best opera composers of
the moment,' American
Mark Adamo has also
ventured into symphonic
composition, in which his
theatrical sensitivity, political commitment and musical mastery are equally evident. Late Victorians
is dedicated both to the memory of the victims of AIDS, and to those who have survived.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty of Remembrance December 8, 2009
By Tym S.
Format:Audio CD
"Late Victorians" is a great piece about a terrible thing. It is a sonic essay commemorating the losses of the AIDS plague in late 80's San Francisco. Composer Adamo evokes this in a theatrical collage of spoken word, operatic poetry, and bittersweet music. The narrative voice, based on Richard Rodriguez's essays, carries the tone of his spare, wise, sad clarity. Hardwon, wounded, a stark certainty come to from quiet, persistent, painful shifts. Stripped down to life and death, each moment becomes an epiphany, each memory a parting gift. Andrew Sullivan deftly narrates in harmony alongside soprano Emily Pulley, who instills melodic ease into unflinching lines from Emily Dickenson. Pulley in particular delivers a delicate balancing act of operatic beauty, witty phrasing, and topical modernity.

"Regina Coeli", adapted from Adamo's "Four Angels" concerto, brings Mother Mary into heaven. The sad ascendence of the strings blossoms into gossamer wonder by harpist Dotian Levalier. "Overture to Lysistrata" compresses his "Lysistrata" opera into three movements: the dramatic first driven and restless, a tumbling wind through every corner; the second lyrical and passionate, romantic in the sense of idealism; and the third a complex tonal strobe running fiercely. From his world-famed "Little Women" opera, Adamo streamlines "Alcott Music" into three character movements for orchestral voicing. Rich in the personalities of their character namesakes, they are a joy to the ear. A fine overview of an important new composer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, Beautiful, Amazing January 8, 2010
Format:Audio CD
There's always such a sense of story in Adamo's music, even when there are no words involved. Regina Coeli, the luminous harp and strings piece, unfolds like a flower or a folk-tale: every note feels so right, even when you hear it the first time. I knew Little Women, and so enjoyed the suite, which sounds glamourous in this full-strings orchestration, but the Overture to Lysistrata was new to me, and sparkling: four joyous minutes of fizzing Champagne. The big piece, though, is Late Victorians, which is a kind of twenty-five solo opera in which the single character, remembering friends lost to AIDS, is played at once by a speaking man and a singing woman, while the friends he loses are evoked by instrumental soloists. Again, the story (not written, but assembled by Adamo from poetry of Emily Dickinson and prose of Richard Rodriguez) feels honest as your own diary, if you've ever lost someone to any tragedy at all: I can see a lot of people playing it late at night for solace. And what players! Andrew Sullivan is a grave, moving narrator, and Emily Pulley, the soprano, is a tender actress with a full, brilliant sound: I don't think I've ever heard a piannissimo like the clarinetist's in the first solo, and the hornist evokes memories of Dennis Brain. (Why aren't the players billed?) The conductor, Sylvia Alimena, makes every moment glow. A gorgeous, emotional record.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Late Victorians, wearing modern garb April 4, 2010
By Jim D.
Format:Audio CD
Here's a varied program by a leading American composer of our time, both tonal and contemporary in the music he creates. One movement from a full-length concerto has been scored as a standalone piece for harp and strings, while an overture to one opera is followed by a suite from another (the much-performed "Little Women").

"Late Victorians," the title work of the disc, takes a magazine essay on AIDS, its victims and survivors, and weaves around it the poetry of Emily Dickinson; two solo voices are featured, one spoken and one sung. In a way, it derives from Haydn's "Farewell" symphony, with its vanishing musicians, but though regret and bitterness are added to the mix here, the piece is all the more effective for its generally understated tone. Performances are assured, and the recording is mostly close and clear (the harp gets a little swimmy at times). Notes are by the composer himself, who you should know if you don't.
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