The recognition given this album by U.S. Grammy nominators at the end of 2015 should perform the welcome service of exposing listeners to a highly enjoyable work. You need to get a taste to get an idea of what Barry's treatment is like; the album is decidedly not recommended to those wanting a faithful reproduction of Oscar Wilde's late Victorian farce. Instead, composer Gerald Barry uses Wilde as a jumping-off point for a mad caper that's equal parts Gilbert & Sullivan patter song, Looney Tunes, fun-poking at modernist music and Germanic tradition (sample track four, "Freude, schöner Götterfunken," which recurs several times throughout the two-act opera), and sheer anarchy. What might stop the opera from attaining general currency is that it's actually quite difficult to perform; the singers have to blaze through tightly packed (or heavily drawn-out) syllables while keeping their place among blasting brasses, a megaphone, and at one point breaking plates. Lady Bracknell's part is given to a bass, posing challenges that Alan Ewing surmounts with smart energy, and the rest of the singers in this concert presentation from 2012 handle the difficulties well. A good measure of the credit goes to Thomas Adès, here in the unusual role of conductor, who keeps things moving at a hair-trigger pace. This opera is a great deal of fun, and it offers many possibilities for future productions: a television version could work wonders if done right.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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