University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Eaton: Danton and Robespierre; Partch: Delusion of the Fury

01/14/2018 1:00 pm
01/14/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This Sunday we explore the byways of American opera. John Eaton (b. 1935) has an international reputation as a composer of opera, as well as electronic and microtonal music. Back in 1979 he was professor of music at Indiana University. In April, 1978 his opera in three acts, Danton and Robespierre, was first produced at the Indiana University Opera Theater. Thomas Balcher conducted a chorus of 250 people and an orchestra of 120. The singing cast of thirteen portrayed historical figures from the time of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, circa 1791-94.

Danton and Robespierre was recorded live at its staged premiere. The recording was issued in 1980 on two stereo LPs under the Indiana University Opera Theater's own label.

That American musical eccentric Harry Partch (1901-1974) was, like John Eaton, a proponent of microtonal music. Partch devised a forty three tone scale in just intonation. He invented at least twenty instruments (mostly wooden) which he constructed himself. For his largely percussive instrumental ensemble he wrote a series of lyric theater pieces. He referred to these pieces as "corporeal art." In style they are ritualistic; they employ his instruments as a theatrical backdrop. I have broadcast recordings of certain of these works, notably Revelation in the Courthouse Park (1960) on Sunday, February 3, 1991 and Oedipus (1951) on Sunday, November 10, 2000.

The culminating work of Partch's life was Delusion of the Fury (1969). The composer was on hand in supervisory capacity for its world premiere recording. Danlee Mitchell, however, directed the singers and players of Partch's instruments. Columbia Masterworks originally issued Delusion of the Fury on two LPs in 1971. It was reissued on a single compact disc in 1999 courtesy of Sony Music Special Products.