|Matthew Worth in Virginia Opera's Orphee by Philip Glass|
One composer who is largely forgotten today is Harry Lawrence Freeman, an early African-American composer who supported himself and his own opera company during his lifetime and performed to largely black audiences. In 1893, his opera Epthelia was the first opera performed in the U.S., which was written by an African-American composer.
Louis Gruenberg's "The Emperor Jones" with Nmon Ford:
Before the advent of World War II, a number of prominent American composers emerged whose music endures today, including Marc Blitzstein, Virgil Thomson, George Gershwin, Douglas Moore, Aaron Copland and Gian Carlo Menotti. Perhaps the most enduring works from this period are Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts and Gershwin's Porgy & Bess.
Robert Sims sings "I got plenty o nuttin'" from Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess":
The second half of the 20th Century saw the emergence of some of America's greatest composers ever, including Hugo Weisgall, Dominick Argento, Carlisle Floyd, Samuel Barber, Thomas Pasatieri, Philip Glass, John Adams and Stewart Wallace. In 1955, Carlisle Floyd wrote what many consider America's greatest opera, Susannah, which remains in the standard repertory today.
Samuel Ramey sings "Hear Me, O Lord, I beseech Thee" from Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah":
Long before the composing couple of Mark Adamo and John Corigliano emerged, America was blessed with lifelong companions Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti, who wrote some of the greatest operatic works in history. Barber penned Antony & Cleopatra and Vanessa, the latter with a libretto by Menotti. Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966 with Leontyne Price and Justino Diaz.
Catherine Malfitano & Richard Cowan sing "Oh take those lips away" from
Barber's "Antony & Cleopatra":
Gian Carlo Menotti wrote the most performed American opera ever written, Amahl and the Night Visitors. His impressive list of operas include The Consul, The Saint of Bleeker Street, Amelia Goes to the Ball, The Old Maid and the Thief, The Telephone and The Last Savage. In 1958, Menotti founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy and then founded its companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1977.
Bryan Elsesser sings "When the air sings of summer" from "The Old Maid and the Thief"
by Gian Carlo Menotti
The 21st century has seen an explosion of interest in living American composers, including Tobias Picker, John Adams, Philip Glass, Jake Heggie, Mark Adamo, Ricky Ian Gordon, Anthony Davis, Steve Mackey, John Corligliano, Daron Hagen and John Harbison. Philip Glass has been successfully writing operas for 35 years, with such major successes as Hydrogen Jukebox, Einstein on the Beach, Kepler, Satyagraha and Appomattox. He has composed over twenty operas.
Father Death Blues from Hydrogen Jukebox:
Although he is far less prolific than Glass, many people consider John Adams an equal to Glass as the greatest living American composer. His masterpiece is considered Nixon in China, which is currently being performed in theaters around the world. His other somewhat less successful opera is The Death of Klinghoffer.
|Michael Mayes in Tulsa Opera's "Dead Man Walking"|
Norman Treigle sings "America the Beautiful" and "The Star Spangled Banner":
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