Notes and Editorial Reviews
Roger Waters should be very careful on dark streets—the modern-music police are going to be after him. Although the pendulum is slowly swinging back toward a more audience-friendly approach to composition, I doubt that those who consider themselves the guardians of public taste are going to appreciate this tuneful, appealing, imaginative, but unchallenging opera. I, on the other hand, kept smiling and simply enjoying it for what it is—an enormously entertaining, and at the same time very moving, opera written in a popular idiom that will appeal to traditional opera-lovers and perhaps to a wider audience. That audience might consist of those who know Roger Waters as
one of the founders of Pink Floyd!
This is precisely the kind of crossover project that seems to infuriate many critics and self-appointed guardians of musical standards. In my view, this is precisely the kind of musical experimentation we need if we are going to figure out ways to bridge gaps and overcome barriers that now exist between a broader general public and what they see as a stuffy, intimidating art form. This opera is about the French Revolution, and its musical ancestry is found in works like
—and many critics like to complain about the easy accessibility and simplicity of that work as well.
If what you want in an opera is melodic invention, rhythmic variety, energy, and color—then
is for you. If what you want in an opera is deep cerebral challenge, complex musical forms that provide greater intellectual stimulation than sheer physical pleasure, you should probably avoid it. But among those who love Puccini, Giordano, Douglas Moore, Menotti, and Gershwin, this work will develop a huge audience. One can justifiably criticize some of the word-setting as obvious, and one can justifiably wish for more harmonic and contrapuntal variety. Both of those are legitimate complaints. But that cannot take away from the straight-to-the-heart impact of this score.
might just have the ability to attract new audiences to opera while pleasing many of those who already love the art form. Musically, I suppose the closest thing to it is
Porgy and Bess
, although it is by no means a copy of that opera. Waters began working on the opera in 1989, the Bicentennial of the French Revolution. The original libretto was in French, by songwriter Etienne Roda-Gil and his wife Nadine. During the composition process Nadine died of leukemia, and work was suspended for a time before Waters and Roda-Gil completed it. In 1997, Waters wrote an English version of the text, not a literal translation but a version that sticks to the spirit of the original. Film-score composer Rick Wentworth (who co-produced this recording with Waters) assisted with some of the orchestration and choral writing. The opera is set in the early days of the French Revolution, and is a work of hope and optimism, although one also reflective of the awful price human beings pay in order to achieve something better. The opera is not simplistic in terms of its depiction of the Revolution or its characters. For example, while bluntly portraying Marie Antoinette’s utter lack of empathy for the general populace, we are also made to feel for her in her reflections on leaving behind her children just before her execution.
Waters has a true lyric gift: there are many moments of genuine lyric invention—arias, duets, ensembles—that stay in the memory. The orchestral writing often merely supports the vocal line, though there are touches of complexity that capture one’s interest, and hearing the work through three times I did keep discovering new joys in the score. But no one would pretend that this is a musically complex opera. It is simpler in its musical grammar than even conservative works such as, say, John Corigliano’s
Ghost of Versailles
, which deals in a completely different way with the French Revolution.
is, in the end, an extremely direct, communicative opera—one that you should investigate unless you run the other direction when someone says “Menotti.”
It is hard to imagine that the recording could be improved upon. My review copy was a regular stereophonic CD, not the two hybrid SACDs of the final product. That final version will also include a bonus DVD documentary that chronicles the creation of the opera and includes interviews with the composer and cast and some footage of the recording sessions. It will also include a 60-page booklet including complete text, which I did not have at my disposal.
Each of the major singers takes on a number of roles, which is why I listed voice-type in the headnote instead of the usual
operatic format of listing characters. The cast can hardly be bettered, and Wentworth conducts with great energy and a lovely sense of shape for the lyrical numbers. The performance practically jumps out of the grooves with energy and commitment, and the recorded sound in the stereo version is superb.
I don’t believe that there is a single direction in which the art of opera can or should go for the future—but this is certainly one of the viable directions, one that restores the art form to its more populist origins. I don’t claim “masterpiece” status for
; indeed, I’m not even certain what that term really means. And I will admit that the work would have gained by a layer of complexity and musical variety that isn’t here. But that having been said,
is an extremely engaging work taken on its own terms, one that will bring lasting pleasure to a wide audience.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
This package includes 2 CDs and a DVD. Read less
Works on This Recording
Ca Ira by Roger Waters
Huang Ying (Soprano),
Paul Groves (Tenor),
Ismael Lo (Voice),
Jamie Bower (Voice),
Bryn Terfel (Baritone),
Helen Russill (Voice)
London Oratory Choir,
Italia Conti Children's Choir
Period: 20th Century
Length: 1 Minutes 38 Secs.
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London; Air Lyndhurst, London, England; Sphere Studios, London, England; Whitfield Studios, London, England; Studio Guillaume Tell, Paris, France; Mega, Paris, France
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