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Don Davis: Rio De Sangre / Rescigno , Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Symphony

Davis / Foc / Mso / Rescigno
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1296/97  
Composer:  Don Davis
Performer:  David LangeVale RideoutJohn DuykersGuido Lebron,   ... 
Conductor:  Joseph Rescigno
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milwaukee Symphony OrchestraFlorentine Opera Company
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

D. DAVIS Río de Sangre Joseph Rescigno, cond; Guido LeBron ( Christian Delacruz ); Kerry Walsh ( Antonia Delacruz ); John Duykers ( Jesus Guajardo ); Ava Pine ( Blanca ); Vale Rideout ( Igneo ); et al.; Milwaukee SO ALBANY 1296/97 (154:56 Read more Text and Translation)

They don’t happen often, so an opera by a film composer does usually get my attention, not just because of the pitfalls of writing for such deceptively disparate genres, but, more cynically, because I am always wondering what drags them away from a Hollywood paycheck. I am guessing that since Don Davis wrote the compelling scores for the Matrix films, money couldn’t have been his primary motive to compose an abstract, political opera in Spanish. Set to a libretto by Kate Gale and Alicia Partnoy, Río de Sangre is an ambitious fable of corrupted idealism and political cynicism, deliberately unspecific in its Southern Hemisphere setting, thereby a pertinent story for all. Bookended drolly by identical scenes of a new leader promising the nation freedom from oppression and slavery, Gale’s violent narrative charts the demise of Christian Delacruz, whose entrance as liberal savior gives way to tragedy, as his misplaced sense of duty leads to the death of his son by cholera. The ensuing alienation of his wife and his increasingly brutal stance ultimately lead to kidnap and two further deaths, before he is finally shot dead by his former friend Guajardo, whose subsequent address to the nation chillingly mirrors Delacruz’s own.

This is certainly a clever drama of almost Shakespearean ambition, and where modern political operas are referred to in the notes, the most obvious comparison (dramatically at least) would be Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra with their troubled idealists (both baritone roles) floored by political corruption and love of their daughters. Musically Davis has a lot to say in a predominantly tonal score that, while it has its grand moments like the kidnapping of Delacruz’s daughter Blanca, is certainly free of cinematic cliché. Glassian repeated rhythms are subtly used, hinting at the circular, propulsive nature of the tale, underlying Davis’s wonderfully lyrical, tonal writing. Especially beautiful are the preludes to each act.

Aside from the swelling dissonance of the violent climatic scenes, the overall tone is solemn and murky, but like a punch out of nowhere, blasts of bright, carefree salsa music pepper the score during the nightclub scenes, a jarring contrast to the political skulduggery hiding within. All in all there are some terrific effects, but sometimes they remain just that, and it has to be said that Davis is far more imaginative writing for the orchestra than for singers, not that he writes badly for them. The other problem is that it is overlong and, despite some skilfully built-up moments orchestrally, there is an overall sense of Delacruz’s vocal music not going anywhere. There is not a single bar that doesn’t sound well constructed, but the libretto’s very unwieldy blocks of dialogue don’t help give the opera much of a musical arch.

Despite the rather samey feel of his music, I am very taken with Guido LeBron’s rich Italianate baritone as Delacruz. There’s some rough tuning from some of the other cast, but otherwise this strikes me as a thoroughly committed performance from everyone. Chorus and orchestra are extremely vivid, and with his background in Verdi and Puccini territory, Joseph Rescigno (son of Nicola Rescigno, maybe?) responds well to this lyrical, volatile score. Recorded live, although applause is edited out, sound is bright and full if a bit voice-heavy. High praise to Albany, though, for squeezing in full texts and English translations in the slim booklet along with the fine notes.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

Río de Sangre by Don Davis
Performer:  David Lange (Voice), Vale Rideout (Voice), John Duykers (Voice),
Guido Lebron (Voice), Kerry Walsh (Voice), Ava Pine (Voice),
Jon Olsen (Voice), Darwin Sanders (Voice)
Conductor:  Joseph Rescigno
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra,  Florentine Opera Company

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