COMPOSERS: Meredith Monk
PERFORMER: Soloists & Orchestra/Wayne Hankin
CATALOGUE NO: 437 773-2 DDD
Every work of art has the right to set its own agenda. But whatever merits Meredith Monk’s 1991 Houston Grand Opera commission, Atlas – a personal and highly pretentious fusion of music, theatre and movement – may have on stage, it signally fails to convince on CD alone.
Its theme is a perennial one – the journey to self-knowledge. Monk herself sings the central role of the disaffected Alexandra Daniels who, guided by spirits, travels the globe, eventually arrives at ‘a timeless radiant place’ and returns to earth with the secret of happiness: ‘the simple acts and tendernesses of the moment’.
Although Monk has revised the opera for this recording, the musical interest remains low, relying exclusively on a form of Minimalism which makes Philip Glass seem bafflingly complex. Paltry ostinatos and anodyne modal chord progressions, supporting largely wordless scales and arpeggios from the voices, often in imitation of animal cries, chug interminably along; they are generally at painfully distended tempi and, in the absence of a detailed synopsis in the booklet, are difficult to relate to the action.
During a rare moment of verbal lucidity one of the characters asks ‘Has anything changed?’. ‘Only the threshold of this listener’s patience,’ I’m tempted to reply. Antony Bye