LIVE EVENTS by Barry L. Cohen in magazine then called The Music Connoisseur (v.5 #3, pp.21-22):
Leonard Lehrman: Suppose a Wedding (based on a play by Bernard Malamud). Ronald Edwards, tenor; Janis Sabatino Hills, soprano; Lucy Sorlucco, mezzo; Benjamin Spierman, baritone; Mr. Lehrman, piano. Hebrew Union College, NYC, June 1, 1997.
Take a nice Jewish girl from the Lower East Side with not much of a dowry, if any, find a handsome young men for her, a fellow with square shoulders, a good job (sporting goods salesman) and all the right ideas for getting ahead and making a pretty maedel happy, and what have you got? A perfect match, right?
Ah, but hold on. Such a set of circumstances does not a good story make. Nor does it allow for any kind of discourse. Where's the problem? The problem, the great Jewish-American writer Bernard Malamud has created for us[,] is a second suitor, a young wrier living in the same tenement building, with no job at all, and probably a very vague idea as to how to support a wife. And guess what? The girl's father, Maurice Feuer, a bitter, slightly meshugah remnant of a one-time so-so actor of the Jewish stage, actually prefers this fellow (Ben) to Leon, the guy on the ladder to success. Feuer, you see, understands the sensitivities of an artistic type, like himself, while the wife Florence, a career beautician, favors Leon for all of the right surface reasons, as befits her profession, of course. Feuer and Florence fight, and they are so far apart in what is good for their daughter Adele, you wonder how she ever grew up in one piece. Well, she has, and she shows us she has a personality and a mind of hr own.
Yes, this is a Malamud story, a play about ideals, the only play, in fact, Malamud ever published. It has been fashioned into a cleverly scored and sometimes moving one-act opera by Leonard Lehrman (who directed the original play at Cornell in 1973) and given its world premiere on Sunday, June 1st at Hebrew Union College in Greenwich Village. Why an opera, you ask? Malamud's characters are all in a dither. Their inner pulses feed off each other and Lehrman, sensing that, has written a work in which each role is represented by a different musical meter: four-square for the practical, unimaginative Leon; a romantic waltz for the young, innocent Adele; a "septuple frenzy" for Florence; and determined 5/4 for Feuer. The piano accompaniment (the very capable Mr. Lehrman, but really deserving of a large ensemble) sometimes completes the measure with a nervous flourish (as in Florence's case). Most important, Lehrman's music always allows the best lines to be heard, and dramatic chords often serve as exclamation marks, a typical trait of his. There are no show-stopping arias; admittedly much of the musical line is outright recitative. But one never loses sight of the drama in Malamud's deceptively simple story which ends with the last-minute appearance of Ben (Joel Ackerman), the poor beginning writer. He, like Leon, has shown up for a date with Adele and carries a bunch of daffodils. Leon's presence, however, is presumptive; he is affianced and assumes he can just drop in any time he feels like and ask Adele to dinner with him. He is hoping to take a walk with her when an ominously loud and slow knock is heard at the door, and Ben enters to sing "Am I too early?" The curtain falls.
Though we have not seen Lehrman's other works based on Malamud, the press notices have been generally good. Karla (1973 [sic: 1974]) is drawn from "Notes from a Lady at a Dinner Party" and is sometimes paired (with Idiots First) as Tales of Malamud. (Idiots First is Lehrman's completion of a score begun by Marc Blitzstein; in a 1978 performance it received the first Off-Broadway Opera Award for "most important event of the season.") Suppose a Wedding is Lehrman's eighth opera.
Lehrman also directed this staging. With his thorough attention to detail, he imparted a good understanding of the play's nervous energy and nuance to the case which performed very well as a team. Nonetheless, we cannot help but note that Ronald Edwards, as Feuer, almost dominated the proceedings, commanding the stage with his outbursts of righteous indignation and betraying the pathetic eccentricities of a has-been (or never-was, if you prefer), all the time keeping his fine tenor voice under firm control. Lucy Sorlucco, a dramatic mezzo heard before at Lou Rodgers' Golden Fleece, was a fair match for Feuer as Florence, while Janis Sabatino Hills' girlishly lyric soprano, though sometimes tested beyond her vocal limits, made for a perfectly desirable young bride. Benjamin Spierman's Leon was surprisingly subtle, always aware that his prospective father-in-law is not enamored of his market mentality. "I'm not so dense that I don't know what you're insinuating," he sings during their opening game of rummy.
The opera was preceded by an ill timed segment of short works by Lehrman and other composers, such as Mira [J.] Spektor, Albert Tepper and Ms. Hills, related to Jewish themes. The musical equivalent of a mere 23 minutes took an hour to perform because of both delays and talk-talk-talk. Presenters must learn that people do walk out when they are confused or impatient, as in this case; otherwise, organizers are allowing self-importance to get in the way of common sense. They need to feel the pulse of the audience as well [as] their art. Too bad that many in the original audience did not stay for Suppose a Wedding which was well worth waiting for.