Tonight's performance marks the Met's 30th world premiere and its first since John Harbison's The Great Gatsby in 1999.
An American Tragedy is based on Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel, and, through Dreiser's novel, on the real-life 1906 murder of Grace Brown, a pregnant factory worker, by her striving boyfriend, Chester Gillette. The libretto is by Gene Scheer, a songwriter and lyricist and Picker's collaborator on his opera Th_rse Raquin, which premiered at Dallas Opera in 2001.
The world-premiere production is directed by opera and theater veteran Francesca Zambello, with sets by Adrianne Lobel, costumes by Dunya Ramicova, lighting by James F. Ingalls, and choreography by Doug Varone.
The all-star cast include Nathan Gunn as Clyde Griffiths, the character based on Chester Gillette; Patricia Racette as Roberta Alden, his victim; Susan Graham as Sondra Finchley; Jennifer Larmore as Elizabeth Griffiths; Dolora Zajick as Elvira Griffiths; William Burden as Gilbert Griffiths; Kim Begley as Samuel Griffiths; and Richard Bernstein as Orville Mason. James Conlon, the music director designate of the Los Angeles Opera, is the conductor.
In addition to Th_rse Raquin, which was based on the ê_mile Zola novel, Picker's operas include Emmeline, based on Judith Rossner's novel, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on Roald Dahl's children's story.
"I'm interested in what lies under the surface," Picker told Playbill, "and what motivates us to make the choices we make, and end up where we end up—what role destiny and fate play, what role coincidence, what role human will, and what the human will is able to negotiate with fate."
"You don't have to drown your lover or mistress in order to identify with Clyde," he said. "Nathan Gunn said that any time you're given the wrong amount of change in your favor when you buy something, and you put it in your pocket and walk away, there's a little bit of Clyde in you. "
An American Tragedy runs through December 28. It will be heard on the Met's weekly radio broadcast on December 24 at 1:30 p.m. ET (check local listings).