That Pink Floyd's Roger Waters should write an opera is not all that surprising. In the group's heyday in the 1970s its music was often called "tomorrow's classical music," though I don't suppose many thought that prediction would come to pass in quite this way. Anyway, the two-CD work, Ca Ira ("it will be," or "there's hope") will be given its official launch in Taiwan early next month and Taipei Times has been granted a preview.
It's nothing if not ambitious. It aims to tell the story of the first four years of the French Revolution, an enormous task. The staging is imagined as a circus. Bryn Terfel narrates (as the Ringmaster, while also playing the King), and Ying Huang (the Butterfly in Frederick
Mitterand's wonderful film of Madame Butterfly) is Marie Antoinette, as well as "the voice of Liberty, Reason and the Republic." West African musician Ismael Lo stars in a scene set in the Caribbean.
The method is declamatory, rather than the traditional one of telling a story through the interaction of characters. Waters makes full use of an orchestra in the 19th century manner, but there's also a chorus of demanding London children as in The Wall and a lot of sound effects -- guns being fired, pigeons flying away, bells, military drums and wind. This is nevertheless a lot more like Andrew Lloyd Webber than The Dark Side of the Moon.
My feeling is that Ca Ira will be very successful in the way Evita and Les Miserables were. But at the same time it seems much better than either of these, both musically and dramatically. The lyrics (by Waters) are excellent and the music could become memorable on repeated hearing. Needless to say, such an important product has led those responsible to pull out all the stops. The performances are first-rate throughout and the sound quality is cutting-edge. Who said the history of opera was over (even though some will judge that this isn't really opera)?
It's always nice to have a chance to revisit, and to reiterate one's praise for the Pierre Boulez/Patrice Chereau Der Ring des Nibelungen. This famous 1981 set of the anniversary production of Richard Wagner's tetralogy at Bayreuth has now been reissued in boxed form, together with The Making of the Ring, an hour-long film about the production, with interview material from Boulez, Chereau, music critic William Mann, leading video director Brian Large and soprano Gwyneth Jones. Of particular interest is the history of Ring
productions at Bayreuth since Wagner's day and the reminiscences of Friedelind Wagner, the composer's descendant.
This set has always been eminently desirable. Even though the rival and much more traditional James Levine/Metropolitan Opera set has a lot going for it musically, this Boulez/Chereau cycle, now in 5.1 DTS Surround Sound, remains incomparable as a dramatic and imaginative experience. It was one of the 20th century's key productions, in any genre, and anyone with the
remotest interest in such things who doesn't know it should rush out and buy it forthwith. Its splendors are almost unlimited.
You might sometimes wonder why some classical artists get recording contracts and some don't. In the case of pianists it might depend these days on whether or not they have caught the ear of Martha Argerich, as EMI is running a whole series of debut solo piano albums by people she endorses. By adding Argerich's name to a new release the public are encouraged to trust an unknown. In the case of the Venezuelan Gabriela Montero their trust is unlikely to be misplaced.