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Carlisle Floyd’s opera, “Of Mice and Men,” was first performed in
Seattle in 1970, and released on CD by Albany records in 2003.
It closely follows the story of the novel by John Steinbeck
(1902-1968) which tells of two migrant workers, George and Lenny,
who dream of their own home and farm. The troubles that plague
the characters result from the consequences of Lenny’s
simple-minded lack of awareness of his own strength, and the
behavior of Curley’s bored and flirtatious wife. This familiar tale
resolves sadly and poignantly, which is the only way it can end
in George’s mind.

As with all of Floyd’s (1926 – ) operas, he serves as both
librettist and composer, while making revisions to this work until
he achieves the desired results. He also used these methods,
more or less, when writing “Susannah,” and “Cold Sassy Tree.”
I cannot help but observe how well this creative “arrangement”
pays off in terms of musical and dramatic cohesiveness.

Floyd chose topics and characters in an American vein that
obviously deeply resonated with him, and invariably had strong
moral undertones. The quintessential “American” sound heard
in his music reflects his sure compositional hand, and does not
merely resort to the quotation of folk songs or traditional
American melodies. His music provides an ideal underpinning
to the dramas that he portrays.

This nearly ideal ensemble of singers included standout
performances from Gordon Hawkins as George, and
Anthony Dean Griffey as Lenny. Elizabeth Futral’s impressive
performance featured occasional stratospheric high notes that
were brilliantly delivered. I use the terms “nearly ideal” to
describe this ensemble because to my ears, the singing was
sometimes too “operatic” in style. I realize that observation
may run counter to the conventional wisdom. After all, this is
an opera. However, I believe it may be better served by a vocal
style normally used in musical theater, because Floyd’s
all-important text might be easier to understand. This was only
occasionally apparent, and a minor quibble on my part.

Conductor Patrick Summers kept the drama moving in
splendid fashion, and the Houston Grand Opera and Chorus
performed beautifully for him. The recorded sound was vibrant
and realistic, with a good sense of balance between the singers
and the orchestra.

John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” is ultimately a heartfelt
and tender tale, albeit with strong emotions and occasional
violence. When adapting it for the operatic stage, Floyd
“did him proud.” This performance of just less than
two hours on two CDs is a winner, and I highly recommend it.