John Adams’s Antony and Cleopatra Is “Radiant”
Following the world premiere of John Adams’s Antony and Cleopatra, reviews have poured in praising the new stage work.
On September 10, San Francisco Opera opened its centennial season with a radiantly received world premiere of John Adams’s new opera Antony and Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare’s famous drama. The San Francisco Chronicle has deemed it as “some of the most radiantly beautiful music in the composer’s catalog.”
> Watch the livestream on September 18 at sfopera.org/Cleopatra
Adams and his collaborators director Elkhanah Pulitzer and dramaturg Lucia Scheckner successfully tackled the epic challenge of distilling Shakespeare’s complex story into a tautly packed drama that moves swiftly and purposefully across two acts. San Francisco Chronicle praised the opera's “crisply dynamic musical and theatrical vision” and the Financial Times called the opera “dramatically effective,” while The Telegraph noted the “constant buzz of tense action.”
The cast, led by soprano Amina Edris as Cleopatra and bass-baritone Gerald Finley as Antony, were given “richly evocative, and eminently singable” vocal lines (Opera News). The Wall Street Journal noted that “The vocal writing is carefully tailored for textual intelligibility, and each of the principals has a distinct vocal character—Cleopatra’s undulating seductiveness, Antony’s struggle, Caesar’s implacability.”
Above all, critics repeatedly saluted the brilliance of Adams’s orchestration. Opera News wrote, “the composer is a master of building tension in the orchestral sound,” and Adventures in Music writes, “Adams’s mastery over the orchestra is evident throughout.” San Francisco Classical Voice proclaimed, “Adams’s score is a miraculous summation of the best of his work over the last 30-plus years.”
“richly evocative, and eminently singable”
“Adams’s sound world built to moments of thrilling intensity.”
San Francisco Classical Voice
“Adams’s score is a miraculous summation of the best of his work over the last 30-plus years. The syncopation, swirling winds, ominous brass, and sinister percussion are all characteristic.”
"finely wrought, fiercely expressive ... an unmistakable personal voice"
"The richer the language, the stronger Adams’s response ... The collision with Shakespeare appears to have been inevitable."
Wall Street Journal
“The orchestration is inventive and encyclopedic; the sprawling dramaturgy well-corralled; the text setting clear.”
“The love scenes in which Cleopatra draws Antony back into her orbit have a magical serenity. The opening of Act 2, when they reconcile after the Actium disaster, has an elegant Stravinskian clarity, as the lovers first talk past each other and then kiss; Antony’s death is a poignant, long-breathed sigh, tuning out the world of the martial, brass-heavy Roman sequences.”
"This opera delivers in spades."
“constant buzz of tense action … ever more inventive orchestral writing”
San Francisco Chronicle
“some of the most radiantly beautiful music in the composer’s catalog”
“theatrical grandeur blended with expressive intimacy in perfectly judged proportions”
“The music is rich, evocative and full of intricately crafted detail (Shakespeare’s famous invocation of Cleopatra’s “infinite variety” is too apt to resist applying here as well).”
Adventures in Music
“Adams’s mastery over the orchestra is evident throughout.”
“A classic to be, Antony and Cleopatra opens a new chapter in Adams’s ever-evolving musical career.”
“The orchestral characterization of The Battle of Actium was particularly a highlight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a staple in many symphony halls!”
> Further information on Work: Antony and Cleopatra
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera