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Vivier: Rêves D`Un Marco Polo

Kopernikus , opéra rituel de mort in two parts (1980)

Marco Polo
An ‘opéra fleuve':
a series of tableaux about Marco Polo, some vocal, others instrumental:

Susan Narucki, Lani Poulson, Claron McFadden, Kathryn Harries, Karl Daymond, Johan Leysen
Asko Ensemble / Schönberg Ensemble / Reinbert de Leeuw
Stage Director Pierre Audi

Opus Arte: OA 0943D

Prologue pour un Marco Polo ‘Marco Polo's Last Will and Testament – Vision of Zipangu' (1981)
Shiraz ‘A First Glimpse of the Adventure' (1977)
Lonely Child ‘The Youth of Marco Polo' (1980)
Zipangu The symbol of immeasurable inner treasures that are so difficult to accumulate (1980)
Wo bist du Licht! A meditation about human suffering (1981)
Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele Do you believe in the immortality of the soul (1983 - unfinished)

This is a generous 2-DVD presentation of the work of the cult Canadian composer Claude Vivier (1948-83) who died young in a self sought murder/suicide, so it is suggested, at the hands of a male prostitute who stabbed him in his flat.

In the extensive introductions Pierre Audi, who has added a 'theatrical score' to the musical ones, tells how when he was running the Almeida Festival in London he became 'hooked' on this one-time obscure composer.

Vivier was in love with death, a benign 'world of magicians' to which he had a romantic attachment that permeates his "emotional, ecstatic and anti-intellectual" music.

The "opera" Kopernikus tells a mystical story in which famous figures of the past are briefly mentioned, but there is no coherent narrative line and although the French words are sub-titled, much of the text is in invented language, and special vocal effects are called for...

It is the music which will engage you - or not. The setting (in a converted disused gas container in Amsterdam) is spectacular, and you see the conversion of the building for this event taking place.

I think this is a double DVD to explore in stages. I would recommend one of the introductions, with rehearsal material, and then, perhaps, the second Act of the ritualistic Kopernicus (which has more continuous music).

The second half brings together a sequence of disparate works, notable for a virtuoso piano piece Shiraz, which alternates hammering reminicent of one of the Stockhausen piano pieces, and sweet harmonies which bring to mind those of Messiaen. He had studied at Darmstadt with Stockhausen, and was admired by Ligeti.

Most collectors, whether of opera or far-out contemporary music, will know little or nothing of Vivier, so this production offers a real service, allowing people to evaluate him for themselves. The music is certainly striking and can draw you in if you're in the right mood.

The performances of all the works are carefully rehearsed and given with conviction, with demanding stage performance by singers and musicians (costumed and on stage). The stratospheric soprano Claron McFadden (the airport controller from Flight) may be the most familiar performer.

This is a one-off, unrepeatable opportunity to come to grips with Claude Vivier. A release worth considering but perhaps one to sample first. There is a short video-clip on the Opus Arte website, and a positive review plus a dozen and more intriguing screenshots at DVD Reviewer may tip the balance towards taking a chance.

© Peter Grahame Woolf