Feature Article - "A Conversation with Mark Adamo, Composer of the Opera Little Women" - August, 2001

Jason Serinus



Mark Adamo’s name is about to be known across America. On Wednesday August 29, PBS’ Great Performances will televise the Houston Grand Opera’s revival production of the composer’s marvelous two act opera, Little Women. And the week before, the Houston Grand Opera recording of Adamo’s adaptation of the classic Louise May Alcott novel about four young women coming of age in Civil War-era New England (Ondine ODE CD 988 – 2 CDs) arrives in stores.

Little Women is immensely engaging as music and theater. The production offers an attractive young cast that can convincingly act as well as sing, an engaging libretto, and a winning score that includes arias, duets, and quartets. There’s even an octet at the opening of the Second Act.

For a composer’s first opera to achieve national broadcast just three years after its premiere is extraordinary. Even more remarkable, at a time when most new operas achieve one or two performances and then disappear, Little Women has already experienced a revival in Houston, and is entering the repertory of Opera Pacific, Central City Opera, Opera Omaha, Minnesota Opera, Civic Opera Theatre (Kansas City) Indiana University Opera Theater, Glimmerglass Opera and New York City Opera.

On July 24, five weeks before his opera’s television premiere, I conducted an exclusive phone interview with Mark Adamo. Below is our extended conversation.

The Genesis of Little Women

Please describe your melodic language.

It varies from score to score: but Little Women required a freely tonal, motivic plot in the foreground embedded within non-tonal recitative. Even as condensed as it is, the story is so talky, so dependent less on events than on characters changing their perspectives on those events, that the real movement—the psychological movement—needed to be aurally unmissable.

The piece isn’t plotted in a conventional sense.  Even though there are a fair number of incidents – Meg’s betrothal, how Jo interpreted this as betrayal, Laurie’s transformation from a best friend to a suitor, and Jo’s experience of Bhaer – the real plot is how Jo learns to let go. You need to hear through the surface events to get the true narrative, the musical narrative, which is how Jo, constantly being confronted with a music of change, resists it with the music of stasis.

Now: how would this sound?  I tried to make the important musical motives clear by setting them against a background as different in texture and in harmonic motion as possible: hence the tonal “foreground” against a non-tonal “background.” Tonal materials are generally more mnemonic, more directional, allowing you to recognize them more readily than the non-tonal material, which is why I used them for the developing themes.  The non-tonal material is less effective for that—because the dissonances are so equalized, wherever you are, there you are!  But the very non-directional quality naturally leads the ear to look for meaning or direction from whatever in the music isn’t harmony—line, vocal register, rhythm, word—which made it ideal for following every nuance of recitative. It also widened the coloristic range of the score.  The question then became, could I pick the non-tonal materials – the rows that were generating some of those harmonies -- and the tonal materials in such a way that they could not only be different but blend together when I needed them to?

The first moments give you an idea of how I formed the piece. There’s a drift of harmony while Jo is in the attic remembering her sisters, to a quote of the Alcott poem, “Four Little Chests all in a Row.” Jo’s first vocal entrance is on the words “The happy, happy band,” and then these celesta-and-harp chords spill down to a horn solo. In those minutes, all the opera’s materials are exposed. The poem is set to a tonal line, echoes in whole tones: then the horn outlines the row that generates all the recitative.

Adamo’s Next Opera

My next opera, on the other hand, based on the fifth-century Aristophanes comedy Lysistrata, is, predictably, forming rather differently. Because Lysistrata was expressly written for the theater, whereas Little Women was written for the armchair, if you will, there was much more exposition in Little Women I needed to include to make sense of the piece than there is in Lysistrata.  So there isn’t the same need to put the material in relief the way there was with Little Women.

The tone couldn’t be more different. The women of Athens and Sparta are so fed up with a war that seems as pointless as it is endless that they band together, barricade themselves in the Acropolis, and vow to deny their husbands and lovers any sex whatsoever until the men negotiate a peace. From that plot, I’m spinning a comedy about what I’m calling “marriage, and other armed conflicts.”

Lysistrata’s music is more consistently, juicily polytonal in a turbocharged Stravinskyian way, and I’m using rhythmic strata and highly extended song-forms in the libretto to make distinctions more than the foreground/ background method of Little Women. Dance is everywhere in the new score. Little Women is very much about interiors, about 19th century people in drawing rooms. There’s very little room in it for the kind of rhythmic work that Lysistrata employs.  Lysistrata is a raucous, outdoor piece, very erotic and adult and public, about masses of people struggling with the desire for power as opposed to the power of desire. Even the seductions of the intimate scenes are writ very, very large.

Of course, any piece you write in a certain way propels you toward its opposite. I’m sure that’s at work here. Having just written something that is so naturalistic and psychological, what I’m drawn to next is something bawdy, presentational, stylized, and rhythmic.

The Challenges of Little Women

I reviewed Carla Lucero’s new opera Wuornos for Opera News. It too is very conversational, especially in the First Act. Lucero tries very hard to imitate the natural patterns of speech. Each person says one or two lines, and then the other responds. Act felt too much like a made-for-TV opera, which Little Women doesn’t at all. 

I appreciate the problem Lucero was facing. In any musical piece that pretends to naturalism--people sitting in living rooms and conversing like you and I are, except accompanied by a twenty-piece orchestra—the challenge is to honor that naturalistic surface. Underneath, the piece has to absolutely as formed as a Restoration drama in rhymed couplets. But it has to conceal the form.

That was the challenge with Little Women. So much of Little Women is actually composed in symmetrical line lengths: a thousand tiny off-rhyme schemes build into these extremely formed, strophic set pieces. The challenge was to maintain the illusion that the scenes were really just forming themselves out of conversation, and yet at the same time give them an architecture that would support their quasi-symphonic developments. It was tremendously difficult, it truly was.

I found it very successful.

Thank you: if so, it wasn’t by accident!  That’s why, for example, in the beginning of the opera, the laundry scene is formed the way it is. Right after Jo’s prologue scene, after Laurie says absolutely the wrong thing about going back to the way it was, Jo has almost a mad scene, mocking herself with the words “perfect as we are,” which propels us into the aria “Un-bake the breads.” The energy swirls us back in time two years before, when Laurie is still the boy next door, and we meet all four sisters for the first time.   What’s important about the ensemble isn’t the strophes of the game (though I was rather tickled to get to rhyme fuschia with minutia) but the way it allows me to set up those important, identifying questions that give us a first glimpse of those sisters without too much lengthy or trite exposition.

How many of the words did you actually take from the story?

Probably 10%. When I started to outline the piece, I realized I couldn’t start with the language; a line that plays in the novel will not necessarily play on the stage.  I had to start with the actions the characters will perform that tell the story. Once I had a kind of dramatic scaffold, when I knew who was in each scene, what they were doing, and how they were telling the story, I went back to the relevant scenes in the novel and made note of any language that I as a 20th century American would not have come up with: idioms, synonyms, or odd turns of phrase that I could integrate into the scene to “antique” the language ever so slightly. It gave me, I think, a non-anachronistic contemporary language intermittently spiked with 19th century locutions.

Author Alcott

I loved the novel when I first read it in junior high school.

That’s when I read it too. There’s so much in it. You could write 15 different operas out of the plethora of events that Alcott piles onto you in this piece. That was the principal challenge: to find the real core of it. What motives engage all of these people, not just Jo, and links the events of their lives by something stronger than a calendar? 

Alcott doesn’t help you much there. The first part of the book is a “Year in the Life of:” and Part Two is a series of self-contained chapters, almost like a book of short stories.  What many people don’t know is that the second part of the book is actually a sequel, generated under commercial pressure, after the first part of the book was a hit. 

Alcott’s publishers specialized in tidy morality tales for young readers. They initially approached her after reading her melodramatic short fiction, which is really where her heart was. They asked if she would do a piece of their rather didactic kind, to which Alcott replied, “Why on earth are you approaching me? I do murders, masked, balls, romantic intrigue: I couldn’t be less interested.”  But they persisted, which is how the first part of Little Women came about: then, after it became this huge hit, Alcott got all these letters asking, “So, whom do all these people marry?” Which is how the second part came about. 

That’s why the book has little formal architecture. For every vivid, moving, tough-minded chapter, there are five that are just larded with charming, sentimental little events: near-genius and hackwork side by side.  We have an almost inadvertent classic on our hands. You need to apply a loving but unsparing critical intelligence to this novel to tease out what it’s really about.

The Birth of a Composer

How old are you, and what has your career been like up to now?

I’m 39. This is my first piece on a national scale. I was musical critic for The Washington Post for a number of years, a job I started after graduating with some distinction from Catholic University. But I had expected my life to take me more into the theater than the opera house. It was only after I got my degree that other musicians in the concert world in D.C. – players in the National Symphony, choral organizations, and other singers – began to commission me rather regularly. As disingenuous as it may sound, the simple truth is that I wrote those pieces and was very grateful that they liked them, but I somehow still didn’t think of myself as a composer. I suppose I thought as a number of suburban American children thought, that a composer was either European, dead, or both, and in any event had completed a narrow but vivid folio of piano concerti by the age of ten!  If I were to compose music drama, then, I surely would then follow in the footsteps of Stephen Sondheim more than Samuel Barber. 

Then Sylvia Alimena, the conductor of Eclipse, a chamber orchestra formed primarily of members of the National Symphony Orchestra (the principal orchestra in D.C.), approached me after a piece of mine for chamber trio was performed at the Corcoran Gallery, and asked me for an orchestral piece. That was something I’d never done before. It’s an index of what I thought of myself at the time that I thought she was merely being polite, and thought nothing further of the project. But then, in 1994, I had the year that we’ve all had, when certain people with AIDS began to die in my life and the plague became very real. I had a commission for mezzo-soprano, but I couldn’t really write anything. Instead, I began to sketch an AIDS memorial piece for voice and orchestra.

Months went by. I was sketching along when Sylvia called me and told me that they had scheduled a performance of my new composition, and wanted to confirm that I was writing it. It was the first time that I realized she wasn’t kidding. It was then that I told her that I had been working on a 40-minute piece that involved a singing voice, a speaking voice, bits of an essay by Richard Rodriguez, and other bits by Emily Dickinson, but that it was for large orchestra, and involved AIDS, etc., etc… And Sylvia said, for which I’m forever grateful, “Just write what’s in your heart.”

The piece, Late Victorians, premiered in March 1995, when I was still reviewing for The Washington Post. It was, of course, very special for both me and the orchestra. And it was really the first time that I began to think of myself, not as songwriter with orchestral skills, but as a composer in the usual sense. I felt there were too many people who believed in what I did for them all to be delusional. Perhaps I indeed had something, even though I still never planned to use it anywhere than in the musical theater.

Developing the Libretto

Two months before the premiere of Late Victorians, I flew to Houston to cover the premiere of the opera Harvey Milk and to conduct some interviews, which is when I first got a sense of what terrific work Houston Grand Opera was doing there.  Late Victorians bowed in March: then, in May, a small opera company affiliated with my alma  mater, Catholic University, asked me to consider composing an opera on Little Women.

I was, of course, very eager, and was confident enough now as a composer that I didn’t immediately protest “But I’m just a songwriter!”  At the same time, I found the chosen subject only slightly more promising than the New York State tax code. Yes, the characters were as charming as I’d remembered from reading the book at 12: and, just as you always remember your first kiss, you always remember your first death scene, and Beth’s was mine.  But, as I said earlier, what’s the core?

I looked at all the film versions, which didn’t help much: I actually threw pillows at the screen as I endured all the distortions of the novel perpetrated in the 1994 version. I also unearthed, in the Library of Congress, a number of attempts to adapt it for the theater and opera house, all of which seemed to differ only in the way they failed. But I did get two hunches. One, was that there were four events:

• Meg’s betrothal

• Laurie’s changing from a friend to a lover

• Beth’s death

• Jo’s romance with Bhaer

which no adaptation, no matter how smart or daft, saw fit to do without.  So I thought, let’s pretend, for the moment, that these four events are the compass points of the novel, if you will, and that a meaningful Little Women will somehow need to include them.

The second was more personal: whenever we left the Alcott house, I got bored.  The story seemed to lose energy. I sensed that the real psychological energy was in the first part, in the relation among the four sisters. They are the title characters, after all!

What crystallized all this for me was a single scene in the second film version of Little Women, the 1945 remake, with June Allyson, of the original George Cukor screen adaptation.  This was remake in the old, bad sense, of the word, in which they took the shooting script off the shelf, complete with lines, and camera angles, and costumes, and trotted a new cast through its paces.  In this one scene, though,  Jo has dressed up as a proper young lady, as opposed to her usual tomboyish demeanor, and has visited the publisher of a small fiction tabloid to sell one of her overripe melodramas.  Laurie has followed her to find out why she is going into town.  The building which houses the publisher also houses a dentist, so Laurie, waiting for her, thinks she is getting a tooth pulled.  She looks very stiff and square-shouldered when she comes out and Laurie, thinking that she is trying to conceal how uncomfortable she is, asks her if it hurts much.  She doesn’t know what he means.  Then, she reveals that she was there to sell a story but that she wants Laurie to keep it a secret.  In return, Laurie tells her he, too, has a secret and whispers something in her ear.  And Jo explodes.  It is one of the most intense moments in a film which otherwise doesn’t generate much emotional heat.  She runs away, her hat flies off, and the camerawork transforms her utterly from this artificially constrained adult back to an adolescent tomboy.  She arrives at her front gate and she sees her older sister, Meg, who has been her confidante, and Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, and they are clearly available to each other in a romantic way.  And Jo’s face turns to ice.

That’s when I got it. This was not a story about a woman struggling against convention: her family is the most unconventional, crypto-hippie family in American literature. It’s not a story about her struggling to be a writer, because everyone supports her writing, serious or frivolous. And it’s not about a woman looking for love through liaison with some man: she already lives in love like a fish in water.  It’s a story about a woman who, at this particular, delicate moment between adolescence and adulthood, enjoys, in her family, her siblings, that wonderful balance of support and freedom that we moderns look for in a marriage. She’s smart enough to know that she’s happy, but she’s not yet wise enough to know that it’s going to change. 

Twentieth Century Opera

Is Little Women the first work of yours that has been recorded? 

It is. It’s the piece that has made my career for me. After opening night in Houston, Houston Grand Opera (HG0) offered me two other commissions, G. Schirmer agreed to publish the piece, and New York City Opera decided to mount a new production. That’s how I became their composer-in-residence for three years, starting this fall.

Are there any other 20th century operas to achieve this many productions in so short a time?

The only one I can think of, and I don’t know if it happened this quickly, is Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Have you seen Joan Peyser’s survey of 20th century American opera in the August Opera News?

Alas, yes. Poor Joan! She hasn’t yet recovered from the failure of modernism. She doesn’t want American opera to look different from a certain stringent 1920’s version of European opera.

To prove her thesis, she calls all American opera “tonal,” refusing the inevitable historical challenge of the Viennese dodecaphonists, Schoenberg, Berg, and those who followed.   Yet much 20th century American opera, including Porgy and Bess (which she exempts from this) and Little Women, has already, effortlessly, absorbed the best of modernism and gone on. The recitative of Little Women would not be strange to the ears to Alban Berg.

Peyser still fears we have to define the future of music not by what we can add, but by what we must subtract.  So, ten years after its premiere, she mischaracterizes an important score like John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles as “tonal”—as if the majority of that score, with its aleatoric work and cluster harmony and dodecaphony and what-have-you—doesn’t make Penderecki’s The Devils look like A Hand of Bridge.  Alas, John also used a skewed version of Mozartean tonality to make to historical points, so Peyser removes the piece from serious argument.

Modernism is terrific as a chapter in the history of developing musical technique.  As a religion, though, and a rather fundamentalist one, it seems less concerned with an all-inclusive vision of the divine in humankind than in identifying, and rooting out, infidels.

So when you make art into a religion and you can only write one way...

Precisely. On their musical merit, there’s so much to respect in Webern and Berg: even Boulez has written the intermittent lovely phrase. The problem is that aesthetic of purity, of hierarchy, of exclusion.  Not rows, but rows-and-not- triads.  It’s a kind of thinking we regularly revile in the political sphere: remember the outcry when the Taliban exploded those 5th-century Buddhist monuments because they no longer suited the reigning government’s vision of Afghanistan?  How authoritarian, how insensitive to cultural need, how intellectually arid it seemed?  Of course—yet, when someone espouses the same thinking in music, we award them tenure—or an Opera News cover story.  This is not the way that music progresses.


When did you and John Corigliano meet?

In November 1995. My piece Late Victorians (see Part One) brought us together. We met when Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony were recording John’s Symphony No. 1, his AIDS Symphony. Many of the same players had performed my piece six months before, and were talking to John about it.

I had loved John’s work forever, but never had a desire to meet him only because he’s as opinionated in interviews as I am. While I agreed with everything he said, in print he seemed intense to the point of hostile. Also, he hates to have his photograph taken, so when he does he usually assumes his most serious expression—which to me made him look both beautiful and arrogant.  So, when I’d read his interviews and saw his photos, I thought, “Here’s a man who knows—and wants you to know as well— exactly how beautiful and intelligent he is, so he’ll doubtless be one piece of work if I ever meet him.”

But Sylvia, who, as I mentioned, led Eclipse and introduced Late Victorians, invited me to one of the performances of John’s AIDS Symphony from which they later drew the recording. I love the piece, and the performance was devastating: so, afterwards, she asked me if I wanted to meet him. And I said no, because I felt all I would do is blither, and I didn’t want to blither in front of John Corigliano.

Sylvia, to her infinite credit, persisted: and, when I did meet him, and found him utterly warm and approachable, that whole image I had of him shattered completely. Two months later, we were living together. It’s pretty magical.

Is there a big age difference?

There is. I’m 39, and John was just 63. Which surprised me, when we met: I don’t know what 58 looks like these days, but I thought John had, at most, 9 or 10 years on me.

You’re two husbands, each of whom has had major successes with their respective operas. I’ve thought of husband-wife and family precedents: Gustav and Alma Mahler (although he forbade her to compose once they married); Robert and Clara Schumann; and Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn ...

Fanny was Felix’s brother and both he and their father essentially forced her to stop; they did not at all support her composing.

At least you two don’t have that problem. Do we have any other teams?

There’s a Chinese-American couple, Chen Yi and her husband Zhou Long; Bernard Rands and Augusta Read Thomas; and of course Gian-Carlo Menotti and the late Samuel Barber. John knew both of them quite well; it was Sam Barber who discovered John and brought him to Schirmer.

The age difference between me and John is for the most part meaningless, but it actually works wonderfully for us professionally, because we’re not in the least competitive in our careers. We don’t sound particularly alike, but we tend to approach the compositional process rather the same. We think of the big shape first, trying to imagine the piece in its gestures and its proportions before we think of what materials belong in it.  I could see where that would be problematic if we were both going for the same things at the same stages in our lives, but I’m just beginning a life in opera and John’s place in the world is already secure. 

Enjoying Little Women

Both of your operas are very theatrical, visual, appealing and enjoyable.

There’s actually some thematic overlap between Ghosts and Little Women. Ghosts discusses in an historical and a political sphere what Little Women works with in the psychological sphere. Both pieces are very concerned with coming to terms with the past and letting it go.  But they’re also united in the belief that there does not need to be a conflict between entertainment and fresh art. Art is, at its best, a degree, a depth, of entertainment; it’s not a separate category.

I certainly remember first hearing The Ghosts, with all that wild inventive music coming from the orchestra, and listening to the piece unfold in all its breadth and clarity, and turning to a friend and saying that there is only one man out there who knows what our musical and cultural dilemmas are and how to address them in a way that sounds.  I think both of our pieces welcome an audience, but I believe you have to welcome an audience into a conversation before you can challenge them on any of its terms.

What would you like to say to people who are wondering if they should take the time to watch the opera?

If you have ever either heard or uttered the words ‘I think I’ve outgrown this relationship,’ then Little Women is about your life.

The Future

What would you like to happen with your career?

I can’t think of much that hasn’t happened. I’d like exactly the same thing to happen with the next piece! I can’t really imagine any good thing that has not befallen this piece already.

I think it would be very interesting, with the right producer and the right piece, to see if there is a place for me in the theater. I’d write a piece in the same way that the Sondheim of Sweeney Todd or the Bernstein of Candide or the Gershwin of Porgy and Bess wrote those through-composed pieces, and see what would happen. It is difficult to impossible in the best sense to say if these are substantial musical plays or operas. It would be interesting to see if my pieces would ever find such a place in the theatre.

I feel almost more collegial with Adam Guettel (the grandson of Richard Rodgers), who wrote a piece called Floyd Collins, which is almost a bluegrass opera if you can imagine such a thing; and Michael John LaChiusa, who wrote Marie Christine and The Wild Party, than with other, more conventionally trained opera composers.  We’re all very different musically. But we’ve all come of age in a generation in which the distinction between opera and musical theater is thinner than it has ever been.

One of the reasons that I love the Opera House is that I’m doing almost exactly the same kind of musical theater that I would have done elsewhere, but simply for concert voices. I’m actually loving doing this more because this generation of American singers are acting more deeply than any generation in history—so I’m not limited a s a playwright—and yet, because it’s opera, I’m not limited as a composer either.  It’s not like one has to live with a cast of brilliant, nuanced actors who have ranges of an 11th and can only count in four. I must say I’m having a lovely time.

Do you have any interest in writing an explicitly gay piece?

On the right subject, sure: Ned Rorem has always said that if he writes another opera, he wants to do something quite specifically between men.

I fear, though, that the librettist in me would war with the composer. I usually like women’s voices more simply because they’re more flexible: there’s more range, more color.  It’s why most orchestral pieces depend more on strings than winds or brass for large stretches: strings just wear less on the ear. As a musician, I can listen to most women’s voices at greater length than to most men’s voices.  I fear if I found the right subject, it would be terribly tempting to write one of the characters as a pants role, which might be seem at best awkward and at worst politically regressive! 

I reviewed the Susan Graham disc of Ned Rorem songs.  I hear it’s exquisite.

Yes, it’s absolutely wonderful. She sings it to perfection. He gave a very down and discouraged interview to Gramophone, and complained that the recording wasn’t authorized, but I can’t see how he could possibly find fault with it.

Ned, alas, is often depressed.  He’s written about it eloquently elsewhere.

Have you done many purely orchestral pieces?

I have one coming up, the Harp Concerto, which will be performed by the National Symphony. After Little Women, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for opera. Operas are rather big pieces, obviously, and I write my own libretti: so, since Little Women, I’ve only begun Lysistrata.

Do you always want to write your own libretti?

Well, I was trained as a playwright as well as a composer. So much of what makes an opera succeed or fail is the quality of the collaboration. Since I have had the theatrical experience and training, and since I know what I want as a composer and librettist, I don’t imagine working with another writer in the near future.

Have you written many art songs?

Three sets: for soprano, for tenor, and for mezzo. I’ve written numerous choral pieces, the most recent of which was set for the Choral Arts Society in Washington. There’s also a suite for small orchestra from Little Women, and 10-minute opera called Avow that I wrote for the Eos Orchestra in New York.

Is there an expectation for how much you’ll produce as Composer-in-Residence for NYC Opera?

I’ll primarily be the “face of new music” for the company, talking about the contemporary repertoire for general audiences, the Board and the press. I’ll also have a voice in selecting what we do for the showcase every year.

As concerns my own work, City Opera has expressed enthusiastic interest in Lysistrata, and there is room in my contract with Houston for up to two co-commissioners.  I am crossing my fingers that Lysistrata will make its way East as has Little Women; I think it will make a wonderful piece for New York. I’m also committed to do a Dracula in 2006, and the two companies are talking about collaborating on that one as well. 

The Art of Music Criticism

As someone who functioned first as a critic and then as a composer, did you have difficulty writing and stating opinions without stating them as your opinions, i.e. ‘I feel?’

It’s extremely difficult to write criticism correctly, and the industry isn’t structured to support good work. It’s got to be vivid scholarship for a general audience: and in order to know as much as you need to know to do it well, you need to be paid better and be given more time, which almost never happens. 

As a freelancer, you make a career through the volume of pieces you produce: so, inevitably, the temptation is toward glibness, not only in simply the proportion of how much there is to write about in so little time and space, but also in whatever “style” the arts desks require. And, alas, most newspapers do not encourage a comprehensive look at what you’re doing.

Also, your opinion is by definition, politicized – you’re always aware of the implications of your every adjective for a performer’s career. I loathed the conflict between my obligations as a critic and my natural sense of collegiality with the musicians onstage. It’s one thing if you and I go to a concert and the soprano isn’t doing well, and we talk between ourselves over coffee.  We know we aren’t going to tell her because we know she’s doing the best that she can. But as a critic, what do I do? It took a toll on me psychologically, and I was very glad to retire.

The best goal of criticism is to make critics of the audience: so it follows that description, rather than opinion, is 98% of what criticism is. If you can accurately describe, in terms of material, proportion, stance, and effect, what the piece is doing, you’re doing a great deal. An opinion is of very little interest unless it’s supported by information and insight that the general audience can go by. This is why a compositional background is very useful to a critic.  Our art as composers depends on knowing why everyone does what he or she does: how a flute is played, how a singer sings, how a composition is built in its procedures and materials.

If I do write again, I’d like to do the occasional Sunday piece, which wouldn’t be implicated in the thumbs-up-thumbs-down politics of daily reviewing.  Those pieces afford both the space and the time to do what criticism does best, which is to raise the level of the dialogue about the art you’re writing about.


For more information on Mark Adamo and Little Women, please see: http://www.usoperaweb.com/2001/may.html  May 2001 Issue - USOperaWeb

http://www.schirmer.com/composers/adamo/little_women.html Little Women

http://www.schirmer.com/composers/adamo/bio.html Mark Adamo - Biography


- Jason Serinus -


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