*********** MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH ***********

A long overdue issue of an important and wonderfully lyrical operatic experience.

* CARLISLE FLOYD: Wuthering Heights (complete opera) – Georgia Jarman (Catherine)/ Kelly Markgraf (Heathcliff)/ Susanne Mentzer (Nelly)/ Vale Rideout (Edgar Linton)/ Heather Buck (Isabela Lint)/ Chad Shelton (Hindley Earnsh)/ Matthew Burns (Mr. Earnshaw)/ Frank Kelley (Joseph)/ Aaron Short (Lockwood)/ Florentine Opera Chorus/ Milwaukee Sym. Orch./ Joseph Mechavich – Reference Recordings multichannel SACD FR-721 (2 discs), 69:51, 69:32 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Carlisle Floyd, despite being among the foremost opera composers America has ever produced, still doesn’t get the due that a more civilized age might bestow upon him. His work is essential to any overview of American music, and though opera remains a bit of a specialized field for most listeners, there is certainly nothing in his music that would offend even the most generic of modern listeners. Whether caught up in the modern maze of popular music madness or the most devoted Wagnerphile, Floyd will, if you give him a chance, win you over.

The Virgin Classics issue of Susannah (with Renee Fleming) some years ago was a smash hit, as well as being a seminal recording of Floyd’s first opera. Wuthering Heights is his second, premiered way back in 1958 by the Santa Fe Opera. It has never been recorded until now, and this issue is certainly a worthy one. It is also interesting to compare it to another “modern” view of the piece, that of Bernard Herrmann, who worked on his version from 1943 to 1952, producing a formidable piece of great structure and presence, yet practically ignored since its creation. One can hear why—despite the fact that some claim it was one of the works closest to Herrmann’s heart, his musical language is simply too thick and complex to illumine a novel that is thick and complex in and of itself. Floyd understood this, and his very native musical language cuts through a lot of the novel’s underbrush and gets down to the elemental focus of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine.

Floyd, now 90 and still writing operas (!), served as artistic advisor for this Florentine Opera premiere recording, made in January 2015 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, in Brookfield, Wisconsin. It is superb in every way, from Reference’s magnificent sonic capture to the excellence of all members of the cast. Florentine plans to record at least two more Floyd operas, and if they can garner a cast and crew as magnificent as this one, they will have indebted the composer and all lovers of modern opera in a way that cannot be repaid. This is a must have issue if you love classical music.

—Steven Ritter

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