Harry Somers (1925-1999) was one of the leading Canadian composers of the second half of the twentieth century. Opera was an important part of his work, and this set includes two of his short operas, The Fool, from 1953, and The Death of Enkidu, from 1977. The Fool, with a libretto by Michael Fram, has a slim plot, with characters who have more metaphoric meaning than flesh-and-blood humanity, and Somers fails to bring them to life in a way that engages our sympathy or interest. He relies heavily on individualized kind of Sprechstimme, which he mixes with sung passages, so that one character may be using heightened speech at the same time another is singing conventionally, to unconvincing effect. The music has moments of lyrical blossoming, but overall it fails to draw the listener into the drama. The opera receives a splendid performance by soprano Tamara Hummel, mezzo Sandra Graham, tenor Daryl Edwards, and bass-baritone Gary Relyea, and a chamber ensemble led by David Currie. The Death of Enkidu, the first part of what was originally intended to be an operatic trilogy, is altogether more successful. The libretto, based on the "Epic of Gilgamesh," is not entirely straightforward as a narrative, but the music carries the drama. Using an eccentrically scored chamber ensemble augmented by a battery of extended vocal techniques, Somers creates a mysterious, archaic soundscape that persuasively conjures up the atmosphere of the ancient story. It's a little difficult to imagine exactly how it would play on the stage, but as an aural experience, it is strangely compelling, and effectively stirs up a primal emotional response. It, too, receives an excellent performance by an expert group of singers and instrumentalists led by Leslie Dala. The sound is clean and present.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
|The Death of Enkidu|