Thomson: The Mother of us All (World Premiere) - Dow, Kibler, Gravell, Grooters, Stich-Randall; Luening. 1947
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American Opera didn’t really have a cohesive voice until the second half of the 20th Century, making Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All all the more remarkable as the idioms that he was creating from scratch would become enduring features of American Operas to follow. The musical language is militantly diatonic and almost intentionally oblivious to any of the musical trends of the day. However, Thomson’s voice is far from simplistic. The interest in the score lies in Thomson’s improvisational take on Americana, as if Thomson were inventing a hymn on the spot. The libretto, by Gertrude Stein, is pure theater of the absurd, bearing a clear influence from Ionescu and Brecht. This recording marks the World Premiere and features a wonderful cast headed by Dorothy Dow. Dow brings righteous indignation as Susan B. Anthony, bringing to mind Margaret Dumont, without descending into caricature thanks in no small part to her luscious soprano. The rest of the cast is mostly unknown singers with the exception of Teresa Stich-Randall as Henrietta. The recording was transferred from LPs and at times bears some scratchiness that those of us who remember LPs know all to well. That said, beyond the surface scratchiness the sound is quite clear and the diction comes through flawlessly.