Gloria: A Pig Tale, H.K.Gruber

New York Philharmonic, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Juilliard School

As part of the NY Phil Biennial

29th May, 2014

Schlachtkabarett / Don’t ask what’s in the sausage

It is a great credit to Alan Gilbert that he has chosen to address a need in New York’s cultural life for a platform dedicated to contemporary music.  At last night’s opening performance of Gloria: A Pig Tale by Austrian composer H.K. Gruber — a co-production of the New York Philharmonic with The Juilliard School’s AXIOM Ensemble — Gilbert quipped that in planning meetings for the “NY Phil Biennial”, the first decision was how often they should do it.  I, for one, appreciate the positivity of vision in announcing the inaugural season of a new- music-based festival in this fashion.  This particular choice of work, however, seemed hard even for Gilbert himself to justify.  Turning to Mr. Gruber in the audience, Gilbert (half-jokingly, it seemed) asked him, “What were you thinking?”

Perhaps assuming from the title that this would be a “children’s opera”, many had kiddies in tow who may have left with their subconsciouses forever altered by this mélange of Dadaist imagery, their brains reeling with the seemingly unconstructed Gruber-goober. One can hope that they were at least entertained by the sweet and effective puppetry by Giants Are Small and by Doug Fitch’s energetic, inventive direction.

The plot development of Gloria: A Pig Tale does not seem to be one of Gruber’s primary concerns.  Gloria, a pretty pig amongst the normal-looking pigs, dreams of being rescued by a handsome prince.  This is Act One.  In Act Two, her brawny Wildschwein hero rescues her from her human “prince” (actually the farmhand who intends to butcher her), resulting in a union, three piglets and a domestic pigsty in which, from Gruber’s perspective, only the hero feels trapped.  The heroine?  Who cares. Gruber has achieved the seemingly impossible with this opera: he was rewritten a classically sexist fairy tale and made it truly misogynist.  If his intention was to comment on this quality of traditional fairy tales by exaggerating the helplessness of the female and the oafishness of the hero, I believe he failed by omission of any moments of insight into Gloria’s character, her inner strength or any other facet of her character other than her longing for a prince.  Even the worst traditional fairy tales give the heroine a backstory!

In this case, Gilbert’s intention to provide “A snapshot of where music is today” seems to have overlooked any awareness of where feminism is today.

But to the performances:  as Gloria, Lauren Snouffer seemed a little ill-at-ease, but who could blame her?  The role was written in the vocal stratosphere for far too much of the time, a challenge which the sweet-voiced soprano handled admirably. 

The rest of the cast shared a vast array of roles ranging from the handsome prince (Alexander Lewis, suffering from a cold on opening night but nevertheless displaying great dramatic thoughtfulness and charisma) to the wild pig, Rodrigo (Kevin Burdett, unleashing all the creativity and bravery for which he is well-known).  In between, there were animals of all kinds, portrayed by the heartfelt and radiant Brenda Patterson and the attention-grabbing Carlton Ford.  These two seemed most at ease with the difficulty of this score which was needlessly complex.
There were some moments of Gruber’s composition which could have been truly witty were they not misplaced, mistimed or overly messed-with. A barbershop quartet of two oxen and two back-perching birds had great comic potential, was written in direct competition to another of Gloria’s skyscraping arias, and continued long after the groove was gone. There are story-telling issues in Act Two; It seems to be summer, then winter, then fall. Is the prince the farmer too, or are they different characters? All is unclear, but at this point we have given up hoping for a narrative anyway.

The AXIOM Ensemble played accurately without ever letting loose. Standouts were violinist Fabiola Kim (a true concertmaster in the making) and June Hahn, multi-tasking to the extreme on percussion.

Bottom line: It could have been worse. It could have been longer.


Mwyn Bengough



response to this review:


Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Production: Giants Are Small
Director, costume designer, co-set designer: Doug Fitch
Producer: Edouard Getaz

Gloria: Lauren Snouffer
Solo Pig and other roles: Brenda Patterson
Gerhard and other roles:  Alexander Lewis
Farmer and other roles: Carlton Ford
Rodrigo and other roles: Kevin Burdette

With AXIOM ensemble