Penelope is a song cycle by composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, with lyrics by playwright Ellen McLaughlin,
featuring vocalist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and the chamber orchestra Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman. Inspired by Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, Penelope is a meditation on memory, identity, and what it means to come home.
Suspended somewhere between art song, indie rock, and chamber folk, the music of Penelope moves organically from moments of elegiac strings-and-harp reflection to dusky post-rock textures with drums,
guitars and electronics, all directed by a strong sense of melody and a craftsman's approach to songwriting.
Penelope originated as a music-theater monodrama, co-written by McLaughlin and Snider in 2007-2008 and commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Center. In the work, originally scored for alto/actor and string
quartet, a woman's husband appears at her door after an absence of twenty years, suffering from brain damage. A veteran of an unnamed war, he doesn't know who he is and she doesn't know who he's become. While they wait together for his return to himself, she reads him the Odyssey, and in the journey of that book, she finds a way into her former husband's memory and the terror and trauma of war.
Homer's Odyssey has been a very deep well of inspiration for artists from centuries ago right up to today.
Sarah Kirkland Snider's new song cycle, Penelope, makes a modern twist on the ancient saga.
The compelling story of the Greek warrior Odysseus' trip home from the Trojan wars, has sparked movies, like the Coen Brothers' Oh Brother Where Art Thou, operas, such as Monteverdi's moving The Return of Ulysses, and even pop songs like Tim Buckley's haunting 'Song to the Siren.'
Kirkland Snider's new work, originally a theater piece, deftly weaves pop, jazz, and classical. The texts, by Ellen McLaughlin, are sung by Shara Worden from the band My Brightest Diamond.
Kirkland Snider's song cycle is told from the woman's point of view Penelope, that is, Odysseus' faithful wife, who waits at home, wondering if her husband will ever return, dead or alive.
McLaughlin's poems update the story to modern times. Penelope's long-lost husband turns up unexpectedly, emotionally damaged after years spent at war. In an attempt to rebuild his memory, she reads aloud to him from Homer's Odyssey.
Kirkland's dark-hued score is inventive and subtle, with a mix of watery, undulating strings, guitars, percussion and electronics that submerges you completely within the story.
Some songs flaunt melodic hooks, others are atmospheric. And all are aided by Worden's vocals, mournful, urgent and expressive. Brad Lubman conducts the tight little chamber ensemble known as Signal. --NPR.com, Deceptive Cadence, Classical Detour, Thomas Huizenga, October 2010