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Eric Sawyer: Our American Cousin

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, June 2, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Review

This is a wonderful surprise. When the Editor proposed the disc, from the title I suspected it would be about the Lincoln assassination, as "Our American Cousin" was the name of the play performed that evening in Ford's Theater. But I did not know the composer, Eric Sawyer (b. 1962), nor his librettist John Shoptaw, and knew nothing of this opera, which is truly "hot off the press," having been premiered in Boston just last year. Perhaps my ignorance was a blessing, because I came into the critical process blissfully free of any preconceptions, and the freshness of this piece hit me full face.

The work explores the relation between art and life, encapsulated in the confrontation between the play (a rather trivial farce) and the tumultuous events surrounding it. It asks whether art is a respite, a genuine escape, or just an act of denial in the face of life's demands and tragedies. To its credit, it doesn't provide any easy answers. Indeed, I'd like at the start to cite Shoptaw's libretto as one of the most original and substantive I've encountered in years. There are elements of historical realism, personal confession and soliloquy, surrealistic dream, and the "play within a play." The work avoids easy categorization, and at the end I felt I'd encountered something both light and substantive, an admirable combination.

Sawyer's music is essentially conservative, but it never panders to easy evocations of the past or facile pastiche. Indeed, I'd say it's "Ivesian" in its practice of combining elements of traditional and modern, historical and contemporary, popular and classical. But it's also beautifully crafted, with a restraint that partakes as much of American neo-Classicism as the wilder Ivesian ride.

Over its three acts my interest never lagged. Though one knows the ending, how its creators will structure the tale is always intriguing and leads us on. After pre-performance backstage activities in the first act, the second takes us (like the historical audience) so deep into the play it's easy to forget what is about to happen. And of course the third act creates the splintering of realities in the face of unsupportable horror...

...In fact, this is one of the freshest, most ambitious new American operas I've heard in ages. Instead of taking up once again some cinematic or literary retread, it actually dares to use original material. And it also dares to take up historical events and musical tropes without succumbing to mere costume drama. The above criticism aside, I appreciate, admire, and enjoy Sawyer's voice. And I hope this is only the first of Shoptaw's librettos. As a first collaboration, the result is stunning.

Again, outstanding performances by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. And the enunciation of the singers is so clear that one can truly enjoy the piece without one's head buried in the booklet (itself beautifully produced, by the way, with essays by the composer, librettist, and Klára Móricz). This comes with a very high recommendation to a wide audience.

- Robert Carl --Fanfare

This is a wonderful surprise. When the Editor proposed the disc, from the title I suspected it would be about the Lincoln assassination, as "Our American Cousin" was the name of the play performed that evening in Ford's Theater. But I did not know the composer, Eric Sawyer (b. 1962), nor his librettist John Shoptaw, and knew nothing of this opera, which is truly "hot off the press," having been premiered in Boston just last year. Perhaps my ignorance was a blessing, because I came into the critical process blissfully free of any preconceptions, and the freshness of this piece hit me full face.

The work explores the relation between art and life, encapsulated in the confrontation between the play (a rather trivial farce) and the tumultuous events surrounding it. It asks whether art is a respite, a genuine escape, or just an act of denial in the face of life's demands and tragedies. To its credit, it doesn't provide any easy answers. Indeed, I'd like at the start to cite Shoptaw's libretto as one of the most original and substantive I've encountered in years. There are elements of historical realism, personal confession and soliloquy, surrealistic dream, and the "play within a play." The work avoids easy categorization, and at the end I felt I'd encountered something both light and substantive, an admirable combination.

Sawyer's music is essentially conservative, but it never panders to easy evocations of the past or facile pastiche. Indeed, I'd say it's "Ivesian" in its practice of combining elements of traditional and modern, historical and contemporary, popular and classical. But it's also beautifully crafted, with a restraint that partakes as much of American neo-Classicism as the wilder Ivesian ride.

Over its three acts my interest never lagged. Though one knows the ending, how its creators will structure the tale is always intriguing and leads us on. After pre-performance backstage activities in the first act, the second takes us (like the historical audience) so deep into the play it's easy to forget what is about to happen. And of course the third act creates the splintering of realities in the face of unsupportable horror...

...In fact, this is one of the freshest, most ambitious new American operas I've heard in ages. Instead of taking up once again some cinematic or literary retread, it actually dares to use original material. And it also dares to take up historical events and musical tropes without succumbing to mere costume drama. The above criticism aside, I appreciate, admire, and enjoy Sawyer's voice. And I hope this is only the first of Shoptaw's librettos. As a first collaboration, the result is stunning.

Again, outstanding performances by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. And the enunciation of the singers is so clear that one can truly enjoy the piece without one's head buried in the booklet (itself beautifully produced, by the way, with essays by the composer, librettist, and Klára Móricz). This comes with a very high recommendation to a wide audience.

- Robert Carl --Fanfare

This is a wonderful surprise. When the Editor proposed the disc, from the title I suspected it would be about the Lincoln assassination, as "Our American Cousin" was the name of the play performed that evening in Ford's Theater. But I did not know the composer, Eric Sawyer (b. 1962), nor his librettist John Shoptaw, and knew nothing of this opera, which is truly "hot off the press," having been premiered in Boston just last year. Perhaps my ignorance was a blessing, because I came into the critical process blissfully free of any preconceptions, and the freshness of this piece hit me full face.

The work explores the relation between art and life, encapsulated in the confrontation between the play (a rather trivial farce) and the tumultuous events surrounding it. It asks whether art is a respite, a genuine escape, or just an act of denial in the face of life's demands and tragedies. To its credit, it doesn't provide any easy answers. Indeed, I'd like at the start to cite Shoptaw's libretto as one of the most original and substantive I've encountered in years. There are elements of historical realism, personal confession and soliloquy, surrealistic dream, and the "play within a play." The work avoids easy categorization, and at the end I felt I'd encountered something both light and substantive, an admirable combination.

Sawyer's music is essentially conservative, but it never panders to easy evocations of the past or facile pastiche. Indeed, I'd say it's "Ivesian" in its practice of combining elements of traditional and modern, historical and contemporary, popular and classical. But it's also beautifully crafted, with a restraint that partakes as much of American neo-Classicism as the wilder Ivesian ride.

Over its three acts my interest never lagged. Though one knows the ending, how its creators will structure the tale is always intriguing and leads us on. After pre-performance backstage activities in the first act, the second takes us (like the historical audience) so deep into the play it's easy to forget what is about to happen. And of course the third act creates the splintering of realities in the face of unsupportable horror...

...In fact, this is one of the freshest, most ambitious new American operas I've heard in ages. Instead of taking up once again some cinematic or literary retread, it actually dares to use original material. And it also dares to take up historical events and musical tropes without succumbing to mere costume drama. The above criticism aside, I appreciate, admire, and enjoy Sawyer's voice. And I hope this is only the first of Shoptaw's librettos. As a first collaboration, the result is stunning.

Again, outstanding performances by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. And the enunciation of the singers is so clear that one can truly enjoy the piece without one's head buried in the booklet (itself beautifully produced, by the way, with essays by the composer, librettist, and Klára Móricz). This comes with a very high recommendation to a wide audience.

- Robert Carl --Fanfare

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (June 2, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: BMOP/sound
  • ASIN: B0037MACIS
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,583 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael R. Hall on March 11, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I love the BMO for taking on seldom heard works and giving them a top notch performance the majority of the time. The booklets are always informative and as always they have sparked my interest in a new composer. Worth hearing and I plan on checking out more Sawyer. Modern composers deserve our support!
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I appreciate what the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is trying to do, and their willingness to put forth new composers and new works. "Our American Cousin" seems like an intriguing idea for an opera, portraying the play Lincoln was attending and the events leading up to the assassination at the same time. However, the final result is lacking. The assassination is dulled by a weak libretto, robbing the climax of the opera of its emotional impact. The orchestra and singers perform well, but the whole just doesn't add up to much.
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I was very stirred by “Our American Cousin” and recommend it highly. The opera encompasses the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and a view of the country in the aftermath of the war. The opening act of the opera includes five choruses with especially beautiful music. They include voices of amputees, nurses, businessmen, freed slaves and women, representing a cross-section of post-war America. John Wilkes Booth sings a haunting aria of his intentions, “Sic semper.” The final chorus condemning the bloody cycle of Civil War battles is most powerful , with words and music coming together forcefully.
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