March 30, 2023

A Lost Operatic Masterpiece...

...Written By White Men For An All-Black Cast Was Found And Restored. Can It Be Produced Without Controversy?


Supporters say Blues Opera, authored by two Great American Songbook icons and reconstructed by the music adviser for Tár, should be staged in a post-George Floyd world.

John Mauceri devotes a good part of his busy career to restoring lost music. The American conductor and scholar, who recently served as the music adviser for the Academy Award-nominated Tár, uncovered and put back vital missing pieces of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide. He reconstructed the overture to Ben-Hur, after MGM had inexplicably thrown away the sheet music of that classic film score, for a performance at the Hollywood Bowl with the ailing composer Miklós Rózsa onstage in a wheelchair. Mauceri jokingly calls himself a cross between Indiana Jones and Dr. Frankenstein, and depending on your point of view, he is either an excavator of rare artifacts or a man stitching up cadavers. Over the past two years, in collaboration with another conductor, Michael Gildin, he has been restoring a work ardently coveted by music aficionados but given up for dead: a lost opera written by two eminences of the Great American Songbook — composer Harold Arlen (“Over the Rainbow,” “Stormy Weather”) and lyricist Johnny Mercer (“Skylark,” “Moon River”).

The work is called Blues Opera. It took shape between 1954 and 1958 but...

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