Omar Mulero, Robert Frankenberry, Robert Orth; Fifth House Ensemble/Roger Zahab
Naxos 8.669049 62:10 mins
In his latest opera, American composer Daron Hagen (b1961) takes creative cues from his hero subject: the cinema giant and polymath Orson Welles. Hagen describes his piece as an operafilm, for which he’s written not just the music and libretto – heard here in this release of the soundtrack – but directed its staging; created, shot and edited its films-within-a-film; written the screenplay and mixed the recording.
Whether Hagen’s tribute does for Welles what the great man’s did for Melville in his Moby Dick Rehearsed is hard to gauge without the visuals. The apparent title homage is one of a plethora of Welles references suffusing a complex, often cryptic libretto and pre-recorded backdrop of speech and sound which intercuts a multi-genre (electro)acoustic score, performed by Fifth House Ensemble conducted by Roger Zahab.
The action starts at Welles’s fatal heart attack, from where we enter his mind for a journey back through his life, exploring low- and high-points and his imagined thoughts on point of death. Hagen splits his character into an ensemble of three ‘avatars’ representing Welles young, mature and old (sung in turn by Omar Mulero, Robert Frankenberry and Robert Orth) – and peppers his 12 scenarios with multiple references from and to Welles’s beloved Shakespeare, Marlene Dietrich, second wife Rita Hayworth and many more. It’s a hectic 60 minutes with a tendency to cliché (‘we are all alone’) and cod-metaphysics (‘eye equals I’). But the collage of ragtime, synth effects and post-romantic arioso engages.