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Facing Goya: An Opera in Four Acts / Libretto

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 26, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The provocative new opera takes the listener on a fantastical journey into the dark worlds of racist stereotyping, gene therapy and cloning. Standard double jewelcase and booklet housed in a slipcase. Warner. 2002.

Just as the narrative thread of Michael Nyman's most ambitious operatic undertaking zigzags through three centuries in search of Goya's skull, his quirky minimalist-based compositional style refuses to stay on a steady course. Vocal lines are rarely melodic in the conventional operatic sense of ebb and flow. Instead, they leap wide intervalic distances that deliberately preclude one's understanding of words, and the few words you can make out are set with the loopiest prosody since the heyday of madrigals. Nyman's characteristically thin strings trade asymmetrical riffs with quacky brass figurations. They often recall Stravinsky's motoric momentum filtered through Philip Glass's freeze-framed modules, with a richer, more sophisticated harmonic vocabulary than you get from Nyman's film scores for Peter Greenaway.

Once in a while, a disarming tune of the neo-Petula Clark variety seeps through, allowing the five cast members to be the real, adroit singers that they are, rather than instrumentalists who happen to possess impressively agile singing voices. Don't worry if you mistake Hilary Summers's chesty contralto for a countertenor at first hearing, or Harry Nicoll's round, light tenor for a contralto! No such vocal gender crisis engulfs Omar Brahim's roomy baritone or the two sopranos' frequent flights into the stratosphere. More significant, it's a tribute to Nyman's restless musical invention that Facing Goya easily sustains your listening attention shorn of its striking visual and theatrical components. Enthusiastically recommended. --Jed Distler

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. ACT 1: Prelude/Dogs drowning in sand
  2. How do I know you
  3. Lavater
  4. Leonardo says
  5. The size of the brain
  6. Weight the brain
  7. ACT II: The theory of proportions
  8. Stand up and be counted
  9. Measure my body
  10. Galton
  11. Goya's snub nose
  12. Lombroso
  13. And Goya cried

Disc: 2

  1. ACT 2: Where is Goya?
  2. The sequence of the gene
  3. A man impaled
  4. The risky gene
  5. Mutation
  6. Brilliant body
  7. Take its DNA
  8. Give me Goya's skull
  9. Tortured prisoner
  10. ACT 4: That day we decided
  11. We've cracked the genome
  12. I wanted rid of it
  13. And cloning is here to stay
  14. How can you be so stupid
  15. Forgive me

Product Details

  • Performer: Omar Ebrahim, Winnie Bowe, Marie Angel
  • Orchestra: Hilary Summers
  • Composer: Michael Nyman
  • Audio CD (November 26, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Elektra / Wea
  • ASIN: B00006LI7R
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #640,915 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

This opera, to quote to the synopsis: In four acts, dramatises the various attempts,
in the past and the present, to measure, isolate and then to own the power of artistic
genius (in particular Goya's). The libretto, by Victoria Hardie, conveys this in very
powerful fashion and is laced with dark humor. There are a lot of memorable lines
throughout, whereas in most operas you forget the words a second later.
I think most Nyman fans will find this opera very engaging, especially those that have
followed his career from the beginning. For this is Nyman at his most uncompromising and
inventive best. The ensemble and vocalists perform unrelentingly throughout. Some criticism
I've read is that it's an exhausting and even jarring work over the course of the 4 Acts
for this very reason, though I don't agree. To me it's exhilarating. The opera opens with
a very high speed and energy level taking very few breaths throughout.
Nyman mixes and references a lot of diverse sound worlds including his usual neo-baroque post-
minimalism with things like rock music, at least one instance of gospel-like singing, jazz,
a pinch of broadway and periodic bursts of atonality; in this way Facing Goya presents a constantly and
abruptly changing soundscape, all the while obviously remaining highly repetitive given that
this is a Michael Nyman opera. It is a style that was previously best represented in his opera/ballet
"Noises,Sounds, and Sweet Airs" but he has taken it a step further here. And much of it is quite
comical, especially in sections like "How do I know you know" which has a nice "An Eye for Optical
Theory"-esq boisterousness that also reminds me a bit of his first opera "The Man Who Mistook His
Wife for a Hat."
Great performance by the MNB and all the vocalists as well.
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When I first saw this recording, I knew I had to have it. Of all of Nyman's pieces that I enjoy, the ones composed for his Band are the ones I perfer the most, so I was eager to see how they could perform in an opera. When I bought the cd, I didn't have any clue what the opera was about or even who Goya was. As I started listening, though, all of these started to flesh out into an opera that is above all, fun.
The plot, like most postmodern opera, is not linearly narrative. An Art Banker is obsessed with finding the missing skull of Goya, and travels through time and space to find it. In Act I, she finds herself in an early 19th century lab, where craniometrists and their assistants, sung by 2 sopranoes, a tenor, and a baritone, are measuring skulls and weighing brains to determine the personality traits of their owners. The scientists begin to argue over whether skulls can really reveal the inner human or if it is simply the randomness and beauty of nature which determines man's abilities.
After no luck aquiring the skull, the Art Banker is transported to 1930's Nazi Germany, where she encounters art critics. These critics are determining degenerate art by looking for non-Aryan characteristics. Their techniques are surprising similar to craniometrists, and the parts are sung by the same soloists. Here the narrative flow of the opera really shows, because, although the parts are different, each soloists keeps the same traits as they go from one time to the next; as if history is repeating itself. Again, they argue over the origin of man's beauty and character, and again the Art Banker cannot aquire the skull.
The final scene takes place in a genetic lab, where a microbiologist is completing the genetic code of humans.
Read more ›
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I love this music, but it wasn't easy. I had to listen to it several times before I warmed up to it. The style is very like that of Nyman's Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs. It is for hardcore Nyman fans only, but for them it is a treat.
If you only know Nyman from The Piano this will be a shock. Everyone I play this for recoils in horror.
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