|Nathan Gunn in The Aspern Papers; Carolyn Sproule & Joseph Lattanzi in Postcard from Morocco|
His best known pieces are the operas Postcard from Morocco, Miss Havisham's Fire, The Masque of Angels, and The Aspern Papers. He also is known for the song cycles Six Elizabethan Songs and From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, the latter earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975. Many well known baritones have performed his operas, including Ryan MacPherson and Joseph Latanzi in Postcard from Morocco, and Nathan Gunn in The Aspern Papers. Two of his early operas, written while he was a student—Sicilian Limes and Colonel Jonathan the Saint—have been withdrawn by the composer.
Argento moved to Minneapolis in 1958 with his new wife, soprano Carolyn Bailey, to begin teaching theory and composition at the University of Minnesota. Within a few years he received commissions from virtually every major performing group in the area. His wife died on February 2, 2006.
Christòpheren Nomura sings selections from The Andrée Expedition:
Argento became involved in writing music for productions at the then-new Guthrie Theater. In 1963, he co-founded the Center Opera Company, which later became the Minnesota Opera. He composed the short opera The Masque of Angels for the occasion as the first Performing Arts commission of the Walker Art Center. This work—with its complex harmonic language and an emphasis on expansive choral writing that prefigures his later role as a prominent choral composer—firmly established his local prominence, as well as providing a role for his wife.
In 1971 his surrealist opera, Postcard from Morocco, opened at Center Opera and received a glowing review in the New York Times. He eventually received commissions from New York City Opera, the newly formed Minnesota Opera, Washington Opera, and the Baltimore and St. Louis symphonies, among others. He also developed close professional relationships with several prominent singers, notably Frederica von Stade, Janet Baker, and baritone Håkan Hagegård, tailoring some of his best-known song cycles to their talents.
In 1984, the Minnesota Opera commissioned Casanova's Homecoming, with text by the composer, which went on to a well-received run at New York City Opera. At the insistence of Beverly Sills, then musical director of the company, the opera was the first in New York City to be performed in English and accompanied with English supertitles. The opera won the 1986 National Institute for Music Theatre Award.
In 1987, Argento composed The Aspern Papers as a vehicle for Frederica von Stade, with his own libretto adapted from the 1888 novella by Henry James. His next opera, and arguably largest work to date, The Dream of Valentino, premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1993.
|Malte Roesner in Barihunks Calendar and Book|