Notes and Editorial Reviews
Welcome to the Voice: A Work about Unlikely Encounters
); Robert Wyatt (
); Elvis Costello (
Chief of Police
); Barbara Bonney (
); Sara Fulgoni (
Ghost of Carmen
); Nathalie Manfrino (
Ghost of Butterfly
Amanda Roocroft (
Ghost of Norma
); Steve Nieve (pn, moog syn, theremin); Ned Rothenberg (cl, sax, shakuhachi, b fl); Marc Ribot (gtr); Sting (elec bs gtr); Antoine Quessada (perc); London Voices; Le Chœur des Amis Français; Brodsky Qrt
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000874502 (70:50
Text and Translation)
A sense of what this release is all about can be gleaned first from its title, and then by a perusal of its performing personnel—a veritable Who’s Who of the Pop world in concert with an impressive array of world class opera divas. Listening to it unleashed a flood of nostalgia. Muriel Teodori’s libretto—with its alternately crudely vernacular and metaphorically rich poetry, its moments of off-hand irony, and its veering between French and English—along with Steve Nieve’s skill at musical parody and his deftly resourceful instrumentation, invoked the spirits of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Leonard Bernstein.
Welcome to the Voice
chronicles the adventures of a young Greek steelworker aptly named Dionysos. In the course of his existential despair he has recently become obsessed with opera and, playing hooky from his proletarian job, spends his days and nights outside the opera house hoping to meet the Opera Singer with whom he has become infatuated. In his longing he dreams of the Ghosts of Carmen, Butterfly, and Norma, who urge him to die, as they had done, and join them in their virtual world of art. He also comes to realize the primal force of the voice. In its power to communicate, to beguile, to enchant, and seduce, it is the truest expression of our essence.
In the course of his waking hours Dionysos is assailed by The Friend who decries the music for which he longs as devitalizing and, ultimately, death dealing—the music of the rich and privileged who oppress all those of his ilk. They are soon joined by Dionysos’s coworkers, who try to snap him out of his self-destructive funk by invoking the names of the great thinkers and warriors of the past. He answers each of their heroes by uttering the name “Mozart.”
Dionysos, standing astride two seemingly irreconcilable worlds, remains strong in both his desire to live and his love of opera. The Opera Singer suddenly appears from a perfume shop and he tries to kiss her. She resists, they are quickly surrounded by street rabble, and The Chief of Police arrives. It appears that Dionysos will be sent to prison. The Opera Singer, however, intercedes on his behalf by declaring her love for him. The Friend later expresses his doubts about the situation, and those doubts are ultimately corroborated by The Chief of Police who tells Dionysos that The Opera Singer has left for Japan and that she had protected him only to save herself from bad publicity. Dionysos is once again in despair. The three Ghosts of the opera, however, conjure up a wind storm that causes the Opera Singer’s flight to be cancelled. The Opera Singer reappears and she and Dionysos sing an “unlikely” duet—the high point of the opera. Thus the virtual world with all its certainty, and the real world with all its uncertainty, become as one.
Welcome to the Voice
A Work about Unlikely Encounters,
is as fraught with metaphor as is the opera itself. On the most mundane level, it reflects Nieve/Teodori’s doubts about the logistics of booking this stellar array of performers, given their globe-trotting careers, for the recording. Second, it reflects their acknowledgement of the challenges inherent in trying to fuse a viable opera from such diverse and seemingly mutually exclusive musical genres. And then there is the story itself—a parable of life and art wherein dream and reality are blurred; a sort of Romeo and Juliet tale wherein the protagonists are from different, and likewise mutually exclusive, social strata. Nieve/Teodori turn these last two unlikelihoods on their heads, paradoxically making them, in and of themselves, all the more likely. (Quite a conjuror’s trick.) Lily Tomlin once stated that “reality is an overrated concept,” a truism embraced by Nieve/Teodori. In their story, love, a manifestation of the spirit as expressed through the voice, is a transcendent and transformational force.
Opera demands the expert fusion of words and music. Here both the librettist and composer are uncannily of the same mind. Sorbonne-trained Muriel Teodori has characterized Steve Nieve as “coming from the other side of the cosmos from me, so far from any kind of musical culture. He basically knew just rock and roll and Luciano Berio.” Nieve was indeed classically trained in piano, and later in composition at the Royal College of Music. However, he quickly became involved as a side man for Mick Jagger, David Bowie, James Brown, and Paul McCartney, and abandoned further formal training. Given the evidence here, he is a fine tunesmith and musical structuralist.
Welcome to the Voice
flows seamlessly, and, in its course, displays his exceptional gift for emotionally informed melodic development.
Given the parlance of our current music industry, this opera ought to be pigeonholed as a “crossover piece.” I find such categorizations repugnant. Music is music, and its moment in time, genre, form, or style have nothing whatsoever to do with its worth. Leonard Bernstein, in
, set the precedent for this kind of eclectic theater piece. He, however, used its stylistic diversity to underscore the universality of his message.
Welcome to the Voice
, given its bifurcation between the world of the street and the world of the opera, comes across as inherently more stylistically unified. The vocal contrast between the four operatic ladies and the rest of the cast is, therefore, expected and
normal. No suspension of disbelief is needed here.
All parties, instrumental and vocal, perform admirably (the Brodsky Quartet is uniformly ravishing) and the recording is excellent. Barbara Bonney, Sara Fulgoni, Nathalie Manfrino, and Amanda Roocroft are at the tops of their respective forms, but special kudos go to Sting, who sings with uncommon vocal control, tone color, and compelling emotional conviction.
In sum, all parties to this enterprise worked together not merely harmoniously, but synergistically, and, thanks to Deutsche Grammophon, their triumph is now a matter of public record.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Works on This Recording
Welcome to the Voice by Steve Nieve
Steve Nieve (Moog Synthesizer),
Ned Rothenberg (Shakuhachi),
Ned Rothenberg (Clarinet),
Marc Ribot (Guitars),
Antoine Quessada (Cymbals),
Sting (Electric Bass Guitar),
Barbara Bonney (Soprano),
Elvis Costello (Voice),
Robert Wyatt (Voice),
Andrew Haveron (Violin),
Ian Belton (Violin),
Paul Cassidy (Viola),
Jacqueline Thomas (Cello),
Ned Rothenberg (Bass Flute),
Steve Nieve (Theremin),
Ned Rothenberg (Saxophone),
Steve Nieve (Piano),
Amanda Roocroft (Soprano),
Nathalie Manfrino (Soprano),
Sara Fulgoni (Mezzo Soprano)
Brodsky String Quartet,
Le choeur des amis français
Period: 20th Century
Length: 70 Minutes 48 Secs.
Notes: Gallery Studios, London, England; Avatar Studios, New York, New York; Il Palagio, Italy
This selection is sung in English and French.
Composition written: 1994 - 2000.
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