The Crucible

At the Loeb Today

To appreciate The Crucible without actually going to it (and if you haven't gone already, for Heaven's sake don't), you have to have savored a potato kugel heartburn. Potato kugel is a greasy dish made of ground potatoes, egg, and too much chicken schmaltz. Going down it is very smooth, but it keeps on insisting how good it tasted all evening long.

The Crucible, a contemporary opera based (tenuously) on the play by Arthur Miller, keeps reminding you how good it is all evening long, and necessarily so: without reminders, one would forget very quickly. The music, by Robert Ward, is a nightmarish splice of bad Richard Strauss and the sound track from the scenic sections of a True Life Adventure Film. The product of too much emotion music form Grade B movies, Ward's chords smother in their instumescence. When Ward does shear off the blathering orchestral fat, the musical thought that remains strikes out as absolutely insipid. Three hours of such stuff is three hours too much.

The libretto, by Bernard Stamblex, is something worse again. Opening line of the third act, sung: John I knew you'd come back to me!"

Though The Crucible is a foul deed, the New England Conservatory Opera Department and the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra gave life to parts of this performance, its New England premier. In Act I, Tituba (Sandra Provost) made the most of describing her encounter with the devil. In Act III, Abigail Williams (Linda Phillips) made the court room scene, in which demons appeared to her, fun; a dull, dull text quashed her immediately. Given fatuous parts, many of the other singers (Mary Liverman, Ivan Oak, John Ring, Mary Lou Sullivan, and Robert Donaldson) strove mightily to overcome them. The set was imaginative and attractive: the skeleton of a frame house served a surprising variety of functions during the four, tedious acts. It was sad to see such rich resources used for such a poor work.