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Music Academy Stages ‘A Wedding’

The West Coast premiere of the comic opera includes two performances, on Friday and Sunday.

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William Bolcom composed the comic opera A Wedding.

For all the dazzle and precision of their instrumental performances, the Music Academy of the West has always made a specialty of opera and vocal recitals — not surprisingly, since it was founded by a beloved, world-famous soprano (Lotte Lehmann), with a voice program long shaped and dominated by a magisterial baritone (Martial Singher).

The opera is almost invariably the signal event of the summer, and the production team has proven uncannily skilled at fitting a work of practically any dimension into the Lobero’s smallish proscenium arch in a way that promotes the illusion of expansive freedom.

This summer’s opera is the West Coast premiere of composer William Bolcom‘s comic opera A Wedding, adapted from the 1978 Robert Altman film of the same name. There will be two performances in the Lobero Theatre: at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $68. Call 805.963.0761.

A Wedding will star 25 Academy Fellows (students) and will be directed by Chas Rader-Shieber — who staged previous academy productions of Ariadne auf Naxos (2000), Don Pasquale (2001) and Così fan tutte (2005) — while the 31-member opera orchestra will be conducted by George Manahan, music director of the New York City Opera, making his first academy appearance.

In 2005, Bolcom, who is in residence at the Music Academy through Sunday, was commissioned to write A Wedding by the Chicago Lyric Theatre. Bolcom’s longtime lyricist-librettist, Arnold Weinstein, worked with the late Robert Altman to reduce the original cast of 48 characters to 19. Altman directed the premiere.

Not having heard the work, I defer to the New Yorker’s Alec Ross: “The fact that Bolcom can knock out a Gershwinish tune like nobody’s business has caused him to be underrated in the glum colloquia of contemporary music, where, for a long time, melodies had the status of radioactive rodents, and where seriousness is often measured by counting how many disparate pitches and rhythms pile up in any one bar. Bolcom aims for a higher complexity, a personal fusion of style and form. This is the many-sided music theatre of Monteverdi, Mozart, Verdi, and Weill. It don’t get more serious than that.”

Ross also observed that Bolcom “comes up with at least three indelible tunes,” and that the overall musical impression was of a “glistening web of sound.”

The peerless mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, director of the Academy Voice Program, calls A Wedding “one of the most important and enjoyable American operas of the last decade.”

The Lobero Theatre is at 33 E. Canon Perdido St. For more information, call 805.969.8787 or visit www.musicacademy.org.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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