Monocacy Chamber Orchestra / Jung-Ho Pak

Paul Salerni: Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast

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Paul Salerni's Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast won the National Opera Association Chamber Opera competition in 2007. The libretto by poet Dana Gioia sets the opera in a radio station scheduled to drop its classical programming for an easy listening format and depicts its final classical show, Opera Lover, hosted by Tony Caruso, a tenor with a failed career. The opera addresses the tragedy of being forced to look back on a life of promise unfulfilled, opportunities missed, and possibilities squandered; in short, the nightmare that just about every human over a certain age has pondered to at least some degree, if not to the agonizing extent that Tony Caruso does. Much of the opera is devoted to Tony's revisiting painful memories and to fantasies that torment him, but he achieves a kind of redemption at the end by embracing death in the form of a woman who seductively calls to him to abandon life and all its grief. In spite of the grim theme, the composer and librettist treat it with a light hand, and the message that comes across most strongly is that things may be unbearable now, but at least there is the hope that death will bring blessed relief. Salerni's eclectic score is essentially neo-Romantic, but it also encompasses varieties of jazz, lite rock, bel canto opera, and Latin chant. Some of the most engaging music is for an irreverent women's jazz trio that functions something like the trio in Trouble in Tahiti, and the closing music with Tony and Death has a lyrical Romantic sweep. The opera is strongly and originally constructed, and it should be of interest to companies looking for contemporary one-act pieces. It receives solid if not spectacular performances from a cast led by tenor Eric Fennell in the title role and the Monocacy Chamber Orchestra, led by Jung-Ho Pak. Naxos' sound is detailed, with good separation, but the singers sound a little distant.

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