Dark Star Requiem

darkstarAn email just in from Tapestry informs me that:

Dark Star Requiem by Andrew Staniland and Jill Battson has been nominated for TWO JUNO Awards! Produced by Tapestry in the 2010 Luminato Festival, it is up for Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral Performance (for Tapestry Opera, the Gryphon Trio, and the Elmer Iseler Singers), and for Classical Composition of the Year (for Andrew Staniland)! Congrats to all involved in this landmark recording!

I’d echo that.  Here’s the review that I wrote that appeared in a recent edition of Opera Canada.

Dark Star Requiem is an opera oratorio by Andrew Stanisland to a libretto by Jill Battson. The subject matter is HIV/AIDS and while there’s not a conventional “story” there’s a kind of narrative arc that starts with origins in Africa; there’s even a movement from the point of view of a tribe of sick chimpanzees, through the virus coming to North America and finally back to Africa to remind us that, retroviral cocktails notwithstanding, this is a tragedy that is still with us. Along the way there is fear, hate, blame, scapegoating, wild conspiracy theories, commercial exploitation and, above all, grief.

Battson’s texts are eclectic and powerful. She speaks with many voices and her words get a brilliant setting by Staniland. He uses four soloists, choir, string trio, piano and lots of percussion to create music that is sometimes brutally intense and sometimes achingly poignant. The overall effect is stunning. It left me physically shaking. It can be quite disturbing. Beauty Mark looks at AIDS from the virus’ point of view to chilling effect. There’s wit too, in both words and music, best exemplified perhaps by two sections. The opening movement Zero Six One sets the numerical code of the HIV1 and HIV2 viruses in music that also reflects that numerical structure whereas Cuba Libre seems like a flippant series of cocktail puns until it morphs grimly into the retroviral drug cocktail.

The performance, under the direction of Wayne Strongman, is excellent. The soloists; Neema Bickersteth, Krisztina Szabó, Peter McGillivray and Marcus Nance are joined by the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Gryphon Trio, Jamie Parker on piano and percussionists Ryan Scott and Mark Duggan. It was recorded at Koerner Hall and sound engineer Steve Sweeney has captured the music with absolute clarity and very precise spatial positioning.

Although Dark Star Requiem is musically dense in places the solo vocal line is always given full weight, and all the soloists have excellent diction, so that one can clearly hear all of Battson’s texts. It’s just as well as no texts are included with the disc and are apparently only available from a small press that appears to be defunct. It’s my one beef about an otherwise exemplary offering.

In summary, this is a very fine recording of a piece that deserves to be heard much more widely.

You can buy it here.

 

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