When Jorge Martín’s opera, Before Night Falls, was presented by the Fort Worth Opera, there was a lot of buzz about it. The fact that it was based on the life of Reinaldo Arenas was enough to set tongues wagging. He was a writer, a gay, dissident Cuban exile who had come over to America in the Mariel Boat Lift and died from AIDS. Talk about hitting all of the hot buttons!
Fort Worth Opera’s fearless General Director, Darren Woods, didn’t bat an eye and it was a major success for the company. My review of the performance is here.
The release of the CD recording is another such event.
In listening to it, it is impossible not to be transported back to the stage production and picture everything that was going on. This was both a curse and blessing. The imaginary production that the recording would have called to a naive mind is inaccessible. Someone hearing it, without the experience of seeing it onstage, would pull up completely different images.
The first thing that comes to my mind when hearing the CD is that this is a much more complex score than I thought it was when hearing it in the theater. The drama overwhelmed the details. Here, it is all laid out for the listener without any visual distractions. Martin has written a masterpiece filled with complex detail and I expect to hear even more each time I listen to it.
On an audio level, the strings in the orchestra seem to be distant, which is unfortunate because the orchestration becomes brass heavy. Some of the singers benefit from the studio recording, while others do not. Those who were weak in the theater come across strong, while some vibratos border on a wobble when heard at such close range.
The big plus of the recording is that diction, for the most part, is understandable, whereas that was a problem in the theater. Another problem that was not as noticeable in the theater is that sometimes there is an accent on the weak ending of a word, such as peoPLE or mounTAIN. This makes it sound artificial. Also, lines that are more conversational are frequently oversung, as if they are arias.
Both of these are “opera things.” We hear them at the Met, but they stand out more on a recording.
An attractive cast of talented young singers that are on the brink of major careers give Martin’s wondrous score everything they have. Joseph Illick does a remarkable job on the podium. The results are quite striking and this CD belongs in the collection of anyone who cares about the future of opera.
◊ The CD is available on Amazon for $35.99, and can also be downloaded there for $17.98. On iTunes, it's $19.99.