COMPOSERS: Robin de Raaff
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Robin De Raaff
WORKS: Waiting for Miss Monroe
PERFORMER: Laura Aikin, Dale Duesing, Helena Rasker, David DQ Lee, Maria Kowan, Alain Coulombe, Tom Randle, John Tessier, Daniel Belcher, Hendrickje Van Kerckhove; Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Steven Sloane
CATALOGUE NO: Challenge Classics CC 72685 (hybrid CD/SACD)
‘Stop squeaking, you drive me nuts,’ sings the studio boss in Act I after a falsetto torrent from Marilyn Monroe’s make-up man. It’s a phrase that’s unfortunately hard to shake as Dutch composer Robin de Raaff’s opera, at least the fourth devoted to the Hollywood icon, burrows deeper into its tunnel, with no fresh insights and little stylistic variety to offer shafts of light.
A former pupil of George Benjamin and Julian Anderson at London’s Royal College of Music, De Raaff has composed at least one previous opera, RAAFF (2004). His narrow mode of writhing, leaping, extended tonality might have been easier to take in a better balanced recording. But in this live account, collated from Dutch National Opera’s premiere run in 2012, words keep getting smudged as the pungent Netherlands Chamber Orchestra becomes increasingly over-excited and female voices hit the heights.
Moment by moment, there are pleasures to savour. The cast sings with authority, if not always clarity; and Laura Aikin, De Raaff’s vocal inspiration, displays skill and stamina as the frazzled star beset by drugs and demons. Even when instrumentalists interfere, at least they do it in style, stabbing the ears with bright clatter or impressively slithering through the murky depths with a tuba or contrabassoon. But no one can conquer the biggest hurdle: the familiar psycho-drama of Janine Brogt’s libretto, which ricochets between Monroe’s Hollywood difficulties and private torments, and conjures up Clark Gable, President Kennedy, and her younger self, Norma Jeane, without making any exhumations worthwhile.
The packaging’s 17 photographs from the stage production, full of blonde wigs, short skirts, and diaphanous dresses, might make you wish for a DVD release; or they may not.