Notes 60.2 (2003) 548-551
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Lowell Liebermann. The Picture of Dorian Gray, op. 45: Opera in Two Acts (1996). Music and libretto by Lowell Liebermann, adapted from Oscar Wilde's novel. Piano-vocal score. Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser Co., c1998. [Instrumentation, cast, 1 p.; synopsis, 2 p.; composer's notes on the opera, 2 p.; world premiere cast list, 1 p.; vocal score, 244 p.; pub. no. 411-41101. $60.] Orchestral score and parts available on rental.
Oscar Wilde's (1854-1900) novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in 1890 in Lippincott's Magazine followed by a revised and expanded version in book form a year later, is not just a classic of English literature. Wilde himself noted in a letter (quoted in the Modern Library paperback edition of the novel [New York: Modern Library, 1998], vi) that the artist in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the painter Basil Hallward, "is what I think I am"; Lord Henry, the amoral hedonist mentor of the title character, is "what the world thinks me"; while Dorian is "what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps," a man who can put away his conscience (though unable to kill it completely) and forget about his own physical and spiritual deterioration, as Wilde was himself experiencing from syphilis, contracted from a female prostitute. Furthermore, drawing on primal myths from Narcissus to Faust and Juan Ponce de León to Frankenstein, the story of the perpetually young man and his aging portrait would also seem to be a prime candidate for operatic treatment. And indeed it has been, rivaled in number of settings perhaps only by Anton Chekhov's The Boor, the plays of William Shakespeare, and librettos derived from the Bible.
First there was the English-born Australian composer Arundel Orchard (1867- 1961), whose first (and only) serious opera, Dorian Gray, composed in 1915-17, was premiered at the New South Wales State Conservatorium in Sydney in September 1919 (see Tine Englebert, "Mad, Scarlet Music," The Oscholars 2 [December 2002], http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/oscholars/vol_ii_12/music.html [accessed 22 August 2003], the source for some of the information on Dorian Gray operas mentioned in this review; and National Library of Australia, MS 5782 Papers of Dr. William Arundel Orchard (1867-1961) , http://www.nla.gov.au/ms/findaids/5782.html#compos [accessed 22 August 2003]).
Other Dorian Grays followed. Carl Flick-Steger's (b. 1899) German setting was first performed in Ústí nad Labem (Aussig), Czechoslovakia, in 1930 (see Gerd Rohmann and Jeff Phillips, "Carl Flick-Steger: An Opera Version of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray: A Discovery by Jeff Phillips," Anglistik 10 [September 1999]: 129-31), and Hans Leger's Dorian was premiered in 1939 in Karlsruhe. A two-act German version of Dorian Gray by Swiss composer Hans Schaeuble (1906-1988) was composed in 1947-48 (with revisions in 1962 and 1974-75; see Zentralbibliothek Zürich: Musikabteilung, Nachlassverzeichnis Hans Schaeuble: Opern, http://www-zb.unizh.ch/SONDERSA/MUSIK/Schaeuble/Oper.htm [accessed 22 August 2003])—the plans for a complete world premiere in February 2003 by the University of North Texas College of Music, co-sponsored by the university's [End Page 548] Center for Schenkerian Studies with financial support from the Hans Schaeuble Foundation [see http://www.unt.edu/resource/previousissues/20012002/newsbriefs.htm] were abandoned in 2002 [per Mark C. McKnight, University of North Texas Music Library, 9 July 2003]). Another German setting by Robert Hanell (b. 1925) was premiered at the Dresden Staatsoper in 1962 (see Dietmar Fritzsche, "Anliegen und Gestaltung der Opern Robert Hanells," Oper Heute 1 : 107- 19), and three years later Roderich Kleemann's (1914-1979) Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, with libretto by Ingeborg Kleemann, was first produced at the Stadttheater in Zwickau.
The Dutch government commissioned a two-act opera Dorian Gray (in English) from composer Hans Kox (b. 1930), which was premiered in 1974 in The Hague by the Netherlands Opera Foundation (see Willem Frederik Bon, "Hans Kox' Opera Dorian Gray...