BMOP/sound, the nation's foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music recordings, announces the release of its fifth CD Eric Sawyer: Our American Cousin. A collaborative invention of composer Eric Sawyer and librettist John Shoptaw, Our American Cousin is a two-disc opera CD, which draws upon the tragic events of Abraham Lincoln's assassination in Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. The work offers something new in the realm of American contemporary opera as it presents a unique and refreshing panorama of a familiar story in American history. The perspectives of the story are derived from both the actors who presented Tom Taylor's 1851 comedy of the same name and from that of Abraham and Mary Lincoln as they viewed the play from their private box. Shoptaw's libretto is brilliantly imaginative as he manages to interweave farcical elements with poetic language, all while remaining faithful to the overarching framework of this historical event.
Laden with stark contrasts, Our American Cousin juxtaposes past with present, comedy with tragedy, musical period references with operatic genre pieces, all within a language of lyrical extended tonality. Folded into the expressive fabrice are bits either quoted from or inspired by period music, including "Dixie," "Hail to the Chief," songs from the Civil War, spirituals, music from the American frontier, and "machine music" heralding the Industrial Revolution. Though greatly varied in style, the music still embodies Sawyer's signature style, which he describes as "lyrical extended tonality." The chorus is divided into various constituencies that might have been in attendance at Ford's Theater, among them freedmen, wounded soldiers, nurses, and businessmen. Act I takes the listener backstage as the 19th-century players prepare for the show and the audience files in; Act II is an adaptation of the play Our American Cousin; and Act III portrays the chaos that ensues after John Wilkes Booth assassinates the country's 16th President. Featuring dynamic performances by Janna Baty (mezzo-soprano), Alan Schneider (tenor), and Aaron Engebreth (baritone), Our American Cousin beautifully conveys the theme of forgiving and forgetting and echoes Lincoln's plea for reconciliation: "With malice toward none, with charity for all...let us strive...to bind up the nation's wounds."
Our American Cousin was premiered in concert version by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in March 2007 at Amherst College under the direction of Gil Rose. The opera recently received its world premiere stage performance at the Academy of Music Theater (Northampton, MA), in June 2008 with BMOP, Gil Rose (conductor), and Carole Charnow (director).
Eric Sawyer: Our American Cousin is one of nine BMOP/sound recordings slated for release in 2008: John Harbison: Ulysses (released March 1st); Michael Gandolfi: Y2K Compliant (released April 1st); Lee Hyla: Lives of the Saints (released May 1st) featuring Mary Nessinger (mezzo-soprano); Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz (released June 1st); Charles Fussell: Wilde featuring Sanford Sylvan (baritone) in September; Lukas Foss: The Prairie featuring The Providence Singers in October; Louis Andriessen: La Passione featuring Cristina Zavalloni (mezzo-soprano) and Monica Germino (violin) in November; and David Rakowski: Winged Contraption featuring Marilyn Nonken (piano) in December. BMOP/sound recordings are distributed by Albany Music Distributors, coupled with global online distribution. An interactive BMOP website with digital download capabilities is planned for later in 2008. http://www.bmopsound.org.