Harvey: Wagner Dream

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Cypres
WORKS: Wagner Dream
PERFORMER: Claire Booth, Gordon Gietz, Matthew Best, Dale Duesing, Rebecca de Pont Davies, Richard Angas (singers); Johan Leysen, Catherine ten Bruggencate, Bracha van Doesburgh, Charles van Tassel, Jane Oakland, Basja Chanowsky (actors); Ictus Ensemble/Martyn Brabbins


A Buddhist opera about Wagner? It is not as odd a notion as you might think. From at least 1855 Wagner mused about writing an opera, Die Sieger (The Victors), on a Buddhist theme. Jonathan Harvey and librettist Jean-Claude Carriere set Wagner Dream around the moment of Wagner’s final heart attack. Vairochana, a guide, appears to Wagner and enables him to create his long-cherished Buddhist drama, the story of Prakriti, in the process preparing him for his own death. In short, as noted on the CD case, Harvey dreams of Wagner dreaming of Buddha.

The action jumps effortlessly between the world of Wagner’s study – where everyone speaks; and that inside his head – Vairochana and the characters from the opera-within-the-opera singing.

In lesser hands, the result could be crass, but this compelling triumph succinctly captures something of Wagner’s complexity of character, while looking beyond. Harvey’s sublime music does not shy away from the disturbing when necessary, yet the overwhelming impression is of beauty and integrity. His seamless integration of instruments and live electronics is masterful, the latter a natural, organic part of often shimmering textures.
Recorded in Amsterdam in 2007, this set should win the work many friends. The solo singers are first-rate, notably Claire Booth as Prakriti and Gordon Gietz as Ananda, while the interaction between the irascible Wagner of Johan Leysen and the anxious, uncomprehending Cosima of Catherine ten Bruggencate is sensitively handled. The conducting by Martyn Brabbins is superb.


Christopher Dingle