STEVE NIEVE: Welcome to the Voice (complete opera) – Sting (Dionysos)/ Robert Wyatt (The Friend)/ Elvis Costello (Chief of Police)/ Barbara Bonney (Opera Singer)/ Sara Fulgoni (Ghost of Carmen)/Steve Nieve (piano/Moog)/Sting (elec. bass)/Brodsky Q. – DGG

by | May 7, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

STEVE NIEVE: Welcome to the Voice (complete opera) – Sting (Dionysos)/ Robert Wyatt (The Friend)/ Elvis Costello (Chief of Police)/ Barbara Bonney (Opera Singer)/ Sara Fulgoni (Ghost of Carmen)/ Nathalie Manfrino (Ghost of Butterfly)/ Amanda Roocroft (Ghost of Norma)/ Steve Nieve (piano and Moog)/ Ned Rothenberg (Clarinets, saxophones)/ Sting (electric bass)/ Marc Ribot (guitars)/ Antoine Quessada (cymbols)/ Brodsky Quartet – DGG 00289 477 6524, 70:43 **1/2:

Perhaps I am alone in this, or just strange, but I find the recent spate of pop-written operas and such to be completely without merit, and I am afraid that this one is no different. Steve Nieve may be a talented pop artist, but this slow-moving, uninteresting “opera” has little to recommend it, despite the plethora of stars in the cast. The plot is a relatively simple one that takes place on the steps of an opera house, where a “blue collar” steelworker (Sting) has an obsession with an opera diva (Bonney). He is visited by the ghosts of Butterfly, Norma, and Carmen, and a friend tries to dissuade him from his futile attraction. In the end he is arrested by the police, ostensibly for stalking. There is a lot of philosophical ramblings, and some of the music is tuneful, but the disparate styles are like oil and water, as if the two types of singing are equal. But they’re not—one cannot but judge one when hearing the other.

Ann Powers of the New York Times said “A new patch on the border between art music and pop is being cultivated.” I don’t know the age of Ms. Powers, but this statement is patent nonsense. It takes more than simply mixing up a cast of pop and classical singers to create a viable new genre, and in fact this thing has been done better with more facility and artistic consciousness many years ago. One only has to think of Jesus Christ Superstar, which had some spectacular singing (though it was never a staged opera as such, at least not at first), or even the magnificent efforts of a band like Jethro Tull, whose Thick as a Brick was opera-like in its structure, with music and lyrics far more significant and complex than what we have here. Need I even mention West Side Story?

This is plodding; Sting is okay, if you like his voice, which I never have, and it is a disservice to him to have him sing with Bonney, clearly establishing the difference between singing in tune and singing with great tonal flexibility and greatness. The ensemble numbers in this piece do not have the stringent requirements of “togetherness” that one would expect in a classical recording, and though DGG has given everyone involved excellent sound, this work–unless this new “genre” has some sort of appeal for you–does not come close to meeting the hype set for it.

— Steven Ritter


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