Gramophone - After Life CD Review

Publication: 
Gramophone Magazine, July 2016 —Laurence Vlttes
Cipullo “After Life"
Laitman “In Sleep the World is Yours''
Megan Chenovick, Catherine Cook, Ava Pine sops
Robert Orth, bar
Music of Remembrance I Mina Miller
Naxos American Opera Classics 8 669036
 
For their seventh Naxos CD, Seattle-based Music of Remembrance pair world premiere recordings of two recent Holocaust remembrance commissions, joining previous recordings of commissions from composers including Jake Heggie, Paul Schoenfield and Thomas Pasatieri.
 
Tom Cipullo's After Life is a discursive, one-act, three-person chamber opera in which the ghosts of Picasso (Catherine Cook), Gertrude Stein (Robert Orth) ­more Ma and Pa Kettle than The Ghost and Mrs Muir -and a spiritually innocent young girl (Ava Pine) confront the moral and physical minefields ofthe Second World War. Cipullo weaves David Mason's ingenious, rhapsodic libretto into an absorbing, often lively, occasionally desultory narrative told in words and music that is translucently scored and makes full use of the five-member ensemble's colours, astonishingly vocal at times in their effect.
 
Lori Laitman's 18-minute In Sleep the World is Yours is a simpler, more profoundly distilled response to the Holocaust in the form of a mother-and-child song-cycle set to elegiac lyrics by Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, dead at 18 at a Nazi camp in Ukraine. In a sense, Laitman's three songs continue the conversation about life and art begun in After Life, deeply concerned with the ineffectualness of art during extreme human crises unless the creative force is pure. Stein and Picasso compromised and wound up being unable to distinguish art from life, which robbed their work of its potency.
 
The clear, full-bodied Benaroya Hall recordings, made in April and May 2015, feature excellent playing by members of the Seattle Symphony, including cellist Walter Gray, a founding member of the Kronos Quartet.  - Laurence Vlttes