Deborah Artman / Bang on a Can / Mikaela Bennett / Daniela Candillari / Amelia Watkins

Michael Gordon: Acquanetta

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Acquanetta is an opera of sorts -- cantata might be a better, if less familiar, word -- based on a three-minute scene from a 1943 horror film, Captive Wild Woman. Acquanetta is an actress, an actual historical individual of murky origins, who plays a woman turned into a monster by a mad scientist. "I am your beautiful monster, lovely and shy," Acquanetta intones. "I can stop a lion in its tracks." And the film's director, accompanied by the chorus, sings, "I know you want everything to be clear and simple as black and white." The opera was designed for multimedia presentation, and it's a bit obscure when heard on CD without the visual elements. On the other hand, it was commissioned and first performed as a full-scale opera in 2005 by a company in Aachen, Germany; this 2018 chamber version featuring the Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble is a studio version (from the Power Station) of a production mounted at Bard College in upstate New York. The scenes are compact, and this smaller version may well work better than the original. It diverts the attention to the music by Michael Gordon more than to Deborah Artman's libretto. Gordon's text-setting effectively borrows from rock music and from horror soundtracks without shading entirely into either realm, and his vocal writing favors lead soprano Mikaela Bennett, who in turn provides the requisite spooky atmosphere. If what this recording does is stimulate further productions of the opera, it will have done its job. The Cantaloupe label, an arm of the Bang on a Can collective, delivers clean studio engineering with good text intelligibility.

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