Written by: Susan Hall – May 13, 2017
Hunter College Opera
NY Opera Fest 2017
New York, New York
May 12, 2017
Lady Bird: First Lady of the Land (ECS #8506)
Composed by: Henry Mollicone
Libretto by: Sheldon Harnick
Our current First Lady is MIA. It is good to have a former first class occupant of the role present on stage. While the Texan Lyndon Johnson had stood before a mirror, watching and listening to himself transform the word “n******” to “Negro,” Lady Bird comfortably took to the rails with her daughters and tried to make all folks ready for true integration.
The opera begins with the swearing in of the new President on Air Force One on that fateful day in Dallas, 1963. We flashback over the First Lady’s life. As a small girl she watches a man being lynched. Projections of the Hill Country in Texas and then Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia place us in Lady Bird’s life and travels, as she takes her whistle-stop campaign tour, with the orchestra evoking the sounds of the train’s motor and woodwinds blasting an arrival notice.
The vibrant score echoes our folk music, classic and jazz, and rock as it rolls out. The Pledge of Allegiance has a lovely choral setting. Singing by the principals is distinguished. Karen Luna as Lady Bird was poignant and lyrical. George Heath was an eloquent, forceful Lyndon. Jacob January and Flora Kirou delicately created the young Lyndon and Lady Bird. Orchestration was vivid. The libretto is filled with the wit and provocation we expect of Harnick, who also created Fiddler on the Roof.
The chorus shone particularly in the final anthem which anticipates the war on poverty, the creation of a great society and the beautification of the land. In the end, the final projection spreads wide across the stage. It is filled with blue bonnets on a sunny scape and Lady Bird in a gardening bonnet smiles out at us.