San Francisco composer Erling Wold would be characterized as part of the "American Maverick" tradition, creating an individualistic style that doesn't come across quite like anything else. His music is most closely related to minimalism, and his vocal writing sometimes calls John Adams to mind, but he takes it in such skewed, eccentric directions, driven by a wildly independent and surreal vision, that it couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's. An acoustic engineer by day and a composer by night, Wold has nonetheless had a remarkably productive career, most notable for his chamber operas, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, based on Max Ernst; Queer, based on William Borroughs; and Sub Pontio Pilato. Tenor John Duykers, who starred in the last work, asked Wold for a solo opera, and the result, with a libretto by Douglas Kearney, is Mordake. It's based on the life of Englishman Edvard Mordake, first mentioned in medical histories in the 19th century, who was born with a face, a "parasitic twin," on the back of his head, an affliction that drove him to suicide at an early age. In some versions of the story, the face was that of a woman whose constant murmurings drove him mad. The score is entirely electronic, although it relies heavily on samples recorded by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, so its sound is essentially orchestral. As Mordake, Duykers sings in his normal voice, but as the sister his voice is electronically altered. The opera is based on an intriguing premise and it succeeds because the treatment by Wold and Kearney matches the grotesqueness of the story and because Duykers is such a compelling protagonist. Duykers does not have what could be called a beautiful voice, but his conviction and skill make the character and the opera completely convincing. In spite of the dark material, the opera has lyrically lovely moments. Mordake is a piece that deserves the attention of listeners interested in creative new developments in opera.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins