- Ned Rorem
Puppet opera in 14 scenes by Lou Harrison to a libretto by Robert Gordon; Pasadena, California, 5 November 1971.
Harrison claims that his is the only opera with an overtly presented gay subject from history. The action, more described by a narrator than portrayed by actors, seems archaic, formal, stylized, dispassionate. It concerns the coming of age of Gaius Julius Caesar (tenor), from his patrician adolescence in Rome to his first conquest – military and amorous – in the Turkish province of Bithynia, where King Nicomedes (baritone) takes him to heart and bed with detailed pomp and circumstance. The first production used singers sitting in the pit; the orchestra consisted of instruments invented and built by Harrison’s companion, William Colvig, besides instruments imported from Korea, Japan and other points east. Lasting around 90 minutes, the work has nine singing and four speaking roles.
The sonic language is of extravagant simplicity. Decades before Philip Glass launched his reiterated diatonic ostinatos, Harrison was preparing ‘canvases’ of identical ostinatos, upon which he etched ravishing melodic streams. ...