SASHA MATSON: Cooperstown (Jazz Opera in Nine Innings) – Julie Adams, Daniel Favela, Carin Gilfry, Rod Gilfry, Daniel Montenegro; vocals/jazz ens./ Sasha Matson – Albany TROY 1553/54, 104:03 (03/01/15) (2 CDs) ***:
First, and to be clear, to call Sasha Matson’s Coopertown a “jazz opera” or an opera in any traditional sense of the word is quite a stretch. It is a nearly two-hour work with a libretto that takes the aspirations, loves and professional determinations of its characters and paints a sort of small scale ‘soap opera’ that is much like a chamber musical. Each ‘inning’ is a scene, really, that focuses on the thoughts or interchanges of one or two of the main characters; pitcher, catcher, agent, manager, girlfriend/love interest.
Cooperstown utilizes five solo singers and a 1950s style jazz quintet. That is it. Based on A. Bartlett Giamatti’s (the former commish Bart Giamatti) essay, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Matson and librettist Mark Miller, see baseball as an art form, according to press releases, to give us an insight into individuals and society. I’m a big baseball fan myself (Cubs. No jokes, please.) and I grew up realizing that it seems (or seemed in the 60s) to encapsulate what Americans saw as “American.” Other than Matson’s obvious love of baseball in this regard as well, I’m not sure it is all that profound.
To capture the “sound” of baseball, Matson uses the sounds of the stadium organ to score for his jazz quintet. We even have the stereotypical “Charge!” fanfare still heard in stadiums everywhere: (e.g. sol-do-mi-sol-mi-sol…. Charge!)
The libretto is pretty short on ‘story’ and long on the thoughts, worries and ‘thinking out loud’ of the characters and some amount of stereotyping does not elude the proceedings with elements of rich vs. poor native Americans and immigrants and the always distracting females who may – or may not – be out for the best interests of their guys.
Musically, it is jazz; albeit played very well by the impressive ensemble collected here. Vocally, it is not even completely accurate to divide the soloists/characters into opera voices; like soprano or tenor. This is musical theatre writing. I was already familiar – and always impressed with – two of the male leads, though. Rod Gilfry made a lasting impression with his marvelous portrayal of the sexy but dislikeable and brutal Stanley Kowalski in Andre Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire. Similarly, I saw Daniel Montenegro in Daniel Catan’s Il Postino and loved it. The other principals; Julie Adams, Daniel Favela and Carin Gilfry are also quite capable and carry their roles well.
Sasha Matson is a California-trained and -based composer with roots in the jazz world and in some film scoring. I do like his John Muir inspired choral work, Range of Light. This ‘opera’ is clever to be sure and mostly enjoyable musically; it just rather misses the mark in the drama department. Again, it exists in a medium world that is not really classical opera nor is it music theatre. Not to worry though. Angel gets the girl and the Bluebloods (yes, really) win the pennant.
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