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Don Davis: Río de Sangre

5.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 1, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

This world premiere recording of Río de Sangre, a new opera by composer Don Davis and librettist Kate Gale, presents fictional characters and situations that offer a more general comment on political and historical events, aiming for a degree of universality. The action takes place in an unnamed country in the Southern hemisphere and the text is sung in Spanish, but the characters and events clearly echo conditions and crises from any place and any time. Commissioned by the Florentine Opera Company, Río de Sangre received its world premiere performance by the company in 2010. Composer Don Davis has enjoyed a successful and widely varied musical career, not only as a seminal and prolific composer of contemporary orchestral and chamber works for the concert stage, but also as a versatile dramatic composer and conductor of film and television music, including the feature film trilogy The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Río de Sangre


Product Details

  • Performer: Guido LeBron, Kerry Walsh, John Duykers, Ava Pine, Vale Rideout, et al.
  • Orchestra: Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Joseph Rescigno
  • Composer: Don Davis
  • Audio CD (September 1, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Albany Records
  • ASIN: B005ERIBP0
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #542,014 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Having seen the oratorio presentation of Rio De Sangre at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2005, I was eager to see the world premiere of the complete opera by the Florentine Opera Company. I was not disappointed--the music, performers (to varying degrees), staging and choreography were powerful and impressive. Although I hesitate to use the trite description "spellbinding," that is in fact what this opera is, even if you aren't an opera lover. Drawing on the harsh realities of the cycle of political upheavals, the story dramatizes the aftermath of a coup d'état in a fictional South American country; a new regime with renewed hope and promise; and the seduction of the new leader, Delacruz, by ultimate power while he nevertheless maintains some idealism and good intentions, which are hampered by sabotage and his limited experience. Earthquakes and its ensuing consequences devastate the lives of many of the country's oppressed people as well as Delacruz's immediate family. A traitor exploits the situation with lies, kidnapping and assassination, ultimately enabling him to seize power. It is at once bittersweet, dismaying, agitating, and compelling. It draws you in and although you can't mistake the impending doom, you must know the resolution.

Don Davis is a highly accomplished and respected composer with an impressive body of work including the Matrix movie trilogy and much more, but this opera is, in my opinion, his masterpiece. From dark and foreboding to emotionally gripping to gut wrenching to majestic, the music reveals Davis's artistic influences including Witold Lutoslawski and Dmitri Shostakovich (except of course in the salsa "source" music).
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Format: Audio CD
Rio de Sangre, which premiered at the Floretine Opera in October, 2010, is now, thankfully, available on CD. For those of us who, for one reason or another, were unable to attend the world premier in Milwaukee, the CD richly and successfully functions as the next best option. While I'm a fan of contemporary opera, I'll be the first to aver that I'm not one who can boast scholarly erudition. Nevertheless, I can in good conscience share a few simple observations.

I've been aware of Mr. Davis' work for a number of years. He's a composer who has displayed the formidable span of his talents both in the world of contemporary chamber and orchestral works and in music for television and film. His music for film has benefited generously from this bifurcation of expertise, with his scores for the "Matrix" trilogy reflecting the pioneering breath of innovation typically reserved for more "serious" music. I was, therefore, eager to see what he had done in his first full-blown opera.

I wasn't disappointed. Mr. Davis exploits a wide-ranging wealth of musical techniques to create coherence and unity in his opera Rio de Sangre, and although the musical style is at times challenging, the intricacy and depth of the work easily bears repeated listenings and yeilds ample rewards for doing so. A propulsive three-act libretto builds a tale incorporating the familiar Shakesperian thematic foci that explore the problematic nature of power, ambition, corruption and betrayal, offering a splendid exposition of the disjunction between aspiration and reality.
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Format: Audio CD
This recording captures well the performance of the premiere of Río de Sangre by the Florentine Opera Company. Near the beginning there is a jubilant family full of hope and optimism. The young son, Miguel, is going through confirmation in a palace chapel. The father, Christian Delacruz, had just become president having replaced a brutal dictator. To an adoring crowd he spoke of creating freedom where there had been tyranny. Igneo, a political idealist like Delacruz, asks for the daughter Blanca's hand in marriage. Antonia, mother and wife, is beside herself in joy. For an extended moment there is a happy family. Their joy is palpable. It is in their voices. It is infused in the ever-evolving kaleidoscope of rich orchestral colors.

The joy does not last long. While there is a good dose of merengue music performed by a cantina band whenever Christian visits a local bar as well as the romance of Blanca and Igneo, Río de Sangre is a slow ride down the road of madness, treachery, and shattered dreams. Soon to come are an earthquake, a cholera outbreak, rioting, kidnapping, subterfuge, mistakes, misunderstanding, murder, hysteria - and yes, lots of blood. And this descent to hell is highlighted by some amazing vocal performances as well as by the talents of the composer, Don Davis. The score is modern - you are not going to hum any tunes afterward - and yet it is continually engrossing and vibrant.

Early in Act 3 there is a memorable scene in which mother and daughter, Antonia and Blanca, both sing of their collapsed worlds. It is a dreamy scene in which time seems to slow way down and first Blanca, then Antonia, and then Blanca sing in long, poetic phrases. It is the calm before the inevitable storm - the time after tragic events and before even more tragic events.
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