OUT ON THE BAYOU
APRIL 28, 2000 » HOUSTON VOICE
SOCIETY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
Bringing the World's Best to Houston
Starring in off-Broadway's premiere of Sondheim's
Saturday Night, 26-year-old David Campbell is an
exciting young talent. With an ever-versatile tenor,
this Australian heart-throb is captivating.
Hear such favorites as
Bridge Over Troubled Water, I Got Rhythm.
Old Devil Moon, and more.
Catch a rising star...
Friday, May 5th
Seating on Jones Hall Stage
7:00 pm & 9:30 pm
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Melody on a lost path
by D.L. GROOVER
If you think you can't teach an old dog
new tricks, think again.
Carlisle Floyd, American opera's grand
old man, has created COLD SASSY
TREE, unveiled earlier this month at
Houston Grand Opera in a most lyrical
production. Aside from the physical
beauty of the sets and costumes, whose
realism could rival any Belasco presentation from the turn of last century, Floyd
has decided to shun the melodic and
embrace the ultra-modern. Bad dog.
No longer does he charm us with
melody as in "Susannah," his one opera
for which he will be remembered, nor
enmesh us with drama and significance as
in "Of Mice and Men" or "Willie Stark."
Instead he bows to the contemporary
and creates a jagged, dissonant score to a
piece of fairly tame passion where the
most conflict seems to stem from whether
the house gets indoor plumbing.
Taking a slice of rural Americana from
the corn-pone novel of Olive Ann Burns,
Floyd has fashioned a bland opera. It is
filled with all the sappy virtues of "The
Waltons" and even an unintentional
whiff of "The Music Man," although
without its gift for music or sanctimonious parody.
There's not a tune to be heard all
evening except for the evangelical
Doxology ("Praise God From Whom All
Blessings Flow"). Tensions rise and dramatic situations occur throughout the
evening, but not once do the characters
really sing. For a few bars they get close
to a sustained melodic line, but Floyd, in
his curmudgeon mood, pulls back and
It's no wonder people don't respond to
contemporary operas: there's nothing in
them to wrap your ears around. It's difficult to think of any recent work you'd
want to sit through again.
Directed in unobtrusive style by Bruce
Beresford, "Cold Sassy" moves cinemati-
cally and is performed without a false
note, even if they are ill served by
Last seen in a riveting performance in
"Mefistofele," Patricia Racette brings her
dramatic gifts and voice to the role of
Love Simpson. She is the young woman
who marries the much older general
store owner in a "business arrangement"
that sets the tongues of the small town of
Cold Sassy Tree wagging in disapproval.
As Rucker Lattimore, Dean Peterson
rounds out his idiosyncratic, cantankerous character with gently evolving
shades of tenderness and wraps his luscious bass baritone around Floyd's
zigzag tunes with more love than this
As narrator and John-Boy stand-in,
Will Tweedy, who wants to be a writer
Composer Carlisle Floyd was in Houston earlier
this month during rehearsals of his 'Cold Sassy
Tree,' his latest and perhaps final opera.
and falls in love with a girl from the
wrong side of the tracks, John McVeigh's
tenor fills the house with dramatic
insight and brings his character an ingratiating goodness. Margaret Lloyd, as
Lightfoot McClendon, the mill worker
who longs for "learning," sings and acts
gloriously, although all her arias are way
too brief and musically sketchy to be
Although this subplot of mismatched
lovers could take the story to a higher
realm, Floyd, writing as his own dramatist, loses interest in them and settles
their conflict too easily. The situations in
this small rural Georgia town get settled
with low-key concern, even the dramatic
confessions of childhood rape or the
problem of segregation.
It's the fault of the music, because
everything sounds the same. Hypocrisy
is given the same tonal value as young
love; playing checkers on the front porch
sounds just like attempted murder. The
story can't possibly move us because the
music goes nowhere.
Floyd is notorious for tinkering with
his work, having edited "Jonathon
Wade" for 25 years after its premiere,
until he finally scuttled the original book
and music almost entirely. Perhaps inspiration will strike with "Cold Sassy Tree,"
and instead of new tricks, he'll revert to
the old one: melody as the path to drama.
Cold Sassy Tree
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
Through May 6