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Len Mullenger:

Peter Eötvös Three Sisters     Lyon Opera Orchestra and singers/Kent Nagano & Peter Eötvös.   Deutsche Grammophon DG 459 694-2 120'2"

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This opera based on Chekhov by composer/conductor Peter Eötvös is perverse in many ways. The three sisters are all counter tenors, in an all-male cast, that for no reason I can comprehend or have seen adequately explained. A production photo shows that the first production by Ushio Amagatsu, was in Japanese guise, so there is an obvious link with Kabuki tradition. It may likely all have been much clearer in the theatre, without an additional struggle to identify the characters. Natasha is another counter-tenor (a field day for their employment!) and the old nurse Anfisa, a bass. None of that makes for easy listening.

Nor does the libretto, by Claus Henneberg and the composer. Sections of the plot are dissected and reconstituted three times, in a Birtwistlian manner. Unless you know the original play inside out, you will be hopelessly lost much of the time. The music is for long stretches slow, indeed static. There are two orchestras, a chamber orchestra of individual instruments associated with particular characters, and a larger main orchestra placed behind the stage.

Despite all the foregoing, some of the music is arresting and afterwards haunting, and for those not completely put off, worth the effort. Importantly, The Three Sisters has achieved considerable international success, with productions scheduled this year and last in Holland, Germany and Hungary, with female singers in the latter.

This lavishly produced recording is of the premiere in Lyon. The recording, made in the theatre, is good and well documented. There are additional tracks of listening guides by the composer. The names of the singers were not known to me and are not reproduced above. This is one to try to sample before purchase.

Of Peter Eötvös's earlier music, his Chinese Opera for stereo orchestra, intended for theatrical and cinematographical presentation, has long been a favourite in my CD collection [Erato ECD 75554] and there is an enthusiastic review of his recent zero points in S&H, February 2000.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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