Richard Cory (excerpts)
by Ron Cohen
“Richard Cory,” a seminal depiction of the morbid strain that often colors tales of the American dream, emerges as an impressive chamber opera. Ed Dixon, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, has based his work on an A.R. Gurney play, which itself was an expansion of the 16-line poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Robinson’s poem, which first appeared in 1897, succinctly describes the admiration and envy engendered by Richard Cory, “a gentleman from sole to crown,” among his fellow townspeople. But the poem ends abruptly and brutally, noting that ” Richard Cory, one calm summer night/Went home and put a bullet through his head.”
Dixon’s piece is primarily sung-through, except for the character of Cory, who doesn’t sing until his final moments. The Gurney-Dixon dramatization shows Cory, a successful lawyer, in numerous situations illustrating his growing sense of alienation. The book doesn’t really explore the causes of Cory’s malaise, but the music, combined with very deft lyrics, gives the scenes and characters an emotional urgency and heft. Dixon’s score is complex, with an abundance of recitative, but it never feels labored and occasionally takes flight with a seductive melodiousness.
Considering obvious budget limitations, the show, under James Brennan’s direction, has been given a top-notch production; a nine-person cast includes many Broadway veterans. Lynne Wintersteller, Maureen Moore, and Christeena Riggs as the main women in Cory’s life handle the music’s demands with breathtaking agility. In various other roles, there’s fine work by Catherine Cox, Harris Doran, Cady Huffman, John Sloman, and Patrick Ryan Sullivan.
Accompaniment for the intermissionless show, running some 90 minutes, is limited to a solo piano played by music director Lawrence Yurman. But Yurman’s accomplished work throughout made me yearn to hear how the music might sound with a full orchestra.