Ellen Reid: lumee’s dream variations
Rebecca Jo Loeb (mezzo-soprano), Nadia Sirota (viola), Attaca Quartet, Rob Moose (violin), Bridget Kibbey (harp), Matt Smallcomb (percussion)
Recording: Unknown – 19’
Decca Gold (Distributed by Universal Music) – No booklet
This digital-only single from Decca Gold contains an alternate version of a haunting aria from Ellen Reid’s extraordinary opera prism, which I wrote about previously. There is precious little about this project on Reid’s or Decca Gold’s websites, but some internet sleuthing reveals that it seems to have resulted from a multi-media installation at LA Opera in early 2020. Given the origin, it is unlikely that an audio-only experience was the intention of the composer, but the three “variations” of the aria on this collection offer intriguing alternate perspectives.
The original aria, less than four minutes long and late in the opera, soars to an impassioned climax relatively quickly; the remix takes its time. The opening tam-tam and harp motive brings to mind the opening of the final scene of Britten’s Turn of the Screw, and it’s not a stretch to draw even more parallels between the two works.
In Nadia Sirota’s “study” on the aria, she replaces voice with viola (already a prominent instrument in the original opera) producing a version used for an included dance video. This is entirely suitable, as having singing, playing and dance might be sensory overload, and here we can focus on the non-vocal music alone, or in conjunction with dance.
The nine-minute “Installation Mix” expands the original aria (less than four minutes) through repetition with electronic echo of the instantly-recognizable arching melody and a viola interlude. Rebecca Jo Loeb, who sang Lumee in the opera’s premiere recordings, is again in splendid voice, and there are certainly no complaints about listening to her sing more and more. She is much more closely miked, and much of the doubling (often clarinet) in the original aria is done away with, revealing a mostly-string haze that haunts the music even more effectively.
It is wonderful to have a true “aria” from a contemporary opera that is so memorable, with a benchmark performance in its premiere. In the opera, the aria segues into an EDM beat as the story continues; it appears that the remix was meant to played on loop while the audience experienced the installation.
The variations on the disc encourage more enjoyment of these artists, and that opportunity should eagerly be seized. This is highly recommended as a “sampler” for prism, one that will hopefully lead everyone to experience the complete opera’s many wonders.
Marcus Karl Maroney