Herbert Wolff Reviews "The Crucible" At Glimmerglass

Aug 7, 2016

I have to apologize for this review of the opera The Crucible…now having an outstanding presentation at Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

The opera – composed by Robert Ward, libretto by Bernard Stambler – had its premiere in 1961 – and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.  The opera is based upon the play of the same name authored by Arthur Miller in 1953, when it was awarded a Tony for “Best Play.”

My apology has to do with the fact that in the 1950s I packed by car with my diploma, my textbooks, and my scribbles…and headed to New York to determine if I could find a career in the glow of being in the proximity of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and the other outstanding playwrights of that era.  Well, not quite.…  The apology also relates to the fact that my political views have not altered over these 60+ years, when people are still vilified for disagreeing with politicians who wrap themselves in American flags.

A crucible is defined as “a vessel in which substances are heated to huge temperatures”… also is defined as a severe trial or test.  This most certainly describes one of the most shameful times in American history, remembered as the New Salem Witch trials. It was a period when accusations of the Devil visiting the souls of residents brought sentences of instant death to the accused.  In all, 220 Salem villagers were put death before the trials were halted.

The play was Miller’s response to the so-called “Red Scare“ – spearheaded by such elected officials a Senator Joseph McCarthy in a time when labels destroyed careers…when Congressional committees subpoenaed persons to testify against colleagues.  Miller himself had to testify to proclaim his loyalty to his country.  Later, he is quoted as writing: “Political movements are always trying to position themselves as shields against the unknown….vote for me and you’re safe from a malign, debauched, evil, irreligious, wife-swapping, deceitful, immoral, stinking conspiracy stemming from the very bowels of hell.”

There is little question that the timeliness of this opera production at Glimmerglass should again make attendees aware of at the political climes that prevail 2016.

One further quote, this one from Edward R. Murrow: “We must remember always that accusations are not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.  We will not walk fear of one another.  We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine…”

Under the stage direction of Glimmerglass Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and music conductor Nicole Paiement …this production of The Crucible opera is excellent…and timely at every turn.

The leading roles – sung by Brian Milligan and Jamie Barton as the husband and wife torn apart by accusations – are outstanding performances.  All of the supporting cast of accusers and accusees also excel in their roles.

The Crucible plays on selected dates now through August 27.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on live television. He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For over 25 years he has been an on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.