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CLASSICAL MUSIC | RECORDINGS

Could it be getting by on its looks?

October 09, 2005|Mark Swed

Richard Rodney Bennett: "The Mines of Sulphur"

Glimmerglass Opera. Stewart Robertson, conductor. (Chandos)

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WHO could have been better equipped to write an operatic thriller in 1985 than Richard Rodney Bennett, a British composer who studied with Boulez and who has distinguished himself in classical music and jazz as well as film and television scores? His luxuriant soundtrack to the movie "Nicholas and Alexandra" is, for instance, preferable to Deborah Dratell's mushy opera. Yet "The Mines of Sulphur" -- a surprise hit last year at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., that is slated to open at the New York City Opera this month -- could hardly be musically duller or dramatically clunkier. Maybe the production was a doozy. Otherwise, I'm at a loss to discover what critics and audiences so enjoyed in vapid music that turns the 12-tone idiom into noirish, repetitive soup. The vocal writing is bland. The libretto is gothic-banal, with a dumb trick ending. The singers sound as if they're trying. And trying. And trying.

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