A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck

Francesca Zambello, the new head of the Glimmerglass Festival, recruited Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori to create an opera for the 2011 season.

Glimmerglass Festival Cooperstown, N.Y.

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It turns out that Tony Kushner can even write for opera, said Brian Scott Lipton in TheaterMania.com. Working with Jeanine Tesori, the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright has created a fanciful but “sharply observed glimpse into the tempestuous marriage” of Eugene O’Neill and his last wife, Carlotta Monterey. The story was inspired by a real-life 1951 incident, in which Monterey threw O’Neill out of their Massachusetts home following a squabble. Yet it takes a decidedly Kushnerian turn when O’Neill spends the night in the snow and encounters a vision of the singer from one of his favorite 1920s jazz records, who looks eerily like his estranged daughter.

Eventually, O’Neill’s exposure to the elements lands him in a hospital bed, said George Loomis in the Financial Times. Even at this point, though, this abbreviated opera isn’t particularly downbeat. Tesori’s music “avoids pessimism, as if to underscore the point that the snowy encounter was for the best.” She weaves hints of Broadway and jazz throughout, including a recurrent motif from O’Neill’s record

that sounds like something she might have dreamed up when she scored Thoroughly Modern Millie. Even when the score’s eclecticism gets a little messy, Francesca Zambello’s cogent direction keeps the story moving.

Zambello deserves much of the credit for this opera’s creation, said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. When she stepped in as the new head of the Glimmerglass Festival, she was “determined to include a new opera in the year’s offerings,” and she recruited Kushner and Tesori for the project. Clocking in at 40 minutes, Blizzard is hardly either’s magnum opus, and its faults sometimes hamper the performers. Kushner’s “vocal lines of jumpy patter” trip up Patricia Schuman, who plays Monterey, making it difficult for her to enunciate. Yet she and the “commanding” bass-baritone David Pittsinger fully inhabit their roles as the warring couple. The result is “an intense and strangely involving work” that suggests there’s more inventiveness to come under Zambello’s tenure.

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