Carmen's Revenge, by Osias Wilenski – Navona

by | Sep 14, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

OSIAS WILENSKI: Carmen’s Revenge;  3 Movements for Flute and Piano; Romances for Clarinet and Piano – Maria Rosa Lopez (Carmen)/ Cesar Puente (Author, Don Juan, Rodolpho Valentino)/ Jose Guna, flute/ Salvador Frances, clarinet/ Ferran Armengol, percussion/ Yana Tsanowa, violin/ Maria Comas, cello/ Osias  Wilenski, piano and director/ Chorus/ Albert Mora, flute – Navona Records NV5837, 52:10 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
This is a strange release; according to the notes this is a “musical operatic-theater burlesque” that traces Bizet’s heroine Carmen in her “Pilgrimage over humanity” dealing with three sexual characters: “Don Juan, the impotent; Valentino, the homosexual; and Oedipus, the incestuous”, subsequently called “idiots”. And to top it all off, it is Carmen who is actively pursuing each of them. The rather thin-spread libretto makes little sense of all of this, and I came away wondering what the real point of this story actually was. There is not enough time to develop much of the theme, assuming there is one, and we are left with a sense of “what happened?”
Maybe—just maybe—a staged production would make more sense and even bring to life some of the burlesque aspects of the score. As is—and the music doesn’t help much, being a compendium of Bergian harmonies and Webernian textures, though it does seem appropriate to the vocal dynamics of Carmen’s insistent advances—there is a simple feeling of schizophrenia throughout that almost reminds me of Germany in the early last century as reflected in the gritty and almost obscene stronger moments of Kurt Weill, and that can be tough going. But Wilenski cleverly incorporates Bizet’s themes and motives into the work reminding us that after all, this is not Carmen, but a fantasy on the stronger and more lascivious aspects of her character meeting a series of men known for their sexual proclivities and ultimately trumps those of her seductees. Maria Rosa Lopez is a little thin in her tone though she has mastered the music very well. Cesar Puente’s role is half spoken and sung. While this is a bizarre concept it works on several levels though I cannot imagine returning to it often.
The two instrumental pieces have an atonal feel to them while teasing with hints of tonality that never quite seem to materialize. I liked them for the most part, and they are well played, somewhat of a stylistic throwback about 60 years. Sound is excellent however, and the production first-rate with scores available from the disc on the computer, and for those that read music they can make a difference in how one perceives these pieces.
—Steven Ritter

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