I heard the world premiere of Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and soloists with Jaap van Zweden last night in Dallas.
1. Not since the golden age of Handel oratorios has something like August 4, 1964 been so touching and well crafted; from the amazing libretto by Gene Scheer to the vocal soloist’s costumes, the evening was thought provoking and emotional. Supertitles brought clarity to the work, but with the diction of the soloists, it wasn’t needed but certainly appreciated. Still, small details like the italics for the Stephen Spender poem used in the score that hung on one of the mother’s wall after hearing about her son’s death, was brilliant to make a distinct between the rest of the libretto.
2. The mix between the Civil Rights and Vietnam War was just right – kudos for the balanced libretto from Gene Scheer, and for Stucky’s expressive score. Especially moving was the interaction of baritone Robert Orth and the chorus, often contrasting and supporting the storyline. Also the lyric lines of the female soloists, Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Connor, were not only performed exquistely, but had touching elements such as holding hands. (All four of the soloists were in period clothes of the 1960s, complete with hats for the women and slender ties for the men held by tie bars.) Staging had been thought about, complete with an oval office set, but was left undone without sufficient rehearsal time. Also, there was an idea to have an audio prelude or overture, with the actual White House tapes and news reports about this day in 1964. It was decided with the Meyerson’s acoustics, NOT to play it beforehand, but if you catch a pre-concert talk they play it there…perhaps it should be put online as well?