When William Bolcom's opera A View from the Bridge premiered in Chicago in 1999, one critic described it as "Brooklyn verismo," invoking the emotive style popularized by Italian composers such as Puccini. And that pretty much hits the nail on the head.
Bolcom's distinctively American opera is set among immigrants in New York, and its story easily lives up to Puccini's description of his own dramatic style, as one that puts "great sorrows in little souls."
The little souls of A View from the Bridge are struggling dock workers and their families, some of whom are in the country illegally. The opera is based on a 1955 play by Arthur Miller, which appeared first as a one-act drama in verse, and then as a full-length, two-act show on Broadway. Miller worked on the opera's libretto alongside Bolcom's longtime collaborator, Arnold Weinstein, and they relied on both versions of the play in creating the opera's text.
The opera's vibrant setting is the Italian-American neighborhood of Red Hook, in Brooklyn, back in the 1950s. But the issues underlying the story seem both ancient and cut from modern headlines — ranging from the travails of illegal immigrants to ethnic stereotypes to biases surrounding sexual orientation and even the hint of incest.
Placido Domingo, the Washington National Opera's general director, has maintained a long and steady commitment to the presentation of American opera in the nation's capital. That commitment has led to a number of highly successful productions that have also been heard on World of Opera with host Lisa Simeone, including Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, Barber's Vanessa, Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire and now, A View from the Bridge. Among its stars are three singers who created their roles in the opera's Chicago world premiere: Catherine Malfitano as Beatrice, Kim Josephson as Eddie and Gregory Turay as Rodolfo.