- Cassandre, for actor & ensemble
It's stretching the conventional, technical definition of the term to call Swiss composer Michael Jarrell's spoken monodrama "Cassandre" an opera, but that's the composer's description of it, and as such, it ought to be respected. It does consist of a musical narrative accompanying a verbal narrative, so even though it doesn't involve singing, it comes closer to standard opera than some pieces that are so designated. Also, the fact that it is so compelling as a unified musical and dramatic entity makes its definition seem less consequential; it's fully successful in using music and story to draw the listener into the protagonist's world. "Cassandre" has received numerous international performances since its 1994 premiere and has been translated into a variety of languages. In its form, popularity, subject matter (the protagonist's reflection on the trauma of war), emotional impact, and to some extent its musical style, it strongly resembles Marc Neikrug's haunting 1980 "music-drama" "Through Roses." "Cassandre" is based on a text by Christa Wolf that actress Astrid Bas delivers with urgency and poignant dramatic restraint. Jarrell's score for chamber ensemble is notable for the evocative subtlety of its depiction of the Trojan prophet's state of mind as she recounts the horrors of the war. Jarrell avoids the obvious -- the big rhetorical gestures -- that would seem to be appropriate for such a dramatic and grim story, and instead creates a soundworld of gossamer, dream-like ethereality to underscore "Cassandre"'s intimate musings. His orchestration is incandescent, and the music is simply beautiful in its prismatically evolving textures. For a piece that rarely rises above a whisper, it makes a surprisingly visceral impact. IRCAM's Ensemble InterContemporain, led by Susanna Mälkki, plays the challenging score with exceptional grace and delicacy. Kairos' sound is immaculate, as is typical for its releases. Highly recommended for fans of new music.