Steven Osgood

Virgil Thomson: The Mother of Us All

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Considering the scarcity of recordings of Virgil Thomson's 1947 opera The Mother of Us All (only one previous version has remained in print, the 1977 performance by Raymond Leppard and the Santa Fe Opera), this Albany release of the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater's 2013 performance is a valuable document of a work most people know only by reputation. Featuring Noragh Devlin as Susan B. Anthony, Scott Russell as Daniel Webster, Carlton Moe as John Quincy Adams, Alexander Frankel as Jo the Loiterer, and Addison Hamilton as Constance Fletcher, the cast presents the opera in a charming and humorous style that suits the off-kilter libretto by Gertrude Stein. The account of Anthony's life veers between fractured history and fanciful word play, and the declamatory delivery and archly neo-classical music combine in something between a light opera and a presentation piece. The orchestra, under the direction of Steven Osgood, provides a bright and attractive accompaniment, and the recording is quite clear and focused, so practically everything is audible. Following the opera, the instrumental suite from The Mother of Us All is provided as filler on disc 2, and this is perhaps the most familiar music from this otherwise neglected piece of Americana.

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