Sidlin and Cast's 'Tender' Touch

Murry Sidlin conducted a chamber version of the opera
Murry Sidlin conducted a chamber version of the opera "The Tender Land" at Catholic University, part of the school's Aaron Copland festival. (Catholic University)
Monday, April 10, 2006

Conductor Murry Sidlin pared down Aaron Copland's opera "The Tender Land" to a chamber version that was solidly performed Friday at Catholic University, capping a school festival centered on "Aaron Copland's America."

The opera is set in an idealized rural past, a pristine folklife culture, and the music is in the composer's vintage plein-air idiom, devoid of any trace of the electronic and serial styles going full-throttle around him. Inspired by James Agee's book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," the story (by Erik Johns) depicts family tensions intensified by a boy-loves-girl predicament.

Directed by Michael Scarola, Friday's production was a hearty one with fine singers, a supportive orchestra and very modest set and props suggesting a farm in the American heartland. Nicole Lamm (Laurie) and Issachah Savage (Martin) made engaging lovers; Kristen Green (Ma Moss) and Andrew Adelsberger (Grandpa Moss) were convincing protagonists; Stanley Webber (Top) provided the perfect dramatic foil. The support cast and dancers added zest to the drama.

Unlike the production staged two years ago in the university's Ward Recital Hall, however, this version of the opera was handicapped by the venue -- the campus Great Room. With the orchestra playing at the side of an improvised stage, ensemble was often rough. It was difficult for the audience to retain a sense of the whole, and unnecessary amplification distorted the vocals.

-- Cecelia Porter

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