Mark Adamo: Little Women / Summers, Novacek, Joyce Didonato, Shelton, Tappan

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Stephanie Novacek (Jo), Joyce DiDonato (Meg), Chad Shelton (Laurie), Stacey Tappan (Beth), Margaret Lloyd (Amy), Daniel Belcher (John Brooke), Chen-Ye Yuan (Friedrich Bhaer), Katherine Ciesinski (Cecilia March), James Maddalena (Gideon March), Gwendolyn Jones (Alma March) & Derrick Parker (Mr Dashwood)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Stage Production Director: Peter Webster
Directed for Television by Brian Large

Based on Louisa May Alcott’s enduringly popular novel about the adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in civil-war era New England, Mark Adamo’s opera Little Women has been performed in more than 70 national and international engagements since its 1998 première by Houston Grand Opera and has achieved the status of an American classic.
This recording, with a superb cast expertly directed for television, vividly brings to life an opera that The New Yorker hailed as “A beautifully crafted work, brilliantly molding Alcott’s tale into operatic form,” and The New York Times dubbed a “masterpiece”.

Language: English
Subtitles: EnglishTotal Running Time: 114:53
NTSC: No Region Coding
NTSC, Aspect Ratio: 16:9, PCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1

This is also available in Blu-ray format.

Mark Adamo's Little Women, now 12 years old, has been seen in more than 60 venues in its short life, from New York to Toronto to Chicago to Adelaide to Tokyo. Watch this fine performance and you'll see what it is that makes it so popular. Adamo doesn't spoon-feed "new" music in this opera, but save for the recitatives, which are 12-tone, the work is tonal and contains set-pieces: arias, duets, ensembles. Of course the work is notoriously sentimental, but Adamo keeps the story going smoothly forward, and the truly sentimental moments are so beautifully handled that we feel moved rather than manipulated. An aria such as "Things change", sung by Meg as she explains that she's fallen in love with John Brooke, is one of those frozen moments of deep feeling that make opera great: its sentimentality is a by-product of its sincerity.

Vocal lines can be either direct or melismatic. When the March sisters sing together they can sound like a Renaissance quartet, but in conversation the music is set simply and naturally. Adamo uses only 18 instrumentalists, but they can make a ruckus when called for; interestingly, in moments of high drama (Beth's death scene, for example), he holds them back.

The performances from this Houston Grand Opera 2000 revival of the original 1998 production are glorious--natural, well-rehearsed, just stylized enough. Stephanie Novacek's Jo and Joyce DiDonato's Meg are the show's center; Jo's inflexibility stands in contrast with Meg's ability to accept things as they are. Both mezzos sing handsomely and clearly. Sopranos Stacey Tappan and Margaret Lloyd, as Beth and Amy, get more attention as the opera progresses, and though their characters are not as finely drawn, their places in the ensembles are crucial and appreciated.

Of the men, Chad Shelton's impetuous Laurie is bright-toned and bright-eyed, and Chen-Ye Yuan's Friedrich is suitably serious. And just when you think there may be too many high spirits, along comes Katherine Ciesinski as the girls' sour aunt Cecilia.

The sets (by Christopher McCollum) and stagecraft (Peter Webster is the director) have a summer theater way about them, but too much sophistication would kill the story. Patrick Summers conducts with love and understanding. The opera is sung in English and there are English subtitles. Sound and picture are first rate. This is lovely.

--Robert Levine,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 2110613

  • UPC: 747313561353

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Mark Adamo

  • Conductor: Patrick Summers

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Houston Grand Opera Orchestra

  • Performer: Chad Shelton, Chen-Ye Yuan, Daniel Belcher, Derrick Parker, Gwendolyn Jones, James Maddalena, Joyce DiDonato, Katherine Ciesinski, Margaret Lloyd, Stacey Tappan, Stephanie Novacek