Mark Menzies / Rand Steiger

Anne LeBaron: Pope Joan, Transfiguration

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The two works for soprano and chamber ensemble recorded here were written to be staged, Pope Joan as a dance opera and Transfiguration as a ritualistic drama. Pope Joan is set to texts by Enid Schomer that imagine the meditations of the ninth century woman, who, disguised as a man, served as Bishop of Rome. The five movements have a narrative connection that reveals Joan's thoughts, primarily centering on her lover and the imminent birth of their child. Here LeBaron's style is eclectic, incorporating chant, recitative, arioso, and a number of idioms, including traditional tonality, minimalism, and Medieval conventions. Kristin Norderval brings a clear, bell-like soprano to the demanding vocal part. Transfiguration, which primarily consists of a text by Djuna Barnes, is a more mysterious and less straightforwardly narrative piece. It resembles Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King in the extreme virtuosic demands placed on the soloist, who's asked to use a number of extended vocal techniques, the disjointed nature of the texts, the spiky use of the instrumental ensemble, and the dissonance of her harmonic language. LeBaron requires the instrumentalists to make substantial vocal contributions, as well, which heighten the sense of theatricality. New music veteran Lucy Shelton negotiates the vocal part with assurance and conviction, but her voice has lost some of its bloom, and her vibrato is sometimes wide. The instrumental ensembles play with precision and plenty of dramatic flair. The sound is clean and spacious.

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