March 1978 32:3 (350) p23
"Tales of Malamud" as Opera
[by Morris U. Schappes]
At the Madison Ave. Baptist Church, heard the last performance [of 4] by the Bel Canto Opera of Idiots First, a one-act opera in 13 scenes left unfinished by Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) and edited and completed by Leonard Lehrman, who also conducted. In his libretto, Blitzstein followed very closely the Bernard Malamud story of that name, adding only bits of comic relief. There is pathos and drama in how old Mendel tries to provide for his retarded son, Itzhak [sic: Itzak], age 35, in a context of cruel poverty. The music has Blitzstein's raw expressiveness and was sung movingly by the principals, Morris White as Mendel and Charles Osborne as Itzhak. The "idiot's" nigun was sometimes reminiscent of the fool in Boris Godunov. Not so felicitous, either in choice of Malamud story or in its musical embodiment, was the second work--Karla, based on a bit of trivia from Malamud's collection, Rembrandt's Hat. Here Lehrman was both librettist and composer. The music, perhaps because of the flawed enunciation by Rona Klinghofer as Karla, was as unimpressive as the tale itself.
[Schappes' criticism of Klinghofer was apt; Karla was much better sung by the alternate cast, featuring Valerie Saalbach in the title role. The work also garnered even better notices than Idiots First in the two previous productions, in Ithaca (1974) and Indiana (1976).]