The operatic treatment of rock music is a genre not much explored these days, but it seems rife with possibilities. The London Symphony Orchestra's version of the Who's Tommy sold vigorously in the 1960s, and surely this version of Icelandic artist Björk's Vespertine (2001), not quite the "pop album" it's claimed to be in the graphics here, is more coherent in its plot than any number of 18th century operas. Vespertine was an autobiographical concept album about an episode of intimacy in the singer's life. Yet the team of Jan Dvořák, Peter Häublein, and Roman Vinuesa who adapted Björk's music for the Orchestra of Nationaltheater Mannheim faced serious challenges. Vespertine had more influence from classical music than Björk's previous techno-oriented albums had, but the arrangers here set themselves the task of using no electronic instruments. To this end, they included such novel instruments as an African pumpkin, glass, and sandwich wrapping paper into the orchestra. The result is a set of unique, subtle orchestral textures that's done full justice by the German label Oehms, whose care with the sound goes a long way toward making the project work. Björk's multi-tracked vocals are unraveled into a set of four soloists and two separate choirs, and the percussion- and wind-heavy score sounds natural, not like an experiment. Sample the famously erotic "Cocoon," which in the version here could fit into any recital of French or German song from the early 20th century. Recommended, and not just for Björk completists.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim