In May/June 1996 I reviewed the world premier performances of this opera and was quite pleased with it. Albany has recorded one of those performances, and the opera continues to make a strong impression. The story of French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) has long fascinated Blumenfeld, producing a series of Rimbaud-inspired compositions and now a magnum opus in Seasons. Rimbaud wrote most of his poetry between the ages of 15 and 19, revolutionizing French poetry, all teh while reveling in total debauchery and a love affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), ten years his senior. At 19 in a searing autobiography, Une Saison en Enfer, Rimbaud renoounced poetry, bohemianism, and European culture in an attempt at "meaningful, productive work", travelling braodly, eventually settling in Abyssinia as a coffee exporter and gun runner. A synovitis tumor cause the amputation of his right leg and he died at age 37.
FANFARE, September/October, 1996:
As Lewis Carroll is to Del Tredici, Arthur Rimbaud is to Harold Blumenfeld. For the past fifteen years or so, the Seattle-born (1923) Blumenfeld has drawn almost exclusively on the short-lived (1854-91) French poet for both texts and inspiration. This CD offers four works (composed between 1981 and 1992) from his Rimbaud series, the culmination of which was probably reached in February, with the premiere in Cincinnati of his full-length opera Seasons in Hell. A composition student of Bernard Rogers and Hindemith, Blumenfeld's output is dominated by music for voice(s), and includes pre-Rimbaud settings of Hart Crane, Derek Walcott, Beaudelaire, Verlaine, Rilke, and Mandelstam. ...
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, September/October, 1996:
Harold Blumenfeld's fascination with French poety Arthur Rimbaud recently culminated in the opera Seasons in Hell (Music in Concert, M/J 1996). The present disc contains other espressions of this fascination. They are all well written, expressive, and listenable. Blumenfeld's considerable instrumental expertise is highlighted in the orchestral Illuminations, which are brilliantly conceived and executed. All of the performances are goood. Soprano Christine Schadeberg continues to claim a prominent position among performers of "advanced" contemporary music.
OPERA NEWS, April 13, 1996 Vol.60, No.15
Conservative Cincinnati was in for a musical shock with the February 8 premiere of Harold Blumenfeld's Seasons in Hell, a vivid portrayal of the poetry and life of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91). This homosexual love story, set to expressionistic music, tested the audience's musical/moral sophistication, but most remained to cheer. The major part of Rimbaud's verse was written between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, a period of debauchery, including an affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine (1844-96), but then , in an incomprehensible turn, Rimbaud renounced poetry and his dissolute life to immigrate to Abyssinia as a coffee trader and gunrunner. A synovitis tumor, resulting in the amputation of his right leg, led to his early death.
CINCINNATI POST, February 9, 1996:
"SEASONS" crackles with excitement. Blumenfeld's music illumines his subject uncompromisingly, but with gestures that draw the listener into the drama. Vocal lines are angular, and there is a caravan of percussion on towers flanking the stage. But the music never overwhelms. Use of color is keen: wood blocks crackle on the words "black flies", piano strings are strummed, a dark-hued viola is paired with drums in the orgy scene.AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, May-June 1996
(In the orgy scene) Rimbaud and Verlaine writhe in paints they have smeared on each other, while three nightmarish birds stalk around them.
The opera's most spectacular moment occurs in the orgy, when Rimbaud is tied to a wheel bearing white lights, then raised to a bank of lights which fell him like the mythical Icarus approaching the sun.
The production is an artistic event of the first order.
Blumenfeld's ("Seasons in Hell") music is expressionist, almost to pointillism - lean, spare recitative alternating with massive sonic outbursts. The orchestra carefully supports, outlines, and punctuates the vocal line. In three huge black towers - two of them hovering over the audience, one on stage - five players amid a mass of 62 percussion instruments add to the sonic brilliance. The percussion parts are written with exquisite restraint, rarely overwhelming the voices. The three Rimbaud voices are exploited to their extremes with high-flying outbursts. Yet the vocal line is so cleverly constructed that the English text is easily intelligible. A remarkable achievement.OPERA (Gt. Britain) June 1996
The opera is a powerful one; strongly dramatic, musically effective. This is an opera that deserves to be taken into the repertoire of the more adventurous opera companies.
The distinguished librettist and producer Charles Kondek has constructed a clever cinematic (23 scenes) double chronology relating the story of Younger Rimbaud in forward order, ages 14 to 19, and that of Older Rimbaud in reverse, death to age 19.
Blumenfeld's music is wildly expressionistic, amazingly restrained in his use of the five percussionists. Even though the vocal lines frequently lie high,....the English text is generally intelligible.
Malcolm Fraser's brilliant production included a vivid opium-induced orgy in which the nearly naked Rimbaud and Verlaine spattered each other and the stage with gaudy colored paint. Fraser's concept of Verlaine's vision of Rimbaud as Icarus with giant wings soaring to the sun and then crashing to earth was startling and stunning.
Gerhard Samuel led his massive forces with precision and care, reining in the power frequently, then letting loose.
The opera is powerful dramatically and musically, a strong story.
Harold Blumenfeld's three operas, "Seasons in Hell", "Fourscore - an Opera of Opposites" and "Breakfast Waltzes" - all to libretti by collaborator
Charles Kondek - are published, along with the composer's other works, by MMB Music Inc, 3526
Washington Ave., St. Louis MO 63103. FAX 314 531-8384.
Blumenfeld is represented by Friedman/Goetz Associates, 11 Worth St, New York NY 10013, FAX 212 226-6788, e-mail FGASSOC@aol.com
Materials may be secured from Friedman/Goetz, from MMB Music Inc, and may be consulted at the American Music Center, New York.
All works © Copyright MMB Music, Inc.