Mohammad Motamendi, Hossein Alishapour, Babak Sabouri, Eshaq Anvar, Mohommad Zakerhossien; Credo Chamber Choir; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Vladimir Sirenko
Naxos 8.660426-27 105:27 mins (2 discs)
Little is known for certain about the life of Hafez (c1315-1390). Revered far beyond his native Persia, his mystic lyrical poetry has touched generations of ordinary people as well as writers and intellectuals – including Goethe, who considered him ‘divine’.
Following Ashura (utilising poems by Mohtasham Kashani) and Rumi (on his great 13th-century predecessor), Iranian composer Behzad Abdi and librettist Behrouz Gharibpour have woven an opera about Hafez’s life and times from his and others’ poetry. Utilising a striking marriage of Russian-tinged western and Persian classical forms and techniques, they recount tales of political oppression and struggles for justice that make clear the period’s ferocious tumult.
From the murderous ascension to the throne of Sultan Mobarezedin Mohammad to his eventual overthrow before Hafez’s later death and entombment in Shiraz, a succession of dramatic arias, ensembles and traditional sama dances reveal a powerful cast of poets, lovers, soldiers, rulers and more, ably supported by the Credo Chamber Choir and National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under conductor Vladimir Sirenko.
The focus, as in Persian tradition where the performance of poetry and music are richly entwined, is on the singing voice as vivid purveyor of meaning and emotion. Tenor Mohammad Motamedi is spine-tingling in the title role. Swooping, ululating, coaxing and keening, key sections of the opera have him unaccompanied to mesmerising effect. Elsewhere vocal and orchestral exchanges also compel – albeit the lack of libretto in the accompanying booklet is frustrating for non Persian-speaking listeners.