Steven Osgood

Lee Hoiby: A Month in the Country

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Even though Lee Hoiby's two-act neo-Romantic opera A Month in the Country (1964) has enjoyed several revivals over the years, this double disc from Albany is the first commercial release. Without previous performances for comparison, this 40th anniversary presentation by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater bears a double burden: convince listeners that the opera is as good as critics have claimed, and win affection for this particular production. First, Hoiby takes a long time to explicate his characters' tangled relationships, and longer to deliver more than talkative recitatives and short lyrical outbursts in the Menotti style. In Act II the chattiness gives way to longer lines, deeper passions, and more dramatic music, though it still feels choppy and broken up. The concluding octet fully deserves the praise it has received, but it is the only number that lingers in the memory. Second, the cast warms up slowly, and its uneven, uncertain singing calls for some patience. Liam Bonner's Belaev and Yoosun Park's Vera are perhaps the most appealing, and Vivian Krich-Brinton as Lisaveta steals her comic coloratura scenes with ease. But the other singers struggle with intonation and levels of intensity, and their characters ultimately seem frustrated in Turgenev's stifling domestic drama. The reproduction is good, but often too soft to be heard clearly.

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