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Lee Hoiby’s two-act opera, “Natalia Petrovna,” was his second
work in that genre. It was first performed during 1964 at the
New York City Opera. Hoiby (1926-2011) revised the piece,
renaming it “A Month in the Country,” after the play by Ivan
Turgenev, which was the basis for the libretto by William Bell.
It was performed under this new title in 1981. The plot is not
very interesting, and is a “Peyton Place” type of melodrama,
set in Russia.

While not challenging to the listener, this piece was written
in an attractive, lyric style that was quite masterful. It should
come as no surprise that during the early part of his career,
Hoiby studied with Giancarlo Menotti (1911-2007), and you
can hear the similarities between the two composers.
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was another one of Hoiby’s
teachers and an influential force. Although Hoiby wrote
primarily for the voice in operatic, art song and choral forms,
his output wasn’t limited to these genres.

Both the singers and the orchestra deserve praise for this
piece, which was conducted by Steven Osgood. This is even
more impressive when you consider that the orchestra was
rather small, and the opera was primarily performed by
amateurs. Hoiby realized that by writing for smaller
forces, the work would be easier to stage on college
campuses and other intimate venues.

It’s obvious that Lee Hoiby was a very skilled composer
who wrote attractive music. Unfortunately, the information
about him is relatively scarce, and I believe his works have
been somewhat neglected and underappreciated. While I
didn’t find “A Month in the Country” compelling, I’m still glad
that I listened to it, because I hadn’t heard much of Hoiby’s
music before.

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