Maurizio SQUILLANTE: The Wings of Daedalus – ZKM Institute for Music and Acoustics/Maurizio Squillante – Wergo

Maurizio SQUILLANTE: The Wings of Daedalus – ZKM Institute for Music and Acoustics/Maurizio Squillante – Wergo 2073-2, 74:40, (8/18/17) **:

Stretching the definition of ‘opera’…

This is easily one of the strangest things I have heard in awhile. This does not mean I didn’t like it – at least a little.

Maurizio Squillante is an Italian composer who specializes in both electronic soundscapes as well as extended vocal techniques; both of which summarize the palate of this ‘neo-Baroque opera’ (as say the booklet notes.) Finding out about Squillante is daunting as I could not find a website of his and all we can gather from the helpful booklet notes is that his medium is regularly electronics and that the text/libretto for this work is, indeed, the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus who tried to be as birds and fly.

In many places the texts are isolated and monadic; barely sung and really hard to understand. The notes do correctly point out that much of this approach to vocal writing has its roots in Monteverdi who—in turn—wrote several operas on mythological themes. The libretto itself, in English, is by playwright David Haughton and this work was conceived in 2004 for a production at the Institute for Music and Acoustics, Karlsruhe, Germany. (They apparently have quite a legacy for producing theater works of this type, melding the most advanced—nearly bizarre—vocal techniques with electronics.)

The piece itself is somewhat interesting and reminded me in places of early Penderecki, Stockhausen, Maderna and the like. Texturally, the electronics provide mood more than anything else. There are blocks of pitch within the sound field that occasionally suggest harmonies but mostly this is an ‘effects’ work with a decidedly creepy, other-worldly feel. I cannot honestly say I disliked it but nor did this really captivate me. I think this is really a niche work for an audience used to the very avant garde (to borrow a now dated phrase.)

I was impressed by the photos in the booklet of the actors/singers and staging which all have a very ‘industrial’ and automaton look about them. The characters are all wearing essentially metal, wires, ducts, hoses and so forth and the staging, though sparse, is warehouse/factory like; playing upon the title character’s determination to turn man into something beyond human.

This is probably one of those works which is much better seen live than simply listened to. The listening experience is uneasy, strange, even jarring in places so one needs to know this going in. I do wish to find out more about Maurizio Squillante, though, and kudos to the technicians at Wergo for continuing an over fifty year legacy of producing music that exists at the cutting edge of art and may otherwise not have been recorded.

—Daniel Coombs

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