LABELS: Orange Mountain Music
PERFORMER: Martin Achrainer, Cassandra McConnell, Karen Robertson, Katerina Hebelkova, Pedro Velázquez Diaz, Seho Chang, Florian Spiess; Bruckner Orchester Linz Soloists; Chorus of the Landestheater Linz; Upper Austrian State Theatre/Dennis Russell Davies; dir. Peter Missotten (Landestheater, Linz 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: Orange Mountain Music 5004 (NTSC system; 5.0 surround; 16:9 picture format)
Outside Philip Glass’s immediate circle nobody can keep up with the premieres of his countless stage works, often in far-flung places, so DVDs of them are invaluable. Kepler continues the cosmological preoccupations he has shown ever since Einstein on the Beach. Its theme fascinatingly bridges medieval and Renaissance world-views. Like Copernicus, Kepler saw the skies as evidence of God’s plan; yet before Galileo, already a Glass subject, he wanted theories put to rigorous test.
All of which sounds the opposite of dramatic theatre. Glass calls it an opera but it’s more like a Passion. There’s only the one named character, whose searchings and musings are, for an hour, set purely in an intellectual context. After the interval we hear more about Kepler’s character, then the surrounding ravages of the Thirty Years’ War, but return to the unceasing search for enlightenment. Six solo singers operate like a semi-chorus against the full chorus’s block chords and a large orchestra favouring deep timbres and an often gripping melodic character. Glass’s distinctive patterns, devices for measuring out time, have never been more appropriate. They’d suit Copernicus too – maybe Owen Gingerich’s popular book on him will inspire Glass to finish a trilogy.
It’s a challenge to direct, met resourcefully by inventive, fluent and sometimes stylised movement. The colour scheme is dark, not best suited to small screens, but stunning close-ups hold attention. Musically the performance is impeccable, spaciously paced and energetic – Dennis Russell Davies has premiered much Glass – and dominated at the front by Martin Achrainer’s quietly heroic, thoughtful protagonist. Robert Maycock