PASATIERI: Signor Deluso.La Divina. Divas of a Certain Age

PASATIERI Signor Deluso.La Divina. Divas of a Certain Age • Sheri Greenawald (Mme. Altina, Diva I); Ashley Putnam (Cecily, Diva II); Alissa Rose (Célie); Luke Grooms (Léon); Jordan Shanahan (Signor Deluso); Leslie Anne Friend (Clara); Opera Company of Brooklyn; Jay D. Meetze, cond; Thomas Pasatieri (pn) • ALBANY TROY-847 (57:58 •)

With this recent release, and the even newer Thomas Pasatieri—Songbook, Albany takes some significant steps toward rectifying the egregious under-representation of this composer’s music on recording. Pasatieri achieved considerable success with both singers and audiences, along with some critical notoriety, for his 17 traditional-style operas, which he composed during his 20s and early 30s—a period (1965-1980) when critics were notably hostile to operas that built upon, rather than rejecting, the musical legacy of Puccini. Eventually disillusioned and embittered by the hostile Zeitgeist, he moved to California, and spent the next 20 years pursuing a lucrative career as an orchestrator of filmscores. (The Shawshank Redemption, The Little Mermaid, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Road to Perdition are just a few of the scores that he orchestrated.) Then, in 2002, around the time when his 1972 opera The Seagull was revived successfully by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, the 57-year-old composer decided to return to New York and resume his career as an opera composer.

(By the time this review appears, the first fruit of Pasatieri’s renascence, Frau Margot, will have already been introduced by the Fort Worth Opera. The work is based on an actual incident related by Leonard Bernstein to librettist Frank Corsaro, and concerns the widow of Alban Berg. At the time of this writing, its premiere is awaited with eager anticipation.) 

From today’s vantage point, Pasatieri looms as one of the more prolific of the distinguished group of composers who continued and still continue to pursue traditional-style opera without regard for the shifts of fashion. Pasatieri has embraced the legacy of his teacher Vittorio Giannini, as well as that of Menotti, Barber, Hoiby, Floyd, Argento, and Flagello, and has himself served as a model for such younger figures as Jake Heggie, Mark Adamo, Tobias Picker, and Lowell Liebermann—a continuing tradition of romantic and neo-romantic operatic expression.

This recording features two of Pasatieri’s comic operas, along with a short sketch originally written as party entertainment. Here I should state that I am not a major fan of comic operas—although that doesn’t mean that I have no capacity to appreciate a good one.

For example, Signor Deluso, Pasatieri’s 11th opera, composed when he was 29, is quite a delight. Exhibiting the compositional skill and theatrical acumen of Giannini, he fashions a preposterously silly and self-mocking romp of a foursome of misunderstandings, outrage, and ultimate resolution, leaving room for some pretty—if somewhat parodistic—melodies as well—and all in less than half an hour! Rossini would be impressed! Scored for an ensemble of eight instruments, the opera is said to have been performed some 8000 times, from Finland to Korea. Basing the work on Molière’s Sganarelle, Pasatieri, on a commission from the Juilliard School, wrote the libretto himself, completing the entire work in two months.

Pasatieri wrote La Divina in 1965, and it too has been performed many times, before the composer revised it in 2005. Also just under half an hour in duration, it pokes fun at the vanity of the classic operatic diva—in this case, at the point of retirement but reluctant to relinquish the spotlight. This 2005 revision presents the title character with a little more compassion and a little less ridicule. Passionate opera aficionados are likely to find it quite amusing and entertaining.
Such listeners will no doubt similarly enjoy Divas of a Certain Age—a five-minute bit of fluff that also caricatures the vulnerable ego of the aging opera star.

Sheri Greenawald is a wonderful soprano who has been a devoted exponent of Pasatieri’s music for many years. She has a real affinity for the pathos that lies at the heart of so much of his work, and she can still do it justice. Ashley Putnam does not fare quite as well, although she manages the challenges of her roles adequately. The young singers who perform Signor Deluso fulfill their roles with exuberant wit and artistry.

Unfortunately, the works selected for this CD do not come close to representing the full measure of Pasatieri’s gift for musical theater—in particular, his musical realization of human emotion. But they do offer some amusing entertainment. Perhaps the next step will be a recording of one of the composer’s dramatic masterpieces, such as Black Widow or Washington Square.