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The Lowell House Musical Society, which for the past four years has specialized in resurrecting forgotten masterpieces of English opera like Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" and "King Arthur," Handel's "Acis and Galatea," and Blow's "Venus and Adonis," has struck out on a new path this year. It has chosen to do perhaps the one thing better than reviving an old masterpiece, and that is to introduce a new one. For if Randall Thompson's "Solomon and Balkis" is not quite a masterpiece, it is the nearest thing to it the American opera has seen yet. That the Musical Society should have tackled the production of a brand new American work would call for enthusiastic encouragement no matter how bad the work in question. That they have hit upon a work which is completely delightful and immediately appealing, both as music and as theatre, and have lavished on it their liveliest, most colorful, and musically most satisfying production to date, calls for nothing less than hosannas.
Everyone knows the story on which Randall Thompson has based his little opera. It is Kipling's tale of "The Butterfly That Stamped," of the hen-pecked butterfly who in desperation boasted that he could conjure away Solomon's palace by stamping his foot--and did. Thompson has dramatized the story as simply as possible, and produced a delightful blend of humor and fantasy. Musically his work is no less simple, being based on a halfdozen or so leading melodies. The music at times smacks strongly of Handel, especially in the spirited little military prelude with its trumpet flourishes, and in the long sensuous string melodies that recur so frequently. At other times it recalls the jazz idiom of composers like Kern and Gershwin. On occasion it is extremely lovely, but it is always ingratiating and vocal, and expertly matched to the text. The vocal line alternates roughly between recitative and air, but the alternation is unobtrusive, and poses no problems for the accomplished cast which the Society has assembled for this performance. The principals, Robert Soule, Philip Stolar, Willoughby Todd, and Marjorie Rice, all sing with gusto and full-throated ease.
Other laurels must go to the able dramatic directing of S. Leonard Kent, the conducting and music directing of Malcolm Holmes, and to the stage designer John Holabird, whose brilliant sets perform miracles in creating an atmosphere of gaiety. The opera itself, ideally suited to the production it gets here, and unencumbered by the artificialities that made Handel and Purcell so fussy to stage, may unhesitatingly by classed as the Society's most triumphant venture to date, something to take pleasure in now, and something to look back on in years to come when such productions may no longer be possible.
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