Notes and Editorial Reviews
Songs of the Fisherman
La Ricerca della Spiritialità Transcendente
Brian Arreola (ten);
Alison Moxer (dancer);
Kari Giles, Wei-Wei Le
(vn); Kirsten Swanson (va); Mira Frisch (vc); Scott Christian (perc); Yin Zheng (pn)
ALBANY 1456 (DVD: 58:25)
Composer Timothy Nelson is, according to the excellently produced booklet to this impressive DVD, at the vanguard of “a new generation of young opera directors.” He both composed the music of
Songs of the Fisherman
and directed here, so this performance has the stamp of authority and authenticity all over it. What we actually have is a song cycle for soprano, two pianos, and percussion recomposed as a fascinating, nocturnally sparkling opera/ballet hybrid specifically for the forces on display here. The work features a tenor soloist, Brian Arreola, who clearly has found his
in contemporary opera (he also created the role of Luis Rodrigo Griffin in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s
at Opera Theater St. Louis).
Arreola also writes the brief liner note. He eloquently describes
Songs of the Fisherman
as “a ritualized meditation on the human lifecycle, exploring the wonder of birth, growth and connection and the tenor of isolation, ageing and death,” as well as describing what is actually the strength of the piece: synthesizing “the lyrical power of operatic singing with the kinesthetic narrative potential of dance.”
The piece begins with “movement 0,” “The moon is very close tonight.” A supermoon overlooks the stage, low and close to the horizon (later replaced by a large hoop); the instrumentalists are seen in the background. There is an almost Brittenish feel to the writing; possibly in sympathy, there is an almost Peter Pears-ish feel to Arreola’s haunting delivery. The singer-protagonist is topless, wearing an amulet of some sort. He is joined on stage by the astonishingly supple Alison Moxer (choreography is by Gretchen Alterowitz).
The writing is powerful, and challenging for the tenor, who sings almost continuously and over his entire range. Arreola never seems to tire. He also at one stage finds some pebbles at the front of the stage and starts a rhythm which he then sings against; later, he has to dance, too. Quite a feat.
A pity there are no subtitles available, as the writing is often highly melismatic. The effect of the marriage of hypnotic long lines and the beauty of movement in dance is hypnotic, however; this is enhanced by the excellent lighting (the crepuscular slant to “On shores beyond ours,” is stunning). As the work progresses, Nelson moves post-Britten, harmonically. The final images of the tenor lit up against a dappled supermoon are as haunting as the long, desolate line he sings.
The work is carefully structured (the composer’s achievement is that to the casual listener it might well sound like a stream of consciousness) and includes movements entitled Fugue and Chaconne, the latter the darkest part of the score. Overall, then, a triumph.
The name Jorge Villavincencio Grossman is new to me. Lima-born, he has studied with Lukas Foss and John Harbison. His work for solo violin of 2004–05 deals with spirituality and the search for inner growth. There are three movements: “Ricerca,” “Divergenza.
” and “Ricerca II.” Wei-Wei Le is a violinist blessed with an “endless bow”: her legato is faultless. She also has the ability to make her instrument “speak” so one really does feel as if one is listening to a tale. The composer writes that the word “Ricerca” is linked in his mind with the
of St. Augustine and Hesse’s magnificent
, and of course appears here in its musical guise. The ruminative first movement gives way to the central
. This central panel is marked
. Without seeing the score and therefore going on impressions only, it does rather seem more like an
and perhaps a heightened sense of danger would have benefitted the score (the composer himself writes that it “owes much to the nineteenth-century virtuoso violinists-composers”). Interesting that this
is seen as a “needed break” between the narratives of the outer movements (I am reasonably certain the violinist does not see it that way). A sense of closure is effected by the establishment of a steady pulse for the first time in the work.
Wei-Wei Le’s beautiful tone is expertly caught. The color scheme chosen (blue stage floor; blue moving to dark olive green backdrop; dark pink dress for the soloist) is amazingly restful for the eyes: A lighting designer, Matt Fergen, is credited. The “Ricerca” acts as a perfect counterweight for
Songs of the Fishermen
. A most stimulating release of great beauty.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Songs of the Fisherman by Timothy Nelson
Mira Frisch (Cello),
Kari Giles (Violin),
Brian Arreola (Tenor),
Wei-Wei Le (Violin),
Kirsten Swanson (Viola),
Scott Christian (Percussion),
Yin Zheng (Piano),
Alison Mixon (Dancer)
Period: 21st Century
Notes: Choreography by Gretchen Alterowitz.
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