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Philip Glass: A Madrigal Opera

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Album Review

The first sound one hears is Douglas Perry's breathtakingly pure tenor intoning Sanskrit syllables from the Bhagavad-Gita, followed immediately by low strings scurrying behind. The sense of serene and confident purpose is entirely apparent, Perry's voice the perfect embodiment of the Ghandian philosophy of strength through pacifism. As the act continues, other voices are added, the full orchestra enters, all unhurried but purposeful growing in a calm force until subsiding at the end to Perry (Ghandi) alone. So begins Philip Glass' most impressive and complete opera after Einstein on the Beach, its predecessor. It's a far more traditional work in several respects: aside from Michael Riesman's electric keyboards, Satyagraha is scored for standard orchestra, and the voices are grouped much as found in European opera, with arias, duos, trios, and quartets. The overall sound is softer and less strident than in Einstein, with material that is more overtly melodic, though certainly an audience used to Verdi would still be baffled by the extreme repetitive aspect, not to mention a librtto entirely in Sanskrit. Without Robert Wilson's spectacular staging, the homebound listener may find Satyagraha a bit long and, in fact, that may be the case, but objections are tough to register after the concluding aria by Perry. Heard only once, the listener may not believe that he is simply singing a scale albeit with varying Sanskrit syllables, so gorgeous is the line and intonation. But to Glass' enormous credit, he has succeeded in fashioning a beautiful melody out of the barest materials and, in the process, created the perfect analogy for one of the leading figures of the 20th century. Highly recommended.

Customer Reviews

Glass second opera after Einstein and before Satyagraha

A Madrigal Opera dates from 1980 and is Philip Glass' second "opera" although it lacks a narrative and text. What makes it different from Einstein on the Beach is that it even lacks a subject. Scored for a traditional madrigal ensemble of six singers with the accompaniment of a solo violin or solo viola, the piece exists as a musical creation meant to inspire future directors and writers to create a piece in and around it.
The music is like the music Glass was writing at that time: exciting because of his new post-minimalist thoughts on "putting back" expressive elements of music after having stripped music down to its very basic elements. The result is still very stripped down, but fantastically expressive and moving. The performance by the Finnish Ooppera Skaala is wonderful.

Now cue Boolez who will listen to the samples, dismiss the piece, and accuse me of being Philip Glass himself. The sooner he accepts that a lot of people like this music the better. Spare us you drivel.

Seminal work

First off, kudos to Orange Mountain Music. Releases such as "Early Voice", "Juniper Tree", "Descent into the Maelstrom", and the re-issues of the two Alter Ego early-Glass CD's, are priceless. This recording brings us a step closer to having most of Glass's early and early-middle-period works on disc. (Would still love someone like Ensemble Alter Ego to perform and record some of the remaining--and presumably unrecorded--early works, such as "Music in Eight Parts", "Head On", "Two Down", "Another Look at Harmony Part 3", or any of the Mabou Mines theater music.) Compositionally, Madrigal recalls, in certain passages, "The Photographer" and "Koyaanisqatsi"-- though the vocal parts in Madrigal are more subdued than in either of those works, and the absence of winds and keyboards creates a leaner, more stark overall texture. This is the lyrical, melancholic, elegant Glass of "Mishima" and "Facades", as well. In other words, it sounds exactly like the period in which it was composed, and for that, I love every note of it.

Interesting in concept

but devoid in content. It's a conceptual piece that was meant to be open ended and filled in by future directors. I applaude his attempt at pushing the medium's form further then it had been in the past but the music is from the period that has given him his bad name. It's not the most exciting music but Rich will like it no matter what. Still the recording quality is fairly good and one would expect a decent recording from Glass's own label. Thanks must go out to Richard G who has developed an odd fetish for my reviews, Glass or otherwise. It's somewhere between flattering and creepy. He's even developed a preference for my bad spelling and grammer. Rich, thanks for the love.... but I only dig chicks. Let's just agree to just be friends OK? -Bz


Born: January 31, 1937 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Philip Glass was unquestionably among the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century. Postmodern music's most celebrated and high-profile proponent, his myriad orchestral works, operas, film scores, and dance pieces proved essential to the development of ambient and new age sounds, and his fusions of Western and world musics were among the earliest and most successful global experiments of their kind. Born in Baltimore, MD, on January 31, 1937, Glass took up the flute at the...
Full Bio

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