Esther Returns

November 8th 2009

New York City Opera' revival of Hugo Weisgall's Esther (originally commissioned in 1993) is worth your attention. It's rare for any company, even in the best of times, to revive a commissioned work. It's something of a given in the world of new music, that the second performance of a piece—especially something a huge as a three-act opera—is much harder to get than the first.

Kudos to City Opera for taking a bold course of action in difficult times rather than retreating. So bold, in fact, they added an extra performance due to demand.

My thoughts on the opera itself? Well, initially I was turned off by the musical language and text setting—a matter of taste having nothing to do with the quality of the work. However, I was soon sucked into the story and performance. Everything else was quickly forgotten. Its three hours flew by in the blink of an eye, one of the best indications of quality work and performance.

A few awkward lines in the libretto not withstanding, this is a work crafted with dramatic savvy and a healthy appreciation of all that the operatic form has to offer. Lovers of the traditional repertoire will, like myself, be shocked at first at the unfamiliarity of the musical style, but, I suspect, like myself they will soon not notice. The orchestration is marvelous and the choral writing particularly effective.

What's is about? Well, Ester, naturally. A biblical heroine much depicted in Western art. I won't rehash the details of the work as City Opera has plenty to read and watch on their site.

City Opera's production is well executed and the performances stellar. Their renovated house provides a better acoustic experience than you might have had in the past—all the better to appreciate what they've achieved here. Add all this together and you get my insistence that you, dear reader, get your tickets before this rare gem disappears. Quality productions of recent American opera are rare opportunities—seize on them as fast as you can!

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