Jonathan Dove is now a prolific composer of dramatic works of
all sorts. Without hesitation he could be thought of as the UK’s leading composer of opera. Siren Song was
one of his earlier works and it seems one of his most striking
and successful. This is its debut recording. It is also the second
Dove opera which Chandos have recorded, ‘Flight’ (1998) having
come out in 2005 (CHAN 10197(2)) – see S&H
review. I have not heard ‘Flight’ so I did have the possible
advantage of coming to this new disc with, as it were, virgin
ears. I will pass on my thoughts. But first the plot.
libretto by Nick Dear is based on a book by ex-ITV broadcaster
Gordon Honeycombe and divides the plot into seven scenes. It
is important to understand that it is set, we are clearly told,
in 1988 before mobile phones and the internet were so common.
The story concerns a true ‘scam’ of a relationship between a
naval seaman Davey Palmer and Diana Reed a model who does not
actually exist despite the fact that they exchange letters.
He sees her in his imagination, skimpily and fashionably dressed
and we see and hear her too - sadly the booklet which has several
photos only has one of Diana with her back to us! A strong relationship
is formed yet it is only out of a newspaper ad put in by a con-man
who sets himself up as Diana’s brother and extorts gifts and
money from Davey. I won’t go on and spoil it for you. There
are some amusing moments and some disturbing ones, some bad
language and some moments when you sympathize with Davey when
you know him to be a fool.
is sung by the marvellous Australian tenor Brad Cooper - not
the Hollywood actor by the way - who brings the character completely
to life most believably. He has a superb voice with a fine upper
register. He has only a little more to do than the Dutch baritone
Mattijs van de Woerd who plays Jonathan Reed. He too has superb
diction and characterisation. Any composer with singers like
these can consider himself lucky indeed. Not only that but the
supporting performers are very well cast especially the glorious
and at times, sexy soprano of Amaryllis Dieltiens who until
now has been more noted for her early music recordings. I suspect
that the purity and clarity of her voice even when competing
with a large(ish) ensemble made her an ideal choice for this
extraordinary part. Henk Guittart keeps everything under superb
control, tempi and balance, especially so in the complex quintet
for all of the main characters in scene sixteen.
am caught between my heart and my brain even more than usual
with this piece. Quite simply I was utterly carried away at
times by the story-line and music. The melodies soar and are
memorable being also obviously grateful to sing; the harmonies
yearned with a rare passion and the orchestration for a fairly
small ensemble was neat and beautifully thought out and coloured.
So there you are, in nutshell all the positives. Now the negatives.
enables a sense of forward movement to be created by a consistent
and persistent series of ostinati over which voices fall and rise
in a basically tonal idiom. Using this approach anything is possible
but there is a lack of textural techniques and still moments.
These ostinati, typical of John Adams and Philip Glass with their
repetitions, create a very slow-moving harmonic backdrop creating
the effect one of constantly running on the spot; composing like
this is quick and simpler than usual. And no harm in that I hear
you and the composer cry. You might however tire of the instrumental
background and often feel sorry for the players. In Scene 2 for
instance it’s over two minutes before the tonality shifts and
then up only a semitone for a short time before another slightly
newer ostinato takes over. I must add that some of the libretti
is best lost and forgotten “We’ll go to Comet/To Comet/It’s the
centre of the home appliance universe /I could live in Comet”
and so on.
and yet I have much enjoyed this opera and would love to see
it. I shall listen to it again. It is often exciting, stirring
and very beautiful.
curious that an Almeida commission should find itself made available
on CD from a Dutch company at a live Dutch performance. Jonathan
Dove’s position in the UK despite his output is
still side-lined, unregarded and unrewarded. Being a live recording
there are occasional blemishes and audiences noises. Instrumental
parts disappearing into the ether from time to time but the
performance has a magic about it which is indescribable.
full text is clearly printed along with an essay by Julian Grant
- who, like Dove, has also worked on community opera projects.
There is a plot synopsis and various cast photos and biographies
all in a thick 78 page booklet.
see also Review
by Robert Hugill