Robert Ashley's Celestial Excursions (2002) is an avant-garde opera in three long acts on a myriad of themes, performed by five reciting voices, a silent dancer, and accompanied by an on-stage pianist and an electronic "orchestra." Going beyond that simple outline, one may mention the opera's various themes of old age, loneliness, addiction, alienation, death, the individual's need for expression, and the persistence of memories; or examine the minimalist music or the thickly montaged libretto in terms of theoretical or literary constructions. But such descriptions or explications would fail to convey the full depth of banality, angst, humor, mysticism, ennui, and outright strangeness of Ashley's complexly layered psychological drama; there is probably only one practical way to understand the piece, and that is to absorb it through a willing suspension of analysis; without surrendering to its wash of words, this opera can seem like an annoying collage of voices chattering on rhythmically, and it can seem too frustratingly long-winded to tolerate in one sitting. Obviously best appreciated in a theater, where the audience's attention is more focused on the performers, Celestial Excursions is perhaps better heard in small sections and followed closely with the booklet when studied at home. Lovely Music's sound is exceptional.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2