No One Can Know

Manhattan School of Music Opera Theatre conducted by Steven Osgood


Lee Hoiby is still very much with us; he turns 80 next year and is still going strong as a composer. Yet listening to the first-ever complete recording of his 1964 Turgenev-inspired opera A Month in the Country, featuring a libretto by legendary San Francisco theater director William Ball, is a total blast from the past. A protégé of Gian Carlo Menotti, Hoiby matured as a composer in a directly communicative pre-“everything is ironic” era when a large-scale musical work could be considered a major newsworthy event. The notes even describe a review of the opera’s premiere by the Woman’s Wear Daily! (Could you imagine such a thing nowadays in an era where the only music stories in the media seem to be Britney had a boy or Madonna fell off a horse?) Hoiby’s mid-century neo-realism perhaps explains the opera’s lack of an overture. But how then to explain the intense octet near the end of the opera which Paul Hume, the critic who once incurred the wrath of Harry S. Truman, called “a supreme moment in opera” and something of “overwhelming beauty.” Times indeed have changed.


—FJO