Given the broad emotional canvas and a narrative of unusual intensity, Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” seems a natural choice for operatic adaptation. And indeed William Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein’s compelling and melodic new opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago persuasively suggests that this play actually works better with arias attached.
As a drama, this tale of forbidden passion and betrayal among struggling Italian immigrants in Brooklyn often seems to simmer with an intensity that can never be appropriately conveyed by Miller’s essentially realistic style.
But once you give Eddie Carbone the chance to sing about the agony of his forbidden love for Catherine, this Brooklyn dockworker does not have to reach very far to gain a tragic grandeur. The other dramaturgical revelation is Beatrice. In the script she’s a classic Miller enabler, but as sung by Catherine Malfitano, she becomes a profoundly moving and complex woman — far more complex than the guy she married.
Bolcom and Weinstein (with enthusiastic help from Miller himself) also came up with the fascinating device of employing the residents of Brooklyn — Italians all — as a kind of Greek chorus. The theme of community disapproval is integral to the script, and the use of the chorus to personify it is another example of how the opera often manages to take ideas further than the play did.
Frank Galati’s premiere Lyric Opera production features this director’s typically exquisite stage pictures. Although it seems to pay homage to the foreboding bridges in Jo Mielziner’s original stage design, Santo Loquasto’s setting is almost entirely dominated by Wendall K. Harrington’s ever-changing projections, which fill the massive stage of the Civic Opera House with layered period photographs of Brooklyn.
Bolcom’s music is harmonic and pleasing, full of variety and vibrancy. Although this is not an opera with crossover appeal for legit markets, the score includes echoes of populist American music — including the number “Paper Doll” and some boozy harmonizing from the dockworkers. Still, the passions evoked by poverty, love and pain are expressed in the traditional operatic manner, with plenty of high C’s sung with aplomb by Gregory Turay as Rodolpho.
The Lyric assembled a fine cast for the first outing, with the extraordinary Malfitano standing out. Juliana Rambaldi is a delightful Catherine, and both singers playing the young Italians are very fine (youthful tenor Turay captures a delightful note of innocence). Kim Josephson’s Eddie is a sympathetic character, but his persona is perhaps of insufficient stature to dominate the story in the way that he might.
One also wishes that the chorus was used more (they seem to move on and off for tiny snatches of music). But these are minor worries that do not detract from an opera that crackles with power.