John Zorn


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John Zorn's avant-garde monodrama Rituals was composed for the 1998 Bayreuth Festival, and shows just how far opera has come since the days of Richard Wagner. Not only does this piece for voice and ten players lack a libretto -- only vague stage directions are provided, and these may be dispensed with -- it also has no narrative framework to define it as an opera. Expressionistic in style and existential in its alienation and harshness, Zorn's work may be likened to Peter Maxwell Davies' Songs (8) for a Mad King or Miss Donnithorne's Maggot; the level of intensity is similar, and the disorienting effect of Heather Gardner's gymnastic vocals and the incongruous instrumental parts is quite comparable. However, Maxwell Davies at least provided identifiable (albeit mad) characters and some semblance of a story, not just a wordless vocalise; and he gave his music an extra-musical context to justify the use of a stage. Zorn's five movements are utterly abstract and devoid of any program, so Rituals may be best appreciated as a concert work; the listener may regard this CD purely on its musical content. Its severity and occasional savagery are hard to embrace, though, and Tzadik's excessively boosted sound makes listening painfully difficult.

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