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CD Review

John Cage

Europeras 3 & 4

Performers include:
Suzan Hanson, Anne-Marie Ketchum, Daisietta Kim, sopranos
Ruby Hinds, Patricia McAfee, mezzo-sopranos
Michael Lyon, Richard Powell, tenors
Kevin Bell, bass
Vicki Ray, Brian Pezzone, pianos
Long Beach Opera, Directed by Andrew Culver
Mode 38/39 DDD? 2CDs: 70:00, 30:08
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

This set is Volume 10 of Mode Records's ongoing Complete John Cage Edition. These are première recordings, taped in Long Beach's Center Theater in November 1993. Europera 3 was recorded in concert; Europera 4 was recorded without an audience "because of its intimate nature."

I reviewed Europera 5 (Mode 36) several months ago, and it's interesting to compare this work with its two predecessors. Europera 3 is a loud and noisy party, a Circus Maximus, a sensory overload. Europera 4 is a mellow little gathering of a few friends. Cage intended these two works to be performed together. Europera 5 is free-standing and in some ways (length, complexity), it's a condensation of 3 and 4, although it seems to incorporate a stronger visual element.

Europera 3 takes seventy minutes and contains thousands of cues. Its elements include six operatic singers singing six arias of their own choice, fragments of three hundred 78-rpms, two pianists playing excerpts from Liszt's operatic paraphrases, "truckera" (a composite tape of more than a hundred superimposed arias – an almost violent presence in this work), lighting, and movement. Europera 3 takes only thirty minutes and contains only 275 cues. The labor is divided between two singers, a distant truckera tape, and the "shadow-playing" of Liszt's transcriptions in which the piano's keys are pressed so lightly that the sound that comes out is accidental. To present another anology, Europera 3 is the feverish activity in a big city hospital's emergency room, and Europera 4 is what happens after the patient has died. This is a bit too simplistic, though, because all of the Europeras that I've heard tend to sound like messages from the afterlife.

Cage intended Europera 3 "to make a theatre which is the synergetic coming together of its separate elements" and perhaps he intended its successor to be its ghostly echo. Whatever his intention, Cage's Europeras stimulate us to think about how and why we listen, and the nature of nostalgia and memory, operatic or other. Most of us heard our first operas "accidentally" (fathers washing cars to the Saturday broadcasts from the Metropolitan, mothers humming Puccini as they ironed shirts), and so hearing these works can be a bittersweet experience because of the familiarity of their components and the strangeness of their synthesis.

Honest sound and excellent presentation enhance this set's desirability. The 79-page booklet alone would be a necessary purchase for Cage's admirers. Next up from Cage and Mode: the number pieces, to be reviewed here soon.

Copyright © 1996, Raymond Tuttle