Thursday, April 30, 2015

Michael S. Wright on William Grant Still's opera 'Troubled Island': This Landmark Recording is being distributed in a most unethical way!

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,

William Grant Still Music Item No. CD-OPERA-TROUBISL-WGSM3001


Product Details

A reproduction of the 1949 New York performance of this William Grant Still opera in collaboration with Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey. Available on CD, this recording is a 50th anniversary tribute to the first opera by an Afro-American to be staged by a major American company. One of the first productions, with all of its technical flaws, is presented here.

The following review of William Grant Still's opera Troubled Island is by Michael S. Wright:

This Landmark Recording is being distributed in a most unethical way!
This is THE landmark recording. This is in fact the ONLY recording available and Cantus-Line (DA Music) a German company are doing no favours by issuing it. However, the bargain price CD's have in fact been issued without any royalties being paid to the owners. This unethical dealing was revealed to me by the publishers, William Grant Still Music check out - will supply legal copies.
The plot of "Troubled Island" is the troubled history of Haiti in 1790's portraying Jean Jacques Dessalines  and the corruption of his leadership in the Haitian revolution. As self proclaimed emperor of  Haiti, he was 'bumped off' by his opponents. A great plot for starters! This an opera in three acts was composed by William Grant Still (1895-1978), with a libretto begun by poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and completed by Verna Arvey (1910-1987).
The New York City Opera premiered this on March 31, 1949, notably making it the first grand opera composed by an African American to be produced by a major company and it received 22 curtain calls. However, evidence has been clearly shown that the New York critics intentionally panned Troubled Island due to racism. As a result, there were just two additional performances.  Despite the fact that there were potentially ideal African-American soloists available at the time, the starring roles played by Robert Weede and Marie Powers put on 'black' make-up for the premiere....... oh dear! Had racism not taken priority in this way, I feel there was a good chance that this would have deservedly gone down in history as a milestone in American opera.
I have known this opera and this recording for 20 years or so after obtaining cassettes from the composer's daughter and good friend, Judith Anne Still. On first hearing it, I was quite 'blown away' by its impact. Despite the very limited sound quality of a live recording of the period (which has been improved in a legal copy of a remastered CD that I later obtained from WGS Music) you will hear some very fine musical writing. This is the sound of a really great opera. Whilst the NY performance is patchy and flawed in a number of ways - more rehearsal and better direction - there are some very engaging performances by the soloists. 'Troubled Island' is 'essential listening' to anyone who wishes to gain an insight into the trailblazing history of American opera. I have not purchased this 'rip off' version and cannot vouch for its sound quality. I urge all who are interested to hear this amazing work to order a legal copy from William Grant Still Music and avoid this so-called bargain version. By buying the legal copy instead you will help William Grant Still Music to continue in existence with the hope of more music emerging in the future, hopefully, new opera productions. By buying the cheap copy here, you will be helping to destroy the publishers and deny the world further opportunities to hear the works of the pioneering composer, William Grant Still. I urge all who appreciate 'big' opera in the late romantic mode to hear this and then explore further because William Grant Still wrote 9 more operas and those who explore the William Grant Still website will find a lot more exciting material on offer! This includes other opera and symphonic premieres, Try also 'Highway One' a studio performance with Louise Toppin, Robert Honeysucker, Ray M. Wade, Pamela Dillard and Philip Brunelle with VocalEssence Ensemble and the St. Olaf Orchestra is available on a modern recording - Albany TROY 734.

No comments: