Elmer Gantry

That’s the title of Sinclair Lewis’s insightful – if also deeply jaundiced – 1922 novel that sends up celebrity evangelists and fundamentalist Christianity in the early part of the 20th century. I teach it whenever I can (most recently in a religion and sex course … Lewis understood all too well that many popular Christian preachers and entertainers succeed on the basis of quasi-sanctified sex appeal), and now I see it’s been turned into an opera/musical. Money quote from the NYT review (free subscription required), “He May be Loathsome, but This Evangelist Has Pipes”:

[The show] incorporates gospel music and hymns into a classical idiom, as Carlisle Floyd and Gershwin weaved the vernacular into their operas. John Hoomes’s intelligent staging avoids hokiness, and the well-rehearsed student chorus sang with heartfelt conviction. (The chorus, whose members are sometimes dressed in brightly colored gospel robes by the costume designer Camille Assaf, has a starring role in this opera.) Takeshi Kata’s effective sets included a garish electric cross of gold lights in the new tabernacle of the preacher Sharon Falconer.

I can’t wait to see it. (The Sharon Falconer character, in case you were wondering, is like an attractive Joyce Meyer.) The Burt Lancaster movie was execrable, of course. But musical theater and operatic drama seem exactly the right way to capture the scope of spiritual striving and the tragedy of religious failure in modern life that the novel engages – not to mention a way to get a lot of wonderful music into the act. Anyway … in case you’re in New Yark Sitty with nothing do for an evening …Update: from reader DW, a link to the WittenburgDoor, a well-written online magazine that, among many other things, keeps tabs on a lot of modern-day Gantrys from the world of celebrity evangelism.

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  1. Bob wrote:

    This post reminded me of “Leap of Faith”, the 1992 movie that starred Steve Martin and Debra Winger (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104695/). I believe the movie came and went with little notice, but I really enjoyed it and still listen to the soundtrack - 17 years later!

  2. Derek Meler wrote:

    I was actually in the world premier of this opera in Nashville. I must say it became a very moving and emotional project the more rehearsals progressed. Robert Aldridge did a great job with the music and the libretto by Herschel Garfein is wonderful. It was an honor to get to premier this work and I think this opera will stay in the canon of great American Opera for a long time.

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