Rossen Milanov

Dominick Argento: Postcard from Morocco

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Dominick Argento demonstrated real bravery in tackling John Donohue's surreal libretto for Postcard from Morocco. Only one of its seven characters is named, and there is so little in the text to clarify their identities and relationships that it offers few obvious handles for a composer to use to create an opera likely to fully engage an audience. For much of the first half of the opera, the writing is largely angular and abstract, and it's not clear how he is going to pull it off, but Argento skillfully ratchets up the lyrical content of the music as the opera progresses so that by the end its eloquence and passion do indeed draw the audience into the characters' poignantly strange world. The music's increasing expressiveness unlocks the opaqueness of the drama, and by the time we arrive at the tenor's gorgeous, valedictory aria, "All hands, all hand, move quickly," the opera coheres as a moving and emotionally charged musical and dramatic experience. This recording, the first since that of the opera's initial production in 1971, is taken from a live performance at the Curtis Institute of Music, featuring an expert student cast and instrumental ensemble led by Rossen Milanov. For the most part, these are young voices that still have room for development, but they negotiate the tricky score with style and commitment. The 10 members of the Curtis Chamber Ensemble play beautifully; because of Argento's adroit orchestration, it sounds like a much larger and fuller group. The sound is clear, with good balance, and although there is some audience noise, it's minimally distracting. The recording should be of strong interest to fans of new opera.

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