Various Artists

John Cage: Europeras 3 & 4

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Cage's "Europeras" rearrange through chance operations aspects (examples of stage design, movement, lighting, orchestral and vocal music, etc.) of the European operatic tradition. Similar to his "MusiCircuses," these works involve simultaneous performances of preexisting cultural materials. Europera 3 (1990) calls for six singers, each singing six arias of his or her own choosing, two pianists playing 140 excerpts from Franz Liszt's Opera Phantasien, parts of 300 78 rpm. vinyl discs played on 12 electric Victrolas by six composers, sudden flashes of light, the brief intrusion of a tape of more than 100 operas superimposed ("truckera," perfectly realized by Scott Fraser), and 75 lights. There are scored position movements (the stage floor is a grid), and 3,256 notated cues occuring within 70 minutes. The Long Beach Opera performs the piece here in fleeting scenes that sometimes are a whisper of a memory and at other times form an incredibly dense sound texture. The six live singers hold their own with convincing renditions and unwavering intonation even when surrounded with many other sounds. This presentation is a dreamscape, and a party with all the guests conversing at once. Europera 4 (also from 1990), lasting slightly over a half hour, requires a considerably reduced ensemble: two sopranos (in the performing space, or alternatively far in the distance), one pianist (playing the entire Liszt work, but as if to "suggest" it rather than have it fully "heard"), one 78 rpm Victrola and the "truckera" tape, and 25 lights on ceiling and walls. There are only 275 cues. The contrast of close and far-off voices, the ancient fidelity of the 78s, and other vague aspects of the sound give this opera a spooky effect. Andrew Culver creates excellent realizations of both works.

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