Music and Vision homepage




HOWARD SMITH writes about one of the most important
and celebrated composers working today


Yet again prolific American composer Libby Larsen has occupied the operatic limelight -- this time with a drama focussing on coloratura soprano Jenny Lind, once dubbed 'The Swedish Nightingale'. For a time while in the USA, nineteenth century superstar Lind gave concerts under the aegis of impresario P T Barnum, hence the title for Larsen's 'cabaret opera', Barnum's Bird.

In February of this year the Minneapolis-based composer was showered with praise by the New York Times after the King's Singers premiered her song cycle 'Lover's Journey' during a Valentine's Day concert at St.Bartholomew's Church.

Following that cycle in a production by the University of Minnesota Opera Theatre, audiences witnessed the 1st in-state performances of Eric Hermannson's Soul, a Larsen opera based on a story by Willa Cather (1873-1947). Set in Nebraska around 1900 it tells of the relationship between a Norwegian immigrant fiddler and a lady from the distant East coast upper classes. Akira Mori conducted.

The Jenny Lind opera shows how opportunist and marketing pioneer Phineas T Barnum entices Lind to engage in a 150 concert (1850) American tour, billed as 'The Swedish Nightingale'. Unbeknown to the soprano who, amazingly, the wily Barnum had never heard, he licenses and sells hundreds of Jenny Lind products.

Yet Lind proves more than his equal. She secures a stupefying contract, bringing her music director, Julius Benedict; friend and baritone, Giovanni Belletti; and two travelling companions. Everywhere the soprano stayed, her room had to be redecorated to her exacting requirements. Barnum had expected to make a financial 'killing' But he ended up in the red.

Continue >>

Copyright © 1 July 2001 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand






 << Music & Vision home           The Chameleon Catalyst >>