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Utah Opera: Of Mice & Men

It was 1969 when Carlisle Floyd adapted John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novella for the operatic stage. By then, the American public’s faith in stark modernity and abstract expressionism was in serious decline.

Yet a period of social upheaval like the late 1960s could never signal a serious return to the simple AABA, “Oh, Susannah”-type folk music historically favored by Steinbeck’s dispossessed, working-class characters. Opera-goers wouldn’t have stood for it then, and they shouldn’t stand for it now, despite the current passion for sing-songy tunes.

Yes, Floyd’s score is challenging. Of Mice & Men is not a Rossini, Puccini or any other “-ini” crowd-pleaser. The startling bitonality separating vocal line from orchestral score serves to highlight the textual narrative pulled from Steinbeck’s dialogue. Yet, Utah audiences seem to love it. I guess this makes us more sophisticated than we think.

The music is at its most soaring when characters are describing their dreams, whether owning property—as with Lennie (Corey Bix, pictured right) and George (Matthew Burns, pictured left)—or becoming a Hollywood starlet—as with Curley’s wife (soprano Sara Gartland). Both Bix and Gartland are superb. But special kudos go to the four-legged actor who, for some reason, didn’t merit a program credit: Walter, who portrays Candy’s (Ryan Allen) aged pet dog.

Any canine lover knows that, whenever dogs hear opera, they are uncontrollably compelled to howl. Yet the adorable and well-behaved Walter somehow remained silent. According to trainer Lou Carlson, “I loudly sing with a little bit of chicken hidden in my mouth”—a training exercise that, evidently, did the trick. (Brandon Burt)

Date: May 13, 2012
Time: 7:30 pm
Phone: 801-355-2787
Address: 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 84101
Where: Capitol Theatre