A New Masterpiece
The 1980 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians described the American modernist Hugo Weisgall (born 1912) as “perhaps America’s most important composer of operas.” In the 1986 New Grove Dictionary of American Music, a compilation drawn from the 1980 edition and revised, the article on Weisgall calls him merely “one of America’s most important composers of operas. . . .” But as the current New York opera season has amply demonstrated, the Grove editors would have done well to have stuck to their initial formulation.
What has now definitively propelled Weisgall to leadership in American opera is the world premiere by the New York City Opera of his latest work, Esther. Originally commissioned in 1987 by the San Francisco Opera and its then-general director, Terence McEwen (to whom the work is dedicated), Esther was canceled, after much work in preparatory sessions. The cancelation was the achievement, justified on various grounds, of Lotfi Mansouri, McEwen’s replacement. While charges against Weisgall’s work were aired in the opera world—charges of Meyerbeerian excess and impracticability—the underlying reason for the cancelation seems simple enough: Esther was just musically too difficult and theatrically too mainstream for the San Francisco Opera at this moment in its artistic life.
About the Author