CARLISLE FLOYD (b.1926): Prince of Players.
Catalogue Number: 05V049
Label: Reference Recordings
Description: The latest opera from the nonagenarian doyen of American opera composers (whose illustrious sixty-year career arguably begat those of Jake Heggie, Mark Adamo, Dominick Argento, Robert Aldridge, Louis Karchin and others. His idiom is conventional, the vocabulary resolutely tonal, and there is nothing remotely experimental about his approach to narrative structure, but it is the sheer quality of the music, the effortless matching of music to drama that make his operas such compelling experiences. Above all, it is his conviction that "I always seek great emotional content for my operas and I thought this story had that. It is emotion that I am setting to music" that has placed him pre-eminent among his peers for decades. Prince of Players is based on the true story of the Restoration-era actor Edward Kynaston (1640–1706), famous for playing female rôles. The story explores sexual orientation and identity, and the vocational quality of the artist's craft, as Kynaston loses his livelihood when by royal decree men are forbidden to play female rôles; his homosexual relationship fails; and so, at first, does his attempt to adapt to playing male rôles, on stage and in real life. As he descends into despair, women who learnt from his artistry step ably into the parts he has been forced to abandon. His redemption comes at the hands of one of them, who helps him to recognize his abilities in the new theatre of greater realism, now empowered to embrace the full scope of the drama. Floyd's music evokes the Restoration era with its courtly aristocracy and bawdy tavern life (and the various intersections between the two) in a series of perfectly judged scenes that bring the characters and their world vividly to life. Especially ingenious is the use of Desdemona's death scene from Othello, staged to illustrate the evolution from the obsolete artfulness of Kynaston's cross-gender performance, to the dramatic realism of the version he stages, with himself in the title rôle, to rescue the Royal Command performance featuring the female actress who saved him. A debauched tavern scene, in which Kynaston is reduced to low comedy to earn a pittance, and a cringe-inducing audition scene, are added pleasures of this pitch-perfect period drama. 2 CDs. Libretto included. The Florentine Opera, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; William Boggs.