Ned Rorem came to town this weekend, in the form of his new opera Our Town, based on the Thornton Wilder play. The work was co-commissioned and performed by our A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute. I caught the final dress rehearsal on Wednesday night.
Our Town is an overwhelmingly competent piece. Rorem is a master draftsman – he can conjure up a compelling musical moment with just a few deft strokes of the pen. Flipping through the score is a great lesson in musical economy: the simplest ideas are handled to the greatest possible effect.

In evidence throughout is a Ravellian love for every nuance of harmony, from the sweet pungencies of the “town” music to the parallel organum in the graveyard scene, and the bitter polychords that underscore some of the most despairing moments.

I wouldn’t be a composer if I didn’t feel like there were some things I would have done differently, but then I wouldn’t want to lead the life Rorem has led either, so there’s no reason to think I should want to write the same piece. He’s written the opera the way he should have written it, and we are all the better for his accomplishment.

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