Spanish composer José M. Sánchez-Verdú's opera AURA is based on the 1962 magical realist novel by Carlos Fuente. Fuente's story is narratively complex, with fluid transitions between the past, present, and future, but Sánchez-Verdú adds another layer of obfuscation by leaving much of the story unspoken, its meaning conveyed purely in emotional terms in the character of the music. The composer's intent was to create an opera to be experienced viscerally rather than made sense of on a rational level. It is certain that as a theatrical experience it could be more fully communicative, but even as a recording it makes a powerful impact as a very mysterious evocation of the blur between reality and unreality. Sánchez-Verdú uses an eccentric ensemble: two accordions, strings, flute, tuba, alto, and double bass recorders, and an instrument of his own creation, an auraphone, which consists of three gongs and two tam-tams, triggered by the voices and controlled by a sound designer. The music of the opera progresses at a glacial pace and largely consists of extended techniques, most of which could reasonably be mistaken for electronics. For listeners who can give themselves over to it, its haunting sound can pull them into a very strange musical world whose logic is persuasive. The opera has a recognizable musical and narrative arc, culminating in a cloud of vocal and instrumental murmuring, surrounded by a haze of resonating gongs and tam-tams. It receives a gripping performance by Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, and the accordion Duo Alberdi & Aizpiolea, conducted by the composer. The sound is bright, detailed, and vivid. AURA should be of strong interest to fans of cutting-edge new musical theater.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins