Notes and Editorial Reviews
Henk Guittart, cond; Brad Cooper (
); Mattijs van de Woerd (
); Amaryllis Dieltiens (
); Mark Omvlee (
); Marijn Zwitserlood (
); Siren Ens
CHANDOS 10472 (77:37
class="ARIAL12">Text and Translation) Live: Amsterdam 8/14–15/2007
A friend recently remarked, after a performance of Walton’s
Troilus and Cressida
, that as far as he was concerned, great opera died with Liù. I think this is rather hard, given the not inconsiderable post-1926 works of Britten, Strauss, Prokofiev, and Berg, to name just four, but perhaps my friend would say I was just making his point. While these works
performed, they don’t draw audiences in the way that Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini do. In truth, for many opera patrons, Puccini does mark the end of the line for operas that really satisfy. To those of us who love modern opera, this seems patently unfair, but the works of those earlier giants do seem to possess a combination of melodic gift, engaging characters, compelling story, and unambiguous dramatic point that makes them popular in a way that operas of the last 80 years have not been. While popular does not necessarily mean great, I think the transposition of terms is important here.
I am not sure Jonathan Dove (b. 1959) is set to break into the exalted ranks of the aforementioned three, but he at least has achieved a notable exception to the popularity impasse with his warmly received comedy,
. It was first performed at Glyndebourne in 1998 and has since been produced around the world to enthusiastic audience and critical acclaim. He has composed over 20 operas before and since, including this chamber opera,
, first staged in 1994. This recording derives from a pair of performances at the 2007 Grachtenfestival in Amsterdam.
, based on a true story of love, trust and deception, has all of the elements that make Puccini’s operas such perennial favorites. In lonely British sailor Davey Palmer, Dove has a tragic character as innocent and credulous as Cio-Cio-San, in Jonathan a predator as morally reprehensible as Scarpia, and in Diana a love interest even more elusive and unattainable than Turandot. The story unfolds simply and inexorably. The audience senses, long before the protagonist, that things are not what they seem and is made a witness to his downfall. The language of the libretto is natural, personal, and even occasionally humorous; the music is subtly matched to mood and event and full of melodic invention. One can hear a number of probable influences in this early opera: the post-minimalism of John Adams; Britten, particularly the atmospheric Britten of the James ghost stories; Bernstein in the rhythmic word-setting and ecstatic intervals; and Sondheim—especially Sondheim. I couldn’t place this final major influence at first, as it was unexpected, but that Broadway opera composer is clearly present in the use of motif, phrase, and language. It is a felicitous combination of styles and, whether conscious or not, Dove uses them resourcefully.
If there is any new opera that should be discovered as it unfolds, it is
. So, I will keep the descriptions general and avoid giving away the plot. (It can easily be found elsewhere.) Dove frames the drama with identical music, out of which he builds a prelude full of promise and a postlude full of despair and longing. He provides a rapturous love duet full of splendidly soaring melodies. As Davey’s dreams for the future develop and consume him, the music builds to almost unbearable intensity and reaches a heart-wrenching climax as Davey discovers the truth of what has been done to him. Dove describes the work as “a story about the power of imagination, and how we invent the people we love.” The tragedy is how this love is used by Jonathan to destroy Davey. Dove builds this arch of creation and ruin perfectly, choosing a few significant scenes to create the narrative and allowing the music to tell much of the story and make us care about the characters.
The cast consists of younger singers with lighter voices who create an appropriately scaled and youthful effect. Australian singer Brad Cooper uses his pleasing tenor voice and flawless timing to create Davey’s likable simplicity and to carry most of the dramatic weight of the story. Dutch baritone Mattijs van de Woerd possesses a brighter voice that easily conveys Jonathan’s callousness, indolence, and sardonic impatience. Dutch soprano Amaryllis Dieltiens creates the siren of the title with tangible sensuousness, her voice establishing a believable aural image of Davey’s beloved. Cooper and van de Woerd have excellent diction. The higher tessitura of her character’s writing, her slightly backward placement, and her slight accent makes Dieltiens’ words rather harder to understand. Mark Omvlee and Marijn Zwitserlood acquit themselves admirably in the two smaller roles of Regulator and Captain. The Siren Ensemble, a group of 10 instrumentalists formed for this production, plays with great skill, energy, and sensitivity. The drama is paced with exceptional skill by conductor Henk Guittart.
The full English text is provided, along with a biography of the composer, some commentary on the work, photos of the production, and artist biographies. The recording is of the usual high quality expected from Chandos, full and detailed, and the live recording creates only a few problems of balance. Readers should be warned that there is a brief scene where Davey imagines himself being seduced by Diana after they are married. The explicit language may offend some. Homosexuality also plays a small but pivotal role in the story. This sexual content is neither prurient nor gratuitous and really should not scare anyone away from this marvelous work. Opera-lovers who have been craving an addition to the repertoire that offers fine storytelling, a dazzling tonal score, and intensely appealing characters should acquire this recording at once. Time will sort out greatness, but perhaps popular opera may not be a thing of the past after all.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
Works on This Recording
Siren Song by Jonathan Dove
Mark Omvlee (Voice),
Amaryllis Dieltiens (Voice),
Brad Cooper (Voice),
Mattijs Van de Woerd (Baritone),
Marijn Zwitserlood (Voice)
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 8/2007
Venue: Live Live Amsterdam, Netherlands
Length: 77 Minutes 37 Secs.
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