Karol Bennett / Michael Chioldi

Anthony Brandt: The Birth of Something; The Dragon and the Undying; Greeley Songs

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The program notes for this album describe The Birth of Something, with music by Anthony Brandt and libretto by Will Eno, as "a miniature meta-opera." Its characters are a Woman and a Man; early on, he states "We are in an opera. Or we are pretending we are. You will come, on your own, to you own conclusion." He closes the opera with the lines, "Whatever this was, however this ended, we should be glad it was only pretended," which is good to know, because there is little that has happened in the intervening half hour to give the listener information to come to much of any kind of a conclusion on his or her own. Besides being self-referentially operatic (with quotes from or allusions to Das Rheingold, Der fliegende Holländer, Boris Godunov, Carmen, Salome, and many more), the piece offers little in the way of narrative or character development. Brandt's busy, mostly jangly music is inventive, and creates a sense that a lot is going on, though; this may well be the kind of opera whose wit and emotional impact are evident in a theatrical setting, but that is perplexing as a purely aural experience. Soprano Karol Bennett and baritone Michael Chioldi handle the treacherous vocal lines with strength, security, and conviction.

The album also includes a selection of the composer's songs, some accompanied by string quartet and some by piano. Here again, Bennett is in full, strong voice, and sings with understanding and expression. Brandt writes effectively for the voice, with vocal lines that are mostly lyrical. He's most successfully communicative in the settings of six aphoristic texts by Robert Creeley. Albany's sound clean and present. The balance is good in the opera, but the voice is a little distant in some of the songs.

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