"Psycho." "Citizen Kane." "Vertigo." "Taxi Driver." American composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for all these classic movies, and many others, too.
But did you know he also wrote an opera? Back in 2011 Minnesota Opera gave the first uncut staging of Herrmann's "Wuthering Heights," and made a high-definition video recording of the production.
With its fall season scuppered by the coronavirus, the company recently made the video available online, as one of the digital events replacing live performances.
Based on Emily Brontë's classic novel of twisted emotions and tragedy on the Yorkshire moors in England, Herrmann's opera has a predictably dark and brooding quality. That's evident in the glowering orchestral prelude, with icy strings and thorny woodwind figurations painting a gloomy counterpoint to the wood-paneled interiors of Neil Patel's set, representing the ancestral home of the work's title.
Vocally the opera is strongly cast, led by American soprano Sara Jakubiak, who sings the passionate role of Catherine with untiring vibrancy and emotional commitment.
Her Heathcliff, baritone Lee Poulis, easily matches Jakubiak in intensity. Swarthy and Poldarkian in profile, he looks every inch the dangerous romantic lead, and his virility of tone is often thrilling.
But what kind of "hero" is Heathcliff, and why exactly does Catherine find him so fatally attractive? Director Eric Simonson plays their relationship fairly straight, as a tale of high Victorian passion.
Yet there are clear hints in the opera's libretto and in Herrmann's music of something nastier — Heathcliff the gaslighter, wrecker of two women's lives and perpetrator of a toxic masculinity, which is far from conventionally "romantic."
Little of that comes through in Simonson's more mainstream conception, which nonetheless has its fair share of impactful moments.
Many of these come in Act 3, where Catherine's husband, Edgar, gets a Puccini-like aria lacking only in the Italian composer's killer instinct for a clinching melody. Tenor Eric Margiore sings it splendidly.
As his sister Isabella, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala is marvelously impassioned — another victim of Heathcliff's wild emotional inconstancy, and arguably the only major character in the opera who is fully sympathetic.
Conductor Michael Christie draws a sharply atmospheric account of Herrmann's score from an on-form orchestra, and overall it's hard to find a weakness in the production musically.
Dramatically, though, "Wuthering Heights" has its imperfections. There's endless talk of love, but precious little evidence of it in the onstage action, where hot clinches are largely left to the imagination. Herrmann also overplays the grim finale, where Catherine dies and Heathcliff emotes obsessively over the relationship he wishes could have been.
Even the excellence of Jakubiak and Poulis can't save their overwrought and protracted encounter, which eventually becomes wearisome.
That is not to criticize Minnesota Opera's decision to show "Wuthering Heights" again. It's a historic production showing the company at or near its best, and is one of the best sung shows of recent seasons.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.