Miss Lonelyhearts, an Opera in Two Acts Op. 93 (2005)

Libretto by J. D. McClatchy after the novel by Nathanael West

c. 120'00"

Commissioned by the Juilliard School in celebration of its centennial

First performed on April 26th, 2006 at the Juilliard Theater, Lincoln Center in New York City
by the Juilliard Opera Center conducted by Andreas Delfs

Published by Theodore Presser Company ORDER MUSIC HERE


"The Best of the New Operas: Lowell Liebermann and his accomplished librettist J. D. McClatchy…happily resisted the temptation to be literal and over-tell the story. Writing for the Juilliard School, which commissioned the work for its 100th anniversary, rather than an opera company that has to sell tickets to conservative subscribers, also seems to have freed them from the compulsion to sanitize unsavory subject matter.  Instead, they plunged into the sinister subtext of West's tale of an advice columnist who becomes so obsessed with the pathetic stories of his correspondents and his inability to help them that he develops a Christ complex and invites his own death.…The real world settings – the clattering frenzy of the newspaper office, the mockery and sadistic pranks of the reporters hanging out in the local speakeasy, the stratospheric high notes of the editor’s wife, with whom the columnist has a brief and sordid sexual encounter – are a series of musical nightmares, etched with astringent musical lines and insistent rhythms layered on top of each other. …Mr. McClatchy pulls no punches in the text, which abounds with racist language and sexual innuendo, to say nothing of religious mania.…The opera never sinks into sentimentality, even when Miss Lonelyhearts’ well-meaning girlfriend manages to drag him away to a healthy country retreat for a while. Instead, the instant of lyrical clarity acts as a momentary respite in this maelstrom of black comedy.…”Miss Lonelyhearts” may be just too dark for the average American opera company, but I hope that someone will take the chance on them, and other operas that have that same integrity, so that more audiences will be able to experience these compelling works. I wouldn’t mind hearing them again either.” 

Heidi Waleson The Wall Street Journal

“Miss Lonelyhearts’ world is a pained and ugly one…the only light let in coming from Miss Lonelyhearts’ euphoric messianic visions…and from Betty, his unappreciated true love. Composer Lowell Liebermann and librettist J.D. McClatchy limn this world in a wonderful new opera, Miss Lonelyhearts- not a pastiche, although other composers’ operas and other genres of music at times come to mind; not an imitation traditional opera, though melodic and full-bodied; nor relentlessly “modern”, though dissonant in places, but a work forging in a highly individual and compelling musical path…”

Bruce-Michael Gelbert TheaterScene.net

“On April 26 the Peter Sharp Theater’s savvy audience welcomed the latest commissioned creation: Lowell Liebermann’s Miss Lonelyhearts…skillfully set to a shrewdly constructed libretto by J.D. McClatchy based on Nathaniel West’s 1933 novel. Liebermann, a Juilliard graduate born in 1961, found operatic success with The Picture of Dorian Gray (Monte-Carlo, 1996)…One noted gratefully how much more fluid and emotionally resonant his new score emerged than many recent American operas hedging their bets on- and drawing most of their power from- established ‘literary properties’. The deft orchestration lends colouristic variety to a fluid arioso construction offset by (sometimes intertwined with) choral and spoken passages. Piano and Cello writing showed particular eloquence. Lessons have certainly been learned- from Berg, Britten, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich; perhaps even from Antheil, as a typewriter opens the score and telephones figure in it- but their application seems not so much derivative as aptly suited to the modernist ethos of the subject. Miss Lonelyhearts merits further staging by adventurous ensembles.”

David Shengold Opera

"An Absorbing Premiere: New York saw the premiere of anew opera on Wednesday night- “Miss Lonelhearts,” by Lowell Liebermann. Mr. Liebermann and his librettist, J.D. McClatchy, have achieved a success: an opera that is worth seeing, hearing, and absorbing.This is a nasty little story- filled with ever kind of depravity – and Messrs. Liebermann and McClatchy have fashioned a nasty little opera. The opera opens with the click-clack of a manual typewriter- that helps set the time. Then the orchestra commences a prelude, which is very, very American, as the whole opera proves to be: I thought, first, of Walter Piston, and some other giants of our mid-century. The score is well placed and well crafted. It has energy and tension (though that tension is relieved). It is neither too long nor too short. And it is almost never dull. Mr. Liebermann provides a nice balance between simple composition and complex. he does not write in a showoffy style. When only a few notes will do, he uses them. The piece has a couple of good arias- or aria-like sketches- and some good and rather unusual duets . A tenor-mezzo duet at the end of Act I is striking: he earnest and grave, she insouciant and vulgar. And Mr. Liebermann has no trouble panting what he needs to be painted. We hear a bustling newsroom, for example. And when the protagonist and his girl are out on a farm, the music is bucolic. Sometimes, Mr. Liebermann is obvious, but he’s conscious of being so. A character mentions Jews, and we get a Hebrew wail. And when he mentions a Protestant- a snatch of a hymn. For Buddhists, a dollop of Orientalism. And so on.Because this tale is full of madness, there must be madness in the score- and this is not easy to bring off. Composers often overdo it, perhaps going a little mad themselves. But Mr. Liebermann keeps his wits about him, as others are losing theirs, in part because it avoids sentimentalism. Many composers have difficulty ending a piece- especially a long piece, such as a symphony or an opera- but Mr. Liebermann’s denouement is fantastic: It builds excitingly, fearsomely, hitting you in the gut. And it remembers to conclude; it doesn’t linger a moment too long. Mr. Liebermann’s final notes, in this nightmarish show, are light- a creepy and effective touch.”

Jay Nordlinger The New York Sun

The latest installment in the Juilliard’s centenary celebrations definitely qualified as a Major Event: the world premiere on April 26 of “Miss Lonelyhearts” based on Nathaniel West’s famous 1933 novella, an opera with a libretto by J.D. McClatchy and music by Lowell Liebermann….Liebermann was a natural choice for such an important commission and he is a model advertisement for the school. Prolific, frequently performed and recorded, popular among musicians and with a well-received first opera to his credit (“The Picture of Dorian Gray” after Oscar Wilde), Liebermann is right now one of the country’s busiest and most visible composers.…he has extended himself impressively. McClatchy’s libretto assists the composer in every way, extracting the essence of West’s depressing tale with skill and a keen eye and ear for what works in the musical theater. The two acts are divided into 11 scenes that, for all the stylistic diversity Liebermann employs so artfully, fit together without a seam showing. Each sequence functions as a satisfyingly self-contained, closely worked-out entity that conveys its own musical character thanks in large part to the idiomatic vocal writing, music that not only flatters the singer but also tells us very clearly who these people are.”

Peter G. Davis MusicalAmerica.com

“The Juilliard School recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with 47 commissions, including a cello sonata by the 90-year-old Milton Babbitt, and struck gold with the Lowell Liebermann opera Miss Lonelyhearts. ”

David Patrick Stearns The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Miss Lonelyhearts, by Lowell Liebermann, was commissioned by The Juilliard School, for its centennial. It is a strong work, musically…This opera has half a chance to last, in my estimation.”

Jay Nordlinger The New Criterion