Claron McFadden / Etienne Siebens

Kris Defoort: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

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Kris Defoort is best known as a jazz musician, but since the turn of the new millennium he has turned his attention more and more to classical projects. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is his second opera to be recorded (House of the Sleeping Beauties was released in 2009), but it is the first opera he wrote. Originally produced in Antwerp in 2001, it has subsequently received dozens of European performances. The English libretto by Guy Cassiers, the composer, and Marianne van Kerkhoven is based on the grim 1996 novel of the same name by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. There are probably few other operas so expletive-intensive, and the sexual descriptions are explicit. Set in modern Dublin, the story of the 39-year-old Paula Spencer is practically a compendium of the miseries of contemporary urban poverty -- physical and emotional abuse, addiction, fractured families, hunger, relentless fear, and worst of all a loneliness and sense of alienation that's all the more terrible because of its ordinariness -- the protagonist takes it all for granted as the inescapable normal human condition. This is the kind of drama that might not raise an eyebrow if it were produced as a television show, but as an opera its disturbingly gritty sadness takes on an almost unbearable intensity, as if the sorrows of Wozzeck were ratcheted up to an even more excruciating level. Defoort is expert at exploiting the material's dramatic potential. The barely contained chaos of the music aptly conveys the anguish of the story. He uses a singer and an actress to portray Paula, and the other characters' lines are not voiced but projected in a video on a screen behind the performers. Both incarnations of Paula are exceptionally skilled. Claron McFadden has a miraculous voice, that at once has a pearly luminescence and a crystalline purity, and she embodies the character with frightening ferocity. Jacqueline Blom is absolutely riveting in her speaking role. Etienne Siebens leads the Prometheus Ensemble and the composer's jazz ensemble Dreamtime in a compelling and vivid reading of the score. Defoort's opera is certainly not for everyone, but it deserves the attention of anyone interested in emotionally wrenching, cutting-edge developments in music theater.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
1 4:53
2 0:24
3 4:43
4 1:09
5 2:43
6 1:55
7 1:33
8 5:08
9 4:51
10 2:21
11 1:36
12 11:16
13 3:11
14 1:39
15 0:25
16 2:53
17 3:30
18 4:11
19 4:34
blue highlight denotes track pick