This CD is reviewed in connection with the recent revival at the re-opened
Royal Opera House (reviewed in Seen&Heard
2000). It is a major work of a unique genre. Xenakis looks to Japanese
No theatre for an equivalent to the lost Byzantine traditions, with poetry,
voice treatment, dance and music combined. His instruments and the movement
of sound sources transform the classical tragedy into 'a kind of magical
liturgy'. It made a stupendous impression staged at the Linbury Theatre Studio
under Guy Protheroe's direction and, years before, in concert performance
at the Almeida Festival, with the same the extraordinary Greek baritone (who
also screeches in high falsetto) representing Kassandra, the prophetess of
doom, as on this CD.
The recording, taken from performances in a Strasbourg church during the
1987 Musica Festival, is resonant and atmospheric. To my ears, it is beautiful,
though in a harsh manner, the instruments dominated by brass and percussion,
with growling contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon - great, even if some
members of the audience at the Opera House departed before the end, short
though it is. As Charles Ives said, you need your ears on the right way (or
something like that).
A word about presentation. The CD has synopses and a good introduction to
this 'harsh celebration of the birth of human justice' but no words or
translations, which is regrettable. The Covent Garden programme does have
English texts running to eight columns (which opera goers would be unlikely
to digest in the interval) and it was played in the dark with no sur-titles.
Read again with the CD, they don't quite fit - quite a lot missing, I guess?
A pity they couldn't get their act together, and also make this CD available
for purchase at the theatre; a rarity, unlikely to be found in the shops,
which might have sold like hot cakes. I love it, but you have been warned!
Peter Grahame Woolf