Argento: A Water Bird Talk; Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: A Water Bird Talk; Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night
PERFORMER: Linda Mabbs, John Shirley-Quirk; Sinfonia of St Cecilia/Sara Watkins
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7388-2
Dominick Argento, a prolific opera composer, is less well-known in the UK than in his native North America. Though Britten seems to be the lodestone of his style, it merits exploration on its own terms, and this neat pair of monodramas is a good place to start.


Economy, brevity and focus are some of the advantages of the monodramatical form; the chance to reflect on a character’s psychology compensates for any lack of theatrical action. Argento writes with a fine command of English declamation, and his music, a crafted arioso, rarely marks time.

Both works on this disc are sly reflections on the married state. A Water Bird Talk, after Chekhov, is an indictment of all unhappy unions maintained for pragmatic ends, and is delivered through the guise of an illustrated lecture. The tale of Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night needs no explanation; the many ghostly visitors she receives make for strong imaginary theatre.


In such voice-centred music, the performers’ role is crucial; the recorded medium tests, above all, their power to dramatise a reading through vocal skills alone. Baritone John Shirley-Quirk and soprano Linda Mabbs are notable soloists and offer strong yet sensitive readings. Nicholas Williams