October 24, 2014

Reviews

COMPOSITION

OPERAS

Click on an opera title for more information.

Gabriel’s Daughter (opera in 2 acts)

“Adding to the historic weight of the evening was the fact this is also the 25th season that Mollicone’s Face on the Barroom Floor is being performed on site in the city’s Teller House bar. It is today second only to Menotti’s Amahl as the most-performed one-act American opera of the 20th century. In Gabriel’s Daughter Mollicone…reveals a voice uniquely his own. He has woven bits of Americana —honky-tonk, gospel and a hint of Battle Hymn of the Republic—seamlessly into his score. His compelling music moves the story forward at a rapid pace, but never hurries it. To capture the bite of the story Mollicone pushes tonality to its edge, and an undercurrent of darkness focuses attention on the haunting love at the core of the work. His richly colored music is engaging—but never relentless…. Mollicone is a master of massive scenes that portray the historical milieu—the slave market, the gold-rush craze, a mob stirred by racial hatred, and John Baril has the CCO chorus singing at the height of its powers in them. For overall beauty and effectiveness of staging Gabriel’s Daughter sets a new standard at the CCO.” THE DAILY CAMERA, 7-14-03 – Wes Blomster

“Mollicone mixes operatic grandness, Broadway-musical energy and movie-soundtrack sweep to create a likable score that brims with memorable tunes (try to purge the toe-tapping Colorado !’ chorus from your head). Clara’s ‘Lullaby’ and the gospel-tinged ‘Glory Day’ also impress. Luce has crafted an elegant libretto, featuring unforced rhyming couplets and hard-hitting lines (‘Slavery and God going hand in hand’).”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS 7/15/03 – Marc Shulgold

“Given Mollicone’s extensive experience in the operatic realm, it is not surprising that he has put together a solid score, skillfully evoking moods and shaping characters… There are moments when the opera sounds like a movie score and many other times when it comes off more as a Broadway musical…”
THE DENVER POST 7/15/03 – Kyle MacMillan

“Mollicone has composed a work that will stand solidly in the opera repertoire – and do the American Opera proud…. Henry Mollicone’s score incorporates Ragtime, military marches and Gospel with nods to Bernstein and Copland. His work is, by turns, tender, passionate and stirring…. The masterful libretto by William Luce is full of heart-piercing poetry…. Not to be missed!” OUT FRONT COLORADO 8/1/03 – David Marlowe

Coyote Tales (opera in 2 acts)

“Opera is not only alive and well at the Oberlin Conservatory, it’s also adventurous. At least that’s the case this week, when the conservatory’s Opera Theater is presenting the Ohio premiere of Henry Mollicone and Sheldon Harnick’s enchanting “Coyote Tales”… a piece that should have a long, healthy performance life. … Harnick has drawn each of the five myths in “Coyote Tales” from a different American Indian Tribe … depicting universal truths about ambition, greed, pride, and love … And not since he wrote lyrics to Jerry Bock’s music for such beloved Broadway shows as “She Loves Me” and “Fiddler on the Roof” has Harnick collaborated with the composer of such freshness and substance.

Mollicone’s score for “Coyote Tales” runs the gamut of sonic delights, basking in American folk idiom and affectionate references to Strauss, Britten, Copland and Bernstein … In “Coyote Tales”, he lets loose streams of lyrical lines that caress the ears and draw the listener into the characters’ expressive worlds … His vocal lines sing and his orchestrations add colorful commentary to the opera’s dramatic twists.

The Oberlin production benefits enormously from the composer’s presence as a conductor. Under Mollicone’s baton, the score dances with rhythmic glee and exudes poetic urgency. The Oberlin Opera Orchestra responds to Mollicone with playing of utmost point, sheen, and spirit.

Here is an opera with a conscience, and remarkable music to match its noble aspirations.
Donald Rosenberg – THE PLAIN DEALER

“…tonal, tuneful and vigorously rhythmic—an interesting blend of Broadway and Britten. …a worthy new opera then, in a production which represented ensemble opera at its best, and a real feather in the cap for the Kansas City company.” OPERA ( London, 1998)

“Harnick’s dramatically sure-footed libretto was an excellent base for Mollicone’s musical style, which may owe something to both Britten and Bernstein but made an effect all its own. …a very strong new opera.” OPERA CANADA (1998)

“Mollicone’s score favors a streetwise eclecticism, much influenced by jazzy musical-theater idioms. ….sassy syncopation and brightly lit orchestration. Moments of high emotion bring forth harmonically charged surges. …there are moments of orchestral magic…it is entertaining music theater.” OPERA NEWS (1998)

Coyote Tales is very much a child of Bernstein’s Candide. We’re given creation and destruction, love and loss, but in a light-hearted spirit. …Harnick and Mollicone are thoroughgoing professionals, and Coyote Tales is an entertaining way to spend two hours.”
KANSAS CITY STAR (1998)

“There was a variety of fascinating characters – animal, human and ethereal – and compelling stories gathered from Native American sources. … Cleverly re-told by Harnick, the stories relate Coyote’s history. …All this was dressed in Mollicone’s richly rhythmic and strongly melodic music (think Bernstein) and performed by a deeply engaged ensemble…”
OPERA NOW (1998)

Coyote Tales provides an opportunity for a general audience to share the wisdom and joy of some of our traditional Native American stories. …In every way, Coyote Tales is deeply respectful of the continuing tradition it seeks to illuminate.”
SIMON ORTIZ, NATIVE AMERICAN AUTHOR (1998)

The original cast recording of Coyote Tales is available on Newport Classic

Hotel Eden (opera in 3 acts)
“Not so much an opera as a glitzy, hip, sometimes tender, often tuneful piece of musical theater, the new work Hotel Eden is a feminist reading of three stories from the Old Testament….Scoring for the small chamber ensemble was outstanding.”
–OPERA NEWS – William Ratliff

“Opera San Jose has continued its imaginative way with an ambitious two-day national conference…and the premiere on November 25 of Hotel Eden, a lark of an opera by Henry Mollicone to a libretto by Judith Fein….The treatment…recalls such romps as Angelique by Jacques Ibert and Les Mamelles De Tiresias by Francis Poulenc, but a thoughtful note at the end…reminds us poignantly that today’s implacable Middle Eastern antagonists spring from common progenitors.” –MUSICAL AMERICA – Paul Moor

“Mr. Mollicone’s credentials are the finest and what strikes one immediately about the music to Hotel Eden is its professionalism. Although it is in a lighter style closer to the musical there is nothing tentative about its idiom, its writing for voices or for the aptness or inventiveness of the instrumental writing.” –OPERA, London – James Helme Sutcliffe

“Well, well–at last we’ve found a bona fide composer of comedy. Henry Mollicone ‘s new music-theater piece, Hotel Eden is a hit at Opera San Jose these days. Unorthodox. Sexy. Sassy. Jazzy. Exuberant.” –SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS – Paul Hertelendy

The Face on the Barroom Floor (opera in one act)
The Face on the Barroom Floor recently celebrated its twentieth birthday, and in the two decades since its premiere at the Central City Opera (where it’s still performed annually), it has never waned in popularity. …With a clever libretto by John S. Bowman and an ‘Old West’ score by Henry Mollicone that’s equal parts honky-tonk piano (played here by the composer himself, who doubles as conductor) and nostalgic lyricism, The Face has long been regarded as a showcase for rising young talent. …it’s a laudable framework for those who wish to study this ‘Little Opera That Could.'” OPERA NEWS (1999) On re-release of the C.R.I. recording

“…there was Henry Mollicone ‘s The Face on the Barroom Floor, revived this year with something like a cult success… The drama is predictable but strangely powerful; the audience is gripped. I found it even more gripping a second time round. It is a very skillful score… It’s a good piece.” –THE NEW YORKER – Andrew Porter

Emperor Norton (opera in one act)
“While the plot device is complicated for such a short work, Mollicone manages, by his expert, assured craftsmanship, to produce coherence and several touching scenes…the two big set pieces…are powerfully worked out in a Straussian vein of soaring lyricism.”
–OPERA NEWS

“It…offers up a genuine testimonial to qualities all too painfully lacking among opera composers of the younger generation–craftsmanship, fluency and accessibility. Little things like that. …It is expressively and even beautifully written for the voice, and the ensembles are cohesive, soaring affairs.” –THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER – Allan Ulrich

“Henry Mollicone’s operas–at least those that have been produced in the Washington area–have the virtues of succinctness, distinctive melody and a strongly developed sense of style that matches the composer’s eclectic tastes. His most popular work so far…seems to be The Face on the Barroom Floor, produced a few years ago by Opera Southwest, but Emperor Norton, as performed by the same company, is an even more effective work of art.”
–THE WASHINGTON POST – Joseph McLellan

Starbird (opera in one act)
“Mollicone should go far; he can’t seem to write a note that doesn’t sing.”
–NEWSWEEK – Annalyn Swan

“Mollicone’s musical language is an irrepressible stylistic grab-bag. He knows how to write for voices and how to entertain… Mollicone’s personality and his eupeptic wit are already more important than his various stylistic debts which include the Broadway of Bernstein and Sondheim, a bit of disco and figures like Prokofiev, Satie and Copland… Mollicone is without question an operatic talent to watch, with an infallible sense of dramatic pace and tension.”
–THE GUARDIAN, London – Tom Sutcliffe

The Mask of Evil (opera in one act)
“…compact, fast-paced work…musically appealing… scenes involving Magdalena are as ominous and filled with foreboding as any I’ve seen on the lyric stage.”
— ST. PAUL SUNDAY PIONEER PRESS – Roy M. Close

ORCHESTRAL WORKS

Inner Light
“… its three movements concern the need to view unfortunate personal occurrences in a larger, spiritual context, according to the program notes. It is a work of considerable beauty. The part writing is so delicately considered–but conveys such potent emotion–that the listener can follow each line…as clearly as if the composer had written a string quartet. There is little that is predictable in the way the separate voices state, respond and merge their ideas into a collective. A good deal of imagination has gone into the choice of harmonic and chromatic coloration in ‘Quiet Light,’ which opens. ‘Blinding Light’ as the title suggests, contains music of terrific intensity; during the concluding section, ‘Final Light,’ tubular chimes make a discreet appearance.” — SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Lesley Valdes (2001)

IN TIME OF WAR: Prayers and Meditations
“...In Time of War: Prayers and Meditations, commissioned by SJCO, a response to September 11 and war in Iraq. It casts shafts of ominous melody over quiet curtains of sound, growing agitated for an episode titled “Meditation: Pre-emptive Strike.” Interspersed prayers to the Virgin Mary, sung by soprano Erie Mills, contrast a mother’s love with humanity’s cruelty.”
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Richard Scheinin (2004)

“…It is typical of American sensitivity, ingenuity, and teamwork, that a work of art be conceived and performed so soon after the disaster. Moved by last month’s tragedy, gifted local composer Henry Mollicone composed 9-11-01 for this, the opening of San Jose Chamber Orchestra’s 11th season. …All the music needed was there: superbly crafted slow, ‘mournful’ melodies in the opening supported by dissonant harmonies and counterpoint, followed by a rush of activity resolving to a quiet sustained snare drum roll….”
SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE, Brent Heisinger (2001)

“…The falling phrases and flowing layers of 9-11-01 focused attention in the small hall to the emotional wallop strings-alone can make…”
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Lesley Valdes (2001)

NOTE: 9-11-01 was composed and premiered in 2001; the short work was later incorporated into a larger work, IN TIME OF WAR, premiered in October, 2004.

A Rat’s Tale (written for Charles Nelson Reilly)
“…A Rat’s Tale is an utterly delightful revisiting of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, told this time from the rat’s point of view. The work boasts a remarkable score by Bay Area composer Henry Mollicone, with one of the wittiest librettos ever by William Luce, an Academy Award level narrator’s performance by the famous actor Charles Nelson Reilly… It is an utterly engrossing first-rate piece of work that is certain to put Tubby the Tuba back in the can. …A Rat’s Tale simply stole the show.”ENQUIRER BULLETIN, Palo Alto (1992)

Dansa Trimbula
“Even the tango rhythm gets surreal, not unlike Ravel’s La Valse. But as wild and original as Astor Piazzola—Mollicone’s putative inspiration for this piece gets, Trimbula blazes a new and even more disturbing trail…the piece itself deserves universal attention. We live in a brave world of new music, and Mollicone has now emerged—especially in this piece—as a legitimate, if unexpected, pioneer.” SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE (2004)

“Composer Henry Mollicone was on hand to hear his delightful Dansa Trimbula. The work was written expressly for William Trimble—the ‘Trimbula’ of the title. When Trimble and accordionist Quartuccio took center stage, their white dinner jackets and bright ties jazzed up the symphony’s formal black atmosphere…’Dansa,’ began with an exaggerated tango full of swooping violin portamento and bluesy bent saxophone notes, exuberantly worked its way through a variety of Latin dances, some energetic, some slinky and all full of syncopated rhythms…Mollicone, sporting a bright red tie, came forward to congratulate the players and share the enthusiastic applause.” SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL (2004)

CHORAL

Beatitude Mass
Anyone who knows Mollicone quickly recognizes the magic in the Saratoga resident’s musical personality. His stage works include the haunting and unforgettable Coyote Tales, Emperor Norton, Hotel Eden and Gabriel’s Daughter. In 2006, he composed the Beatitude Mass, using the Mass in conjunction with texts taken from interviews with people living in homeless shelters. The libretto was written by William Luce, author of The Belle of Amherst (which gave Julie Harris success in New York and London, and a Best Actress Tony Award).

The Beatitude Mass was premiered at St. Joseph’s Cathedral Basilica in San Jose in the spring of 2006, with Leroy Kromm conducting the San Jose Symphonic Choir. Like so many of Mollicone’s works, the Beatitude Mass draws on his exceptional musical gifts of melody and harmony to exalt the simple, anguished words of homeless people into haunting and moving expressions. Alternating with the “Kyrie,” “Gloria,” “Sanctus, “Benedictus” and “Agnus Dei,” it takes on the universality found in so many great musical settings of the Latin mass. It adds for its finale the “Salve Mater Misericordiae” and, like Brahms’ “German Requiem,” reprises the opening beatification, “Blessed are the poor.”
– MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY – Scott MacClelland

SONGS

(From a review of the album Songs of Love and Longing. Valerie Errante, soprano; Jeffry Peterson, piano. Albany TROY1035; 54:35)

Excerpted from the complete review:
“Composer Henry Mollicone is represented with eight songs, and they offer a fascinating array of surprises. First Time He Kissed Me, for instance, is an impassioned poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning which Mollicone sets with unbridled potency that borders on the operatic. As one hears Errante deliver this intricate text so flawlessly, one has to wonder how these songs sounded when sung by the singer for whom they were composed, Italian soprano Maria Spacagna. She would have had the right vocal heft, but one cannot imagine her encompassing this text the way Errante does here with such spectacular clarity and honesty. Other songs touch on all kinds of different moods and styles, from the biting, sassy rhythms of Doctor Fell to the beguiling simplicity of Song, featuring a exquisite text by Christina Rossetti that begins “When I am dead, my dearest, Sing no sad songs for me.” Mollicone knows exactly how to bring these words to life, and Errante and Peterson in turn offer up this song with the simple directness it requires. They do so as well with Mollicone’s exquisite setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem There is Another Sky, which is nothing less than a masterpiece.”
Gregory Berg
Journal of Singing, September/October 2009
National Association of Teachers of Singing

VOCAL MUSIC – DISSERTATION

Diane Thueson Reich has written a dissertation on A SURVEY OF THE SOPRANO VOCAL LITERATURE BY HENRY MOLLICONE. Read it in PDF format.

REVIEWS – CONDUCTING

THE PLAIN DEALER, Reviewed by Donald Rosenberg ; July 31, 2004
In musical terms, Lyric Opera’s “Cosi” is mostly superb, starting with Henry Mollicone’s exceptionally vital, stylish conducting. Mollicone keeps Mozart’s score moving at a frisky clip, except when the lyricism needs space, and he plays harpsichord in the recitatives with a master’s hands. The orchestra, placed upstage behind the scrim, contributes artistry of bountiful freshness and refinement.

THE PLAIN DEALER, Reviewed by Donald Rosenberg; November 17, 2000
“The Oberlin production benefits enormously from the composer’s presence as conductor. Under Mollicone’s baton, the score dances with rhythmic glee and exudes poetic urgency. The Oberlin Opera Orchestra responds to Mollicone with playing of utmost point, sheen and spirit.”

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana reviewed by Paul Hertelendy
” Santa Clara composer Henry Mollicone is sharing a double bill at West Bay Opera with a legend of a century earlier, Pietro Mascagni. Like Mascagni (who got rave reviews at the turn of the century in San Francisco ), Molliconeis proving to be a galvanic conductor. He energized his predecessor’s Cavalleria Rusticana…”

NEW YORK TIMES Lee Hoiby’s The Italian Lesson (featuring Jean Stapleton) reviewed by John Rockwell
“…conducted persuasively by Henry Mollicone, himself an opera composer.”

NEWSWEEK Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Saliere reviewed by Annalyn Swan
“Henry Mollicone conducted both with verve.”

OPERA NEWS AND DENVER POST Hugh Aitken’s Fables reviewed by Glenn Giffin
“Henry Mollicone conducted. Himself a composer, Mollicone negotiated the intricate writing with finesse and graceful élan.”

NEW YORK TIMES Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne reviewed by Allen Hughes
“Mr. Mollicone’s conducting was again commendable.”

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Sondheim’s Follies reviewed by Gerald Nachman
“Equally crisp is a tireless below-stage orchestra led by Henry Mollicone…”

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Saliere reviewed by Bill Zakariasen
“…Mollicone…led both one-acters with flavorful attention to mood and structure and the orchestra was prevailingly alert throughout.”

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS Evita reviewed by Murry Frymer
“Henry Mollicone’s musical direction is flawless. The CLO orchestra has become superb.”

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas reviewed by Murry Frymer
“Henry Mollicone’s on-stage orchestra was grand once again…”

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS Man of La Mancha reviewed by Glenn Lovell
“…and musical director Henry Mollicone have done themselves proud… The orchestra… provides a rich, robust reading of the Mitch Leigh score.”

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS My Fair Lady reviewed by Murray Frymer
“And I dare not slight Henry Mollicone who has conducted the orchestra as musical director and made it all sound just the way you remember it.”

AUGUSTA CHRONICLE-HERALD H.M.S. Pinafore reviewed by John Schaeffer
“The orchestra under…Mollicone, is wonderfully light and precise, never intruding, but always there when they are needed.”

SALEM STATESMAN JOURNAL Martha reviewed by Jim Estas
“Conductor Henry Mollicone, making his Portland Opera debut, has his hands full with some lively patter songs and fast-paced solos and ensembles. But he keeps things together smartly.”

THE DURANGO HERALD Pagliacci reviewed by George Reeves
“Once again, Mollicone drew rich, full sound from his smallish playing ensemble; the orchestral playing of the intermezzo was but one of the performance’s many pleasures.”

THE SUN [Baltimore] American Portraits (three American one-act operas) reviewed by Karen Monson
“…Mollicone led the small orchestras in all three operas with sympathy for the singers…”

DURANGO HERALD Man of La Mancha reviewed by Felicia Wilbert
“The orchestra was impressive, conducted by Henry Mollicone.”

THE WASHINGTON POST American Portraits reviewed by Joseph McLellan
“Henry Mollicone conducts well in all three segments.”

THE SACRAMENTO BEE Gianni Schicchi reviewed by Alfred Kay
“Mollicone’s conducting was excellent…”