Lysistrata — Critical Acclaim

“Adamo’s Lysistrata does everything an opera is supposed to do, and does it in an innovative and, equally important, entertaining way…The libretto, in which Adamo drew on Aristophanes’ basic premise and principal characters, is in an impressive literary accomplishment in itself. Most significantly, Adamo has created, in the title character, a complex yet easily comprehended operatic heroine of the first rank—a woman who, like Tosca or Minnie, is believable because she learns, and grows, and transforms, and who finally comes to grips with the world as it really is.  Adamo’s sheer command of words is, at times, astounding. Switching briefly to an elegiac mode in Act II for a roll call of fallen loved ones, he achieves a level of metaphor any poet would envy. Adamo’s musical accomplishment is hardly less impressive. He derives energy and impetus from mild dissonance and a glittering, intensely colorful orchestration in the recitatives, and moves into a broadly lyrical mode for the ensembles and arias… Adamo, like Verdi at the close of Falstaff, reminds us that, with all our failings, it is a good thing to be human.”

Wayne Lee Gay, D Magazine (Dallas), May 29, 2012 


“Bass Hall held a Butterfly– or Traviata-size audience Saturday night: and that night’s audience greeted the comedy with loud, sustained laughter and rapt attention each time the laughter died down. It got the ultimate compliment: no coughs and (I know this is hard to believe) no cellphone rings, at least none that I heard…Adamo, who writes his own librettos, doesn’t get preachy. This is an anti-war message with a wink and a nudge, and the basic seriousness of the idea doesn’t get in the way of a good laugh.  Musically, Lysistrata is distinctly tonal. Its orchestration is colorful and effective; its vocal lines serve the libretto well (one aria about killing is downright lyrical — maybe a kind of ironic comment?). There are several big solo numbers — Lysistrata’s I am not my own comes immediately to mind — that make a major impression… with Adamo’s Lysistrata, the Fort Worth Opera has a hit on its hands.”

Olin Chism, DFW.com, May 30, 2012


“Hopefully it won’t be six more years before this thoroughly entertaining and well-written modern English opera is staged again. The libretto is sharp, lyrical, witty and seems to have been conceived with melodies already in mind. One of the strong suits of Lysistrata is the seamless way the words and music intertwine. Throughout the opera, catchy phrases and repeated musical motives are laced with plenty of double entendres, shifting the audience’s perception of the script all in all, Lysistrata nailed it musically, thematically, and theatrically.”

Katie Womack, Dallas Observer, May 29, 2012


Adamo’s work is structurally ingenious, with themes often being restated in powerful new contexts, most notably Lysia’s early rant directed at her boyfriend, in the aria “You’re not my own,” which later turns into “I’m not my own,” a reflective aria on how she’s been made into a heroine. The ensemble for the women as they pay tribute to Lysia’s courage (and to the men they’ve lost) late in the opera is a deeply moving piece of music.: the newly rechristened Lysistrata can only stammer, “I … I …” before collapsing into an overwhelmed, anachronistic yet somehow perfect wail of “Ay yi yi.”…That’s the most important thing about this comic opera: It’s really funny. The jokes don’t stop with the libretto: they extend to the score… The beginning of the second act is downright uproarious, with the men permanently tumescent after several weeks of protest and the women rather irritable and anxious themselves. But Adamo’s opera goes in for bigger statements on the nature of war and sexual: the comic energy of the first act and the beginning of the second gives way to a horror that’s then erased by the gods coming down from heaven (a literal deus ex machina) and restoring the dead to life…Fort Worth Opera has put on local theater’s best (non)sex comedy.”

Kristian Lin, Fort Worth Weekly, May 30, 2012


What makes Mark Adamo’s setting of Lysistrata that much more compelling is that it turns the deux ex machine idea on its head:; the gods say no.  Adamo’s libretto is not a word-by-word retelling of the Aristophanes play: only three scenes from the original play survive in the modern retelling. But the modified story makes great strides in painting the characters as less stereotypical than the original Greek.  The two male protagonists are thinking, honorable (well, to a degree) figures; and Adamo adds some vulnerability to the women, painting Lysia as… well, human – with normal strengths, weaknesses, and desires…Musically, Adamo has an extremely eclectic compositional style; on one end of the spectrum, he makes prolific use of short, chopped motif figures, contrasting these with grand, sweeping lyrical gestures. When, for example, the two gods descend from the heavens on a cloud to impart that men and women are destined to fight forever—there may be pauses, but the conflict will always remain—they do offer a consolation by bringing the two slain soldiers back to life so that all involved can restart their truce and have a true chance at extending their current “pause:” and all of this is contained in some of the most beautiful and moving music of the entire opera, deftly sung by the two…Containing both the ancient and the modern, Adamo’s setting of Lysistrata will please all with its music as well as stunning visual aspect.”

John Norine, Jr., Theater Jones, May 28, 2012


“An engaging, coherent, and beautiful work.  The music of Lysistrata resembled the scenery on a train ride: rapidly changing and complex in transitional passages, and expansive, easier to decipher and gorgeous whenever we reached an aria. The lyricism and stronger basis in tonality make the listener emotionally identify with Mr. Adamo’s characters, and the pacing, transformation of motives, and dissonance in between imbue the work with edginess, mystery, and of course conflict…After all the innuendo and silliness, the opera takes a serious turn in the second act, with the women explaining their commitment to pacifism by mourning loved ones lost, and eventually ending with a peaceful, solemn a cappella epilogue. I was glad to have heard Lysistrata: but I was even happier to see a mostly-full house enjoying a contemporary work.”

Evan Mitchell, Bachtrack, June 7, 2012


A sumptuous love story, poised between comedy and heartbreak… A minute after the music began, I knew that I was in the hands of a brilliant theatre composer. Adamo’s effortless expertise was on display in his 1998 maiden effort, Little Women, but he has taken several big leaps forward, particularly in integrating his proudly tonal melodies with more dissonant connective material. Adamo’s accompaniments would make a good primer for any composer learning to write for and around singers. Each strand of the vocal line is punctuated by some perfect short gesture: the orchestral writing is often little more — or nothing less — than a play of light around the voices. Slow dotted rhythms, reminiscent of Britten in his ceremonial mode, give the music a sudden grandeur; as the cities work their way toward reconciliation, the women sing radiant, flowing chorales…It’s almost shocking how deep this seemingly lighthearted opera goes.

Alex Ross, The New Yorker (Houston Grand Opera, March 2005)


A fantastical riff on the ancient Greek play… From the start, the bustling, hyperrhythmic and harmonically pungent music makes clear that “Lysistrata” is not just going to be some bawdy romp. Mr. Adamo seems to be following the model of musical theater composers from Mozart to Sondheim, who fill their scores with enriching intricacies that gurgle away just below the surface, audible to those who want to pay attention, but never intrusive…Mr. Adamo, who also wrote the libretto, invents characters and conflicts and makes the story a richer human drama that uses, to quote his program note, “the civic conflict to illuminate the erotic discord”…Adamo wants to convey the tragic costs of this battle between the sexes, where passion and aggression are posed as irreconcilable forces. The women also ache with yearning and deprivation. But in a long, affecting ensemble they remind themselves of what is at stake: they sing a ritual ceremony to honor their lost husbands, brothers and sons. The music is haunting… Admire the ambition, sweep and skill that Mr. Adamo has brought to his work.

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times


Zesty, bawdy, and confrontational… An understanding of how music-theatre works seems to come naturally to the composer Mark Adamo. His 1998 opera Little Women has had some 30 engagements in North America; (and) at its world premiere, Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess, proved no less effective…  His own libretto is really a new play, with the characters fleshed out, in particular the title heroine; and one arresting number succeeds another in the largely tonal score…  His way of finding a drama’s emotional nerve and projecting it to an audience is at the root of (his) success.

George Loomis, Financial Times (London)


Verve, clarity, passion, and striking new insights…in many ways, Adamo’s Lysistrata dares to be passionate and gets closer to the spirit of Aristophanes than either a more faithful or a more radical approach might have done.  If  (in Act One) Adamo’s music is sweeping, rich, and complex, the libretto cuts across with a simplicity and brashness that frequently takes you by surprise; and, in Act Two, the opera shifts gears and pulls the listener in with emotional melodies and gorgeous arias that shimmer with heartfelt truth…. An incredibly bold and very successful new comic opera.

Peter Meinecke, Arion (Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Boston University)


Ingenious…. It was hard to come away from tonight’s premiere without a sense of renewed faith in the possibility that contemporary opera can deal with both the baggage of genre history and the demands of a contemporary audience. Adamo, in only his second big-stage piece, neatly proves that it can be done — and with a show that’s genuinely entertaining, to boot. Adamo’s almost unceasingly funny first act doesn’t stint on lowbrow humor; (but) despite an opening chorus sung by outrageously priapic soldiers, the second act darkens considerably. Just as Lysia’s resolve wavers almost fatally, a chorus of Athenian and Spartan women offers a wrenching chorus tallying the cost of war in purely human terms. “I am not my own,” Lysia sings in the evening’s show-stopping aria, at last truly comprehending the cost of personal denial in service of the greater good… In spite of its antique milieu, I haven’t seen any other new opera recently — not An American Tragedy, notDoctor Atomic — that felt more wholly present than this one. Lysistrata not only deserves to have a long life on stage, but — given its grown-up comedy, its balanced interrogation of sexual and military conflict, and a score that rings long and well in the mind’s ear — surely will have staying power.

Steve Smith, Night after Night


A serious, ambitious, and creatively generous piece of work…, it’s to Adamo’s credit that he has written a completely different kind of opera from his recent adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women, which enjoyed a big success and has already had an amazing number of productions all over the country. (Lysia and Nico’s) relationship is beset with one conflict after another as civic disorder continually threatens to horn in and take total control over their own highly charged erotic wrangling—which, in a delicious way, is an exact turnabout of Aristophanes’ much simpler premise. Just who calls the shots in love or in war, and why, is the central issue here, and the human stakes suddenly become very high. Adamo’s Little Women, only eight years old, is already looking like a repertory piece. With luck, Lysistrata might well do the same, even when the world finds itself at peace again and can find the time to savor the opera’s ironic complexities.

Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine


Resplendent… The deep truth of war is not alone a story of good against evil but also, and more often, of good against good, wisdom against wisdom, duty against duty, principle against principle. That fearful symmetry is the foundation of Mark Adamo’s new operatic adaptation of an ancient Greek play — not the tragic Antigone, as one might expect, but the bawdiest of farces, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata… Both composer and librettist, he served brilliantly in both roles… The opera is a thick mesh of symmetries, the words of one character echoing in the mouths of others, switching contexts from war to love and back again. Adamo’s musical structure is built on those symmetries, and the layered textures of his orchestration seem a map of the caroming ideas. His music is rhythmically complex, protean, closely molded to the theatrical moment, capable of wry wit and expansive lyricism, and very American and contemporary in its sound — Sondheim on steroids — (and) the finale is a numinous Brucknerian motet, a hymn to peace shaded by the knowledge that it can only be temporary… Lysistrata soars.

Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express-News


Provocative, hilarious, bawdy and tender… Friday’s world premiere took the utterly engaged audience in a whirlwind tour through great themes: war and peace. The battle of the sexes. Even red state vs. blue state. And all in only 2 3/4 hours on one opera stage!… By inventing characters and adding complicated personal relationships, Adamo shifted the focus from the dramatically flat, if politically charged, idea of protest to the far more vivid — and occasionally lurid — arena of sexual politics. Dramatically and musically, (he) has stretched far in this new work; his libretto filled with puns, plays on words and intriguing rhyme schemes, and his musical setting tightly unified through constant reuse of key themes… Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess boldly romps its way through the minefield of domestic and international politics.

Charles Ward, Houston Chronicle


An outstandingly smart and thoroughly delightful new work: a fine new American musical, perhaps the very best seen in New York this season… Adamo has done something really wonderful here: he’s taken the famous and oft-performed Greek comedy and enlarged it, transforming the sharpest of anti-war satires into a thoughtful meditation on why we have war and why the impulse to go to battle is as fundamental and unremovable from human nature as the impulse to make love. Adamo is a theatre dramatist of great skill; (his) lyrics are brilliant, in a class with Sondheim’s—and the music is diverse and rich and complicated, full of leitmotifs that snake through the piece with satisfying intellectual consistency.  This piece has the capacity to not only move its audience, but also make them think hard about the human condition: which is why I’d love to see Lysistrata in a first-class production on Broadway, with a skilled musical theatre director and choreographer at the helm, and a cast of fine singing actors to bring it to life. The message of Lysistrata is urgent and profound: shouldn’t lots and lots of audiences get the chance to hear it?

Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com (New York City Opera, March 2006)


A feisty liberal heroine… The opera’s texture is skillfully varied, alternating rapid-fire comic numbers with passages of beguiling lyricism. In the women’s ensembles, Adamo weaves seemingly disjointed fragments of melody into cohesive musical statements. He makes good use of repetition: the motifs have sufficient contour to be comprehensible at first hearing, and they work to bind the musical continuity…. Surefooted, vivid, and distinctly modern.

Fred Cohn, Opera News


Impressive: a postmodern operatic version of a Greek comedy classic. Purists may bristle at the grab-bag structure of the score, a compendium of accessible mid-20th century styles with echoes of Anton Webern, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and Bernard Herrmann as well as jazz, Latin-American and Broadway elements. Adamo synthesizes these effectively, however, developing his themes and playing them off against each other in an ironic manner.  And his amusing, slang-strewn libretto uses the Aristophanes original only as a point of departure… Adamo posed a bigger, broader challenge to himself with this ambitious work– of balancing farce with the weighty moral and spiritual issues at its core–and he’s up to the task.

Eric Myers, Variety.com


A milestone; should have a solid future… clever and assured, Adamo’s libretto and music for this “tragicomedy for singers and orchestra” reveal keen comic instincts; his dialogue is packed with witty wordplay, and (his) deftly orchestrated music propels the plot with ease.  There’s a lot of American musical theater’s tunefulness and rhythmic vitality in the score, but Adamo’s own engaging voice is evident throughout… Lysistrata could have provided an entertaining evening in the theater on comedy alone, but the opera’s satiric/ironic side gives it greater weight… there’s enough sexual innuendo and anti-war sentiment to have warranted a look by the Justice Department, but even today’s most rabid, neo-Legion of Decency types would probably have found themselves savoring Lysistrata.

Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun


Witty and literate …(In) Adamo’s libretto, both an update and a recension of Aristophanes’s original, ancient stereotypes come alive in surprising new ways; (and) the music is mysterious and beautiful, full of quiet passion and hymnlike reverie.   The (Act Two) octet begins as a powerful threnody to the dead, then morphs into a beguiling chorale, accompanied by a shimmering orchestration of whispering strings.  Lysia’s final aria, “I Am Not My Own,” a languid variation on her Act I furioso against Nico, ramps up the energy and propels the opera to its conclusion; again,  right-on orchestration, strings and saxophone mirror her resignation with sexy blues… Makes us want to listen.

D. L. Groover, Houston Press


A rapid-fire Billy Wilder comedy on speed… In Adamo’s free adaptation of Aristophanes’s staid classic, initial scenes of high farce yield to more serious matters. The men come off much better in Adamo’s version than in Aristophanes; also, even though Adamo completed his libretto before the war with Iraq, there’s an undeniable topical resonance to Aristophanes’ antiwar comedy…. The composer’s facility is awe-inspiring, his machine-gun counterpoint keeping several vocal lines aloft in a dizzying sleight of hand; his libretto, equally smart and breezy, avoids easy polemics… The playful love scene interruptus of Lysia and Nico manages to be witty and sensual, and Adamo’s way with a nostalgic bittersweet lyricism stays in the memory…There is probably no opera composer currently before the public who can match Mark Adamo for cleverness or flexibility.

Lawrence A. Johnson, Florida Sun-Sentinel


Simply brilliant: a winning evening at the theater…The text will remind many of Sondheim with its internal rhyming and sheer invention, while busy cross-rhythms and stinging harmonies keep the ear fascinated; it’s as if the opera were a layer-cake of musical ideas, which, since it’s a layer-cake of philosophical ideas, is a fine corollary.  The octet for women is about as beautiful as anything composed for women’s voices since Britten’s trio in “Peter Grimes…” Adamo has scored another success.

Robert Levine, Classics Today


A remarkable opera: a necessary shock of life… Lysistrata peeled away at that gossamer veil between what some consider high and low art forms.  Lyricist and composer Mark Adamo has presented us with a Lysistrata 2.0 that cuts to the core of the original play.  Hyperrhythms and percussion burst and pop almost magically into the theatre: in its exuberance, its colorful and rich palette of sounds, I was reminded of the music of Frank Zappa. Halfway through, irreverent humor and quick rhythms are followed by character development and heartfelt songs. Refreshing and creative, bold and energetic, this was a performance and show to remember.

Blair  Fraipont, Opera Today