Not since Ghosts of Versailles has a new American opera been received with the ovation awarded Tobias Picker's Emmeline, which had its world premiere in 1996 at Santa Fe Opera.
And now the opera, a real-life story that eerily parallels the Oedipus myth, arrives on the East Coast with its cast nearly intact for four performances at New York City Opera beginning Mar. 31.
Emmeline, with a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, is based on the novel of the same name by Judith Rossner, about a tragic incident that rocked a small 19th-century New England town. Composer Picker, who lives in NY, has said he was inspired to write the opera when he saw a PBS documentary on the subject.
Soprano Patricia Racette (recently in the Metropolitan Opera's Peter Grimes and Tales of Hoffmann), re-creates the role of Emmeline Mosher, a 13-year-old girl who is sent by her family to work in the Massachusetts textile mills, where she catches the eye of the married factory owner and bears his child. Twenty years later, she falls in love with and marries a handsome young railroad worker, Matthew, who is eventually revealed to be the child she gave up for adoption.
Emmeline was broadcast on PBS' "Great Performances" in 1997, where it was praised for its score and for its staging by Francesca Zambello. In addition to Racette, the cast includes Curt Peterson as Matthew, Anne-Marie Owens as Aunt Hannah, Josepha Gayer as Mr. Bass, Victor Ledbetter as Mr. Maguire, Kevin Langan as Henry Mosher and Herbert Perry as Pastor Avery.
The conductor is New York City Opera's music director, George Manahan. In addition to director Zambello, the creative team includes set designer Robert Israel, costume designer Dunya Ramicova and lighting designer Amy Appleyard.
Emmeline will be sung in English with supertitles.
Performances are Mar. 31, April 4 (mat.), April 8 and April 11 at the NY State Theatre at Lincoln Center. For tickets, $20-$85, call (212) 870-5570.
-- By Rebecca Paller