An Enchanted Night at the Opera in Silk and Bamboo

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"An Enchanted Night at the Opera in Silk and Bamboo" could mean quite a few different things. What you find inside is a selection of Western operatic tunes arranged -- apparently by a large and not collectively named group of Chinese musicians working together -- for small ensembles that mostly but not always feature one Chinese melody instrument backed by a small group of Western instruments such as a string quartet. The handsomely packaged disc contains abundant notes in Chinese, but the shorter English notes explain little of how this unique project came together. It's quite a fascinating hour of music for anyone interested in how mixtures of musical languages work. Even where no Chinese instrument is present, as in Verdi's "Libiamo, 'ne lieti calici," from Il Trovatore (track 3), the phrasing and ornamentation are distinctively Chinese. But the lead ornaments, such as the xiao and liuqin in "Nessun dorma," from Puccini's Turandot, are likewise cajoled into doing things they wouldn't normally do, not only in the realm of tuning but in their general modes of expression. The music is entirely intriguing, often strangely beautiful as bits of the original piece filter through the new cultural layer, and entirely of our time. For anyone studying processes of cross-cultural exchange, this is a well-nigh essential purchase, and it's one that any opera lover may enjoy.

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