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the Complete Review
the complete review - libretto

Shining Brow

Paul Muldoon

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To purchase Shining Brow

Title: Shining Brow
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Libretto
Written: 1993
Length: 86 pages
Availability: Shining Brow - US
Shining Brow - UK
  • Music by Daron Aric Hagen
  • The opera was commissioned by the Madison Opera, and premièred there April 1993

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Our Assessment:

B+ : much of it very impressive, but ultimately settles for less than it could

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New York Times . 28/4/1993 James R. Oestreich
The New Yorker . 17/5/1993 Paul Griffiths
Opera . 8/93 John Koopman
The Village Voice . 11/5/1993 Leighton Kerner

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The complete review's Review:

       Paul Muldoon's opera, Shining Brow (with music by Daron Aric Hagen), is set between 1903 and 1914 and focusses on Frank Lloyd Wright's adulterous affair with one of his client's wives.
       The opera begins with a prologue, a drunk Louis Sullivan -- Wright's mentor -- mourning (and complaining) that he has been superseded (and cast aside) by his student. The year is 1903, and the action then moves on to Wright, planning a project for Mamah ("May-mah -- if you would") and Edwin Cheney. Wright is immediately smitten -- even though he too is married (though his wife complains: "We've barely spoken in a month.")
       Love blossoms, but love also proves destructive. And Wright isn't exactly much-liked on his best days: "Wright's the very embodiment of evil" is only the most succinct of the complaints against him.
       Shining Brow is a love story, and despite the fact that neither of the lovers is especially sympathetic, it is a touching one. Wright comes to acknowledge some of his faults -- as both a lover and an architect:

The truth is that I have been cruel.
There is a hardness in my heart.
I have torn down
many beautiful things.
       The tragic end then -- coinciding almost exactly with the begin of that fall of Western civilization that was World War I -- is both dramatically effective and poignant, life (and death) touching art in a way in which even Wright's genius can not insulate him from.

       Muldoon has crafted a good and effective libretto here, much of which stands surprisingly strong even on its own; only a few of the repeated verses seem too much.
       There are some very nice touches -- such as the women of Oak Park complaining:
It's an open secret that Wright and the Cheney woman
drive about in the 'Yellow Devil'
at speeds of up to fifteen miles an hour
       The speed -- hardly considered speed at all nowadays, but back then, in those very different times, sounding terribly reckless and dangerous -- is typical of the detail Muldoon offers (and how he uses it).
       The mix of Wright's architecture, love, and life is also done very well, including pieces such as:
Each room opens into the next, if you remember,
like the chambers
of the heart.

(Sotto voce)
And, at its core, a vast emptiness.
       Overall: a fairly effective and dramatic piece.

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Shining Brow: Reviews: Paul Muldoon: Other books by Paul Muldoon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       (Northern) Irish poet Paul Muldoon was born in 1951. He has written several collections of poetry and opera libretti. He has become a citizen of the United States and currently teaches at Princeton University and at Oxford.

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