Reviews: The Grapes of Wrath - Michigan Opera Theatre

Reviews: The Grapes of Wrath

Jebl - Huntington Woods

Aching with the reality and power of this sorrowful American story. I was positively exhausted and drained with the final notes.

I love Opera, was raised on it from childhood beside my Father’s radio. Now, almost 80, I am amazed by the innovative magic of an old story retold in a new way, and in my home town. Our Opera company and its’ cast and orchestra are true Stand-Outs! Thank you, thank you, for touching our souls with a message we need to hear again.


Karen - Canton

The highlight of the evening for us was counting the people who gathered their belongings and headed out the door at intermission. The next best part was the massive overacting on the part of Tobias Greenhalgh and trying to control our giggles and not laugh out loud. I understand the fear that the children might not be heard, but the unexpected miking of them was jolting. We did enjoy our lively debate as to whether or not we should join the throngs leaving but ultimately decided to stay on the off-chance the second part would improve. Sadly, it did not.


Mary Claire - Troy

I reread the book in preparation for the performance and I am so glad I did. I agree with the librettist, Michael Korie as quoted in Erica Hobbs's article in Bravo on page 21, "The Grapes Of Wrath opera offers a compelling perspective on the work, because it is experinced in one sitting.

"It's an accural of incidents that are unbroken and supported by constant music, so it grabs hold of you and doesn't let go," he said. "When you read a novel you can say, 'This too much, I need a rest, I'll come back to it.' With the opera, you can't come in and out of it, you're swept up in the whirlwind." That was my experience exactly. I love the classic operas but I also love the new operas and will look forward to seeing them as they are produced. And thanks to the performers and everyone involved in bring "Grapes of Wrath to the stage. An old story given new life and so relevant to our world today. It was wonderful!


Craig - Detroit

The Detroit Opera House sits on Grand Circus Park, an area that was a recruiting center for murderous strike-breaking thugs during the period when my grandfather was helping to unionize the Ford Motor Company. Grampa Church was a big guy, and I remember him controlling a room just by walking into it, but he faced down real personal danger for the cause of labor justice. "The Grapes of Wrath" is a crucial American epic whose tragic turns are repeatedly triggered by the brutal forces of capitalism.

Like Verdi, Ricky Ian Gordon is notable for his intense melodic empathy for all of his characters. This makes the drama harrowing to experience, as one hapless and fully recognizable human being after another is destroyed in our nation's endless conflict between community and exclusion. "Build a fence!" cries the chorus at one point, as the Joads attempt to find refuge on their journey. Each performance in the enormous cast was thoughtfully realized. As Lee Strasberg asked of his students, the artists gave a sense not only of what was happening to their characters on stage, but of what had happened to them over the course of their lives.

The conductor Michael Christie and the chorus master Suzanne Mallare Acton had coached the company to an inspired level. For me, the most devastating scene was the self-sacrificial drowning of the simple-minded brother, Noah Joad, played by the Canadian baritone Hugh Russell with the poignancy that Lon Chaney, Jr., brought to another Steinbeck adaptation. Ma Joad, a heroic Katharine Goeldner, sings a lullaby as the scene unfolds in the manner of Noh-drama.

James Robinson's production was lucidly Brechtian, well-suited to a score structured around formal numbers. As in "27," performed by the company last season, the composer makes use of popular and classical American musical-theatre traditions to produce new operas that are musically valid, theatrically compelling, and desperately relevant to the dangerous present moment.

Unlike John Ford's great Hollywood adaptation, the opera sticks closely to Steinbeck, both in its merciless cultural critique and in its authentically mythic conclusion. Rosasharn, and human decency, have the final word. If this story were told otherwise, it might be too much to bear.


Jack - Ann Arbor

Thank you to MOT for programming this opera about an American story by an American composer and librettist. The music is not dissonant and incorporates many American styles: ragtime, jazz, folk, Copland, Weill, and Bernstein. The leads, chorus and orchestra performed well. Deanna Breiwick was a standout, among others, as Rosasharn. Negatives: the staging of Noah's drowning was odd and Connie's sudden departure needs more motivation.


Nicola - Brighton

Sadly, it reinforced my disillusionment with modern opera. Singing was frequently overwhelmed by the orchestra, and never seemed to have any connection with the emotions written in to the libretto. It did not seem to do justice to the original novel. I wonder how many new opera lovers it will have generated?

We are subscribers, and will continue to be, but we will not attend modern operas any more. We left at intermission. I prefer my operas to be melodic, and to have an orchestra that supports and enhances the singers, rather than dominating them.


Nadia G - Miami

I have been going to opera performances for over 40 years and am glad for something new. It was a wonderful performance, new and fresh.


Lisa - Taylor

What a waste of voices and musicians. Score was not in sync with vocals. Lyrics odd—either write them all in vernacular or not. The mix was annoying and didn’t follow rhyme or reason. Knowing the story, I almost stayed home. But i decided to give it a chance. I should have weeded my garden. As a season ticket holder for many years, I understand need to add new works to the repertoire. But this was a high school musical with very gifted singers and musicians. Points for trying. But it was a zero, not a hero.


Sarah - Ann Arbor

Absolutely stunning music and heartrending performances. I was so happy to be able to be introduced to this piece!


Kathleen - Macomb

My first opera! I LOVED IT! I REALLY loved the opera chat and the helpful emails about parking, etc.


April - Troy

I have a mixed review of this performance. After seeing the performance last night I woke this morning feeling a humbled and blessed for my situation in life, but also a renewed compassion for those struggling in life and the true plight of the judged and under-recognized poor and hungry in America. Also, I found myself pause this morning before I had a tantrum about my own “troubles” — I was catching a train to Chicago, and after a struggle to find parking I stepped in a giant puddle, soaking both my shoes. I couldn’t help thinking of the Joad family’s travels and how easy and comfortable my life is. It is truly art when it moves us, changes how we think and feel, and stays with us hours or days after a performance. I know Grapes if Wrath will be that for me. I also enjoyed the lighting that produced shadows that were sort of their own cast, and helped frame the stage and coloring as watercolor painting. The orchestra was fabulous and I could have listened to them all night. Now to the critical part. Truly I’m just a normal person who doesn’t frequent the opera or have fancy tastes or laugh at New Yorker cartoons or put Grey Poupon on my sandwich. My kids watch cartoons and eat at McDonald and go to public school. I buy my clothes at Target. So just putting that out there so you can know right away whether to discount my review. I found the music not as melodic as I’d hoped. A few songs were fun, if a depressing novel about the dust bowl can be fun, but there was so much dissonance that I found mostly unpleasant. I found a few scenes to be vulgar for my taste especially with children actors on stage. The set was lacking, and I found my imagination couldn’t fill in the holes as maybe I was supposed to. There wasn’t a lot of movement — at times I thought each character was standing in front of an invisible microphone — your life is falling apart and this is an opera, OMG. In the end we struggled to make it to the end, and a lap around Commerica Park during intermission refreshed us, so there’s that. This opera is for opera lovers and snobs. Us normal Joes might want to check out the book from the library first.


Martha - Ann Arbor

I was especially impressed by the intelligent libretto and by the beautiful, powerful voice of Geoffrey Agpalo as Jim Casy.


Suzanne - Grosse Pointe

Excellent rendition of this play. We rented the movie so we would know the story. Staging and sets simple and understandable. The singing and acting were excellent and we had excellent seats. It was 3 hrs. long but I wouldn't have missed any part.


Kirk - Ann Arbor

An amazing visual and musical portrayal of the many themes and emotions from one of the greatest American novels of all time. For me, the book encapsulates so many timeless challenges to life in America, and still relevant over 80 years after being published. In wonderful operatic fashion, the performance captures so much of what the author presented so many years ago in print. A must see for anyone interested in the continuing challenges in American culture.


Jan - Detroit

The singers sang well but the music never seemed to be in sync with the singers. Add to that a play that was dreadful, just awful, and if this was the reason for renewing our subscription we would never be back.
The half empty main floor and the many people that left after the first act should tell the management something.


Nancy - Detroit

Excellent. This is such an American story and sad, and in many ways is paralleled by some residents in our country now, and certainly around the world. A story of the past Dust Bowl and our current times. Good to read up a bit before seeing. We saw the 1940 movie at the Senate Theater in Detroit before seeing the Opera. Excellent.


Tom - Roseville

Well done production! Sets, choreography, acting, singing, and especially the music were were excellent! The subject matter made for good operatic storytelling.



I loved it! "Grapes of Wrath" is one of my favorite books from years past, with a lot of more current themes to keep it riveting. And the MOT always offers outstanding contemporary opera! From the time the dust was blown off the dishes, to the long journey it was true to the story. The set and costumes were creative and well done. The music and performers excellent. This opera should not be missed!


Brandon - Canton

So phenomenal! The storyline is depressing as they come, but the power that it inspires is unreal! The music was simply gorgeous, and the creative use of the minimal set was excellent! You'd be crazy to miss out on this one!


Tammy - Oakland County

I'm really not trying to be harsh, and I don't want to offend the performers, but I do want to post an honest review for those who want a different opinion. I cannot relate to the gushing reviews posted on this site. I took my mother out for the evening as a gift to her, and unfortunately, we considered leaving at intermission. We stayed in hopes of a redeeming 2nd act (5 people in front and behind us didn't return after intermission, possibly they had the same thought?). I expected that, with such a minimalist set design, (set was mostly chairs, tables, ladders and lighting) to have the performances make the set design a moot point, but the performances were also minimalistic. Art is subjective, but I've viewed my fair share of broadway performances, and my mother has attended many more, some multiple times, and her response to the uproarious clapping at the end of this performance was to turn to me and say, "Are we witnessing a "The Emperor's New Clothes" moment?" (Referring to the story written by Hans Christian Andersen).


Wendy Bush - Saline

Phenomenal! Grapes of Wrath is my first opera. I found the acting to be incredible, and I was awed by the singing. I had a special reason for seeing the opera. My grandson is playing the part of Winfield. I want to sincerely thank the cast, crew and everyone involved with the production for the kindness and caring you have given my grandson. I had the pleasure of meeting many of the cast and I was overcome by their warmth. Thank you.


Bret & Susanna - Grosse Pointe Park

My husband and I loved it. It was a powerful, humbling and outstanding performance. The music was difficult to follow at the beginning, but it grew faithfully to the plot contributing to the effectiveness of the dramatic and extreme conclusion.


Karen - Commerce Township

Impactful! The sadness and desperation in John Steinbeck's novel is astutely performed on stage in this production....from the staging to the voices...beautifully done and emotional!


Bud Liebler - Bloomfield Hills

Outstanding production! Wonderful voices and music with an excellent cast and creative set. Well written musically and lyrically and very engaging. It seemed fitting for the times we’re living in. Worthwhile and very enjoyable.


CorinneO - Bingham Farms

Sensational in every way--already loved the story and book and loved the leads, the chorus, the sets and orchestra. Hurray for MOT for doing this opera.



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Reviews: The Grapes of Wrath

I loved it! “Grapes of Wrath” is one of my favorite books from years past, with a lot of more current themes to keep it riveting. From the time the dust was blown off the dishes, to the long journey it was true to the story.

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