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Stephen Hartke's 'The Greater Good'

French literature has always been a rich source of material for operas — and not just French operas, as we hear in The Greater Good, a provocative new opera by the American composer Stephen Hartke.

There are plenty of other examples. Works by the French author Victor Hugo have made it successfully to opera house, notably in Verdi's Rigoletto. Mozart and Rossini based their "Figaro operas" on plays by Beaumarchais. Puccini based both La Boheme and Tosca on French plays — by Henri Murger and Victorien Sardou — and Massenet used a novel by the Abbé Prévost for his hit opera Manon.

But one noteworthy French writer, Guy de Maupassant, seems oddly absent from opera. Even though Maupassant was a genius of the short story, and short fiction has always been great fodder for operas, there has been little operatic interest in his writings — until now.

When Stephen Hartke wrote The Greater Good, on a commission from Glimmerglass Opera, he based his striking drama on one of Maupassant's most acclaimed stories, "Boule de Suif."

The story's title is the nickname of its main character, a famous prostitute. Translated somewhat poetically, this sobriquet might be "Tallow Ball." A more literal and even less-flattering translation would be "Ball of Fat."

The story is often unsavory: An array of rich, arrogant people crudely exploit Boule de Suif, and achieve selfish goals at her expense. But in then end, the woman Maupassant describes as "a member of the courtesan class" is clearly the most principled character in the opera, and the role is a musical and dramatic tour de force.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us Glimmerglass Opera's world premiere production of Hartke's drama, starring soprano Caroline Worra in a brilliant and touching portrayal of Boule de Suif.

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