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Heggie: For a Look or a Touch

1 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Audio CD, April 29, 2008
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Product Description

Based on the true story of two teenage lovers the Holocaust tore apart forever, the dramatic song cycle For a Look or a Touch casts long-awaited light on the fate of gay Germans in the Holocaust. By noted young American opera composer Jake Heggie and libr


For a Look or a Touch is unabashedly theatrical. (The title refers to the regulation that allowed police to arrest gays "for a look or a touch.") Its sentimentality is shot through with lyrical depictions of brutality and terror.

A dance-hall swing recalls the happy energy of Berlin before the persecutions began. The Story of Joe tells of a quiet boy savaged by guard dogs; The Singing Forest recalls a horrific torture, with the gentleness of Heggie's melody contrasting the brutality of the scene.

There's an educational element about For a Look or a Touch, which was commissioned and performed last year by the Seattle-based ensemble Music of Remembrance. (This recording also includes world-premiere recordings of a cello piece by Gerald Schwarz and a song cycle, The Seed of Dream, by Lori Laitman.) Like the monument recently unveiled in Berlin, Heggie's message is simple and vital -- a musical motif at the beginning and end implores listeners to Remember. -- The Star Telegram, Chris Shull, June 2008

Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer's Holocaust mini-drama -- something between a song cycle and a chamber opera -- takes the form of a dialogue between the living and the dead. Gad Beck, a Holocaust survivor nearly eighty years old, is visited by the ghost of his nineteen-year-old lover, Manfred, who perished in the camps. Both men had been persecuted by the Nazis for homosexual activity. The ghost gets all the good lines -- which is to say, the sung lines, in a series of seven thoughtfully crafted songs for lyric baritone. Gad, the speaking role, has the less grateful task of resisting the visitor from their shared romantic past, until his lover's unsparing recollections lead this lifelong denier to acceptance and affirmation. Scheer imposes this narrative on actual case histories culled from diaries and interviews. If he seems stilted in Gad's lines (spoken earnestly but with some awkwardness by actor Julian Patrick), the librettist shows his customary skill at finding songs -- like his arias for composers including Heggie and Tobias Picker -- in unlikely places. Heggie's settings do justice to the extremes of recollected joys and horrors, without strain or grandstanding. The songs, mostly terse, taut and powerful, depict Nazi atrocities in smoothly calibrated steps from irony to graphic details to anguished outcry. Most chilling is "Der singende Wald" (the singing woods), the cathartic climax of the work, which recalls Manfred's death in something like a mass crucifixion in the forest. Echoes of Berlin dance halls, a little cute and beholden to Isherwood and Cabaret, provide one form of contrast to the violence. Another comes in the less hackneyed, harder to pigeonhole second song, "The Voice," based on Scheer's most interesting piece and fully capturing its ambiguity. A five-note figure in minor keys, repeated, varied and expanded, speaks of Manfred's barren isolation and then a hard-won consolation from love recollected. The celebration of "sanctified power ... the generous heart, the voice of souls in perfect resolve," keeps this drama from tilting too far into victimhood. Baritone Morgan Smith makes a feast of the seductive, chromatic lines that Heggie excels at. The singer has the range for the subtleties that help vary the basic stanza forms, as well as for the big emotions erupting in each song. The composer may not break new ground with his discreet polytonal style and its occasional brushes with dissonance, but the small-bore effects are deployed with confidence and hold the listener. Heggie coaxes a surprising range of color from the instrumental quintet that provides interaction as well as accompaniment. The Holocaust dominates another song series on this disc, The Seed of Dream, based on Yiddish poems written in Nazi-occupied Lithuania by Abraham Sutzkever. Composer Lori Laitman has set them with warmth and variety for baritone, cello and piano; English translations are used, with occasional German. Despite slightly rough-edged performances, it is hard to resist the harsh irony of "A Load of Shoes," Laitman's fast, klezmer-tinted waltz to the poet's observation of piles of ownerless shoes "transported from Vilna to Berlin." Sutzkever, writing from the Vilna ghetto and later from partisan forest hideouts, is not a poet for the faint-hearted, and sometimes (as in "To My Child") his work seems too dark for musical adaptation. The works in this small anthology, which includes the brief "In Memoriam," a soulful dirge for solo cello by Gerard Schwarz, were commissioned by Music of Remembrance, a Seattle program aimed at recognizing oppressed musicians and artists of the Nazi era. -- Opera News, David Baker, November 2008

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Product Details

  • Performer: Smith, Parce
  • Orchestra: Music of Remembrance
  • Composer: Heggie, Schwarz, Laitman
  • Audio CD (April 29, 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B0015DM338
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,824 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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