π [*] laby2;p1205. By Alan Rich [B] Daily News Music Critic [B] TO JIM JOHNSON: NO OTHER ART AVAILABLE; GO WITH COPLAND [F/L] As the final event in its month-long celebration of Aaron Copland, underwritten
by the E. Nakamichi Foundation — meant originally to honor the composer’s 90th
birthday but now serving as a memorial as well — the forces of the U.S.C.
School of Music took up the considerable task of a complete performance of
“The Tender Land.” Composed in 1954, the work deserves some attention as
Copland’s only full-scale opera. Even so, and despite the valiant efforts of
well-trained student performers, nothing happened at Thursday night’s first
performance (of four this weekend) to vanquish the suspicion that “The Tender
Land” is better off as a statistic in the Copland legacy than an actuality on
the stage.
Horace Everett’s libretto is set in, as if you couldn’t guess, the American
midwest, where sweet Laurie falls for Martin the wanderer, only to be pulled
out of his clutches by her mean and glowering granddad. The plot evokes dozens
of well-known models, of which the play and movie called “The Heiress” comes
quickly to mind. Is it coincidence that Copland did the film score for that
very play?
The fault, however, lies not in the timeworn plot but in the facelessness of
Copland’s music, and particularly the clumsiness in almost all of his writing
for solo voice. There are fine things in “The Tender Land,” mostly in the
square-dancing choruses and orchestral interludes in the second act. But we
don’t need to look into this otherwise bland stage work to establish Copland’s
excellence in composing gfood square-dance music. E/P]
Of character depiction and dramatic impetus, there is little in Copland’s score
to establish its composer as any kind of master of the lyric stage. The opera’s
most famous vocal scene, a 12-minute duet for the two principals, is a collage
of small, incoherent patches. The musical idiom itself, Copland at his most
open-handed, the harmonies sweet and inocuous, demands some sort of melodic
profile and a sense of climax. None is readily at hand.
For the U.S.C. production conductor Larry Rachleff used a greatly reduced
orchestration, by Murry {cq} Sidlin, of Copland’s own revised and cut-down
orchestra, and in the dull acoustics of U.S.C.’s Bing Theater not much sound
got out of the pit. Thursday’s cast, one of two which will perform in
alternation, had Susan Holsonbake and Scott Herrick as the romantic leads; that
group will also sing on Saturday. Frans Boerlage’s staging had a curious
tendency to clump most of the action on stage right; he did, however, succeed
in drawing some lively action patterns out of the U.S.C. Chamber Singers, who
consituted the chorus.
*What: the U.S.C. Opera performance of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender
*Where: Bing Theater, U.S.C. campus, near the Jefferson/McClintock
*When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
*Tickets: $4-$7.50; for information call 213 743-7111.

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