'A View from the Bridge' reworked as opera

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Dec. 18, 2002 at 3:54 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Arthur Miller always said his "A View from the Bridge" would lend itself to opera, and now he has proved himself correct.

Miller, America's most honored living playwright, worked with composer William Bolcom's longtime collaborator, Arnold Weinstein, on a poetic libretto and Bolcom provided the musical score for the operatic version of the 1957 play on commission from the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It premiered in Chicago in 1999 and has since been revised and has had two arias added.

The revised version is currently having its New York debut performances conducted by Dennis Russell Davies at the Metropolitan Opera through Dec. 28. An undisputed success, "A View from the Bridge" will be heard in its Chicago version in Hagen, Germany, later this winter and in Portland, Ore., in the New York version next spring. Miller, 87, took bows at the Met opening night performance and plans to be on hand in Hagen and Portland.

Bolcom's wonderfully coherent score has a modernist, sometimes jazzy grandeur bringing up to date the 19th century Italian verismo style of composition that reflects the everyday dramas in the lives of ordinary people. The 64-year-old composer says he was particularly inspired by the music of popular 20th century songwriter Harry Warren, but there also are references to Broadway-style music, barbershop quartets, and even the tango.

The opera has one show-stopping aria in the Warren style, "New York Lights," sung by an Italian immigrant youth who has fallen in love with his adopted city. It is a melting melody of stunning beauty and shimmering word imagery such as: "I love the beauty of the view at home/ The palazzos of Palermo, the cathedral dome/ I've seen pictures of Milano and of Rome/ But they don't compare to the New York lights."

Miller's "View" has been one of his most successful plays, not only as a powerful, tragic drama but as a work that hinges on the incestuous feelings of its ill-fated main character, Eddie Carbone. This is a subject rarely explored in recent American drama and one that Miller handled with insight and without sensationalism.

Set in the 1950s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge referred to in the title, it tells the story of a longshoreman, Eddie, and his increasingly lonely wife, Beatrice. They have brought up Beatrice's niece, Catherine, as their own daughter, and now that she has flowered into an attractive young woman of 17 Eddie finds he is sexually drawn to her and overprotective of her virtue.

Eddie's world is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of two of Beatrice's young male cousins from Sicily, who have been smuggled into the country to get work on the Brooklyn docks. One of them, Marco, wants to send money home to his wife and starving children. The other, Rodolfo, falls in love with Catherine and plans to marry her, thereby obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Rodolfo's intrusion drives the hot-headed Eddie into a bout of jealousy that results in his handing Marco and Rodolfo over to immigration officials and ends in his own death when he draws a knife on Rodolfo. The difficult role of Eddie is strongly portrayed by Kim Josephson, a baritone with the looks of a brawny dock worker and a voice of power to match his appearance.

Isabel Bayrakdarian, making her Metropolitan debut as Catherine, and Gregory Turay as Rodolfo, make an impressive young couple caught up in a difficult romance. Bayrakdarian is blessed with a shimmering soprano and grace as an actress, and Turay has both the blond good looks and sweet, full-bodied tenor to make Rodolfo irresistible, especially in his rendition of Johnny Black's "Paper Doll," a carry-over from the play.

Also outstanding are soprano Catherine Malfitano, a Met veteran, who brings an exasperated intensity and vocal hardness to the thankless role of Beatrice; bass-baritone Richard Bernstein, who portrays the moody Marco with emotional commitment; and bass-baritone John Del Carlo who is monumental as a clairvoyant attorney and narrator backed up by a Greek chorus of Red Hook neighbors.

Director Frank Galati, best known for his direction of "The Grapes of Wrath," "Ragtime," and "Seussical" on Broadway, has brought remarkable logic to the action by using all the surmountable elements of a complex steel structure representing a bridge approach as stages for the large cast.

Broadway's designer Santo Loquasto is responsible for the impressively constructed set, working with projectionist Wendall K. Harrington who has provided realistic Red Hook cityscapes as background. Much of the effectiveness of the off-beat staging is the result of eerie lighting effects devised by Duane Schuler to give the opera a doomsday quality.

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