Maile Colbert: Come Kingdom Come
Two Acorns

Maile Colbert's so-called “experimental opera”—“experimental chamber opera” might be more accurate—is a tad mystifying but no less pleasurable for being so. On content grounds, The New Testament's “Book of Revelation” acts as as a springboard for a work conceptually rooted in ideas about apocalypse and the recent millennium turn; musically, the score blends Ian Colbert's poetry with medieval chant and features the singing of the classically trained soprano Gabriela Crowe as well as guest contributions of unspecified design from Tellemake (tracks one, three, five, and six) and Jessica Constable and Rui Costa (track eight).

That Colbert, a media artist, writer, and educator who once lived in Los Angeles but now calls Lisbon, Portugal home, has created something unconventional—at least as far as traditional opera conventions are concerned—is readily apparent from the outset, with “Ouverture For That Day” eschewing the customary orchestral sounds for electronic textures one more associates with ambient-electronic soundscaping. Choral voices emerge quietly, their presence muted somewhat by a dense swirl of electroacoustic sounds and nature field recordings. The seven parts that follow likewise challenge expectations by in some ways falling in line with opera conventions—in Crowe's refined delivery, for example—but in other ways deviating boldly from them, particularly in the experimental sound design. Perhaps the boldest display of contrast occurs when “Act Three, Day From Arrival” merges programmed beat patterns and electronics with baroque string elements and church organ.

A hallucinatory quality often permeates the work, in particular when Crowe's supplications intermix with other disembodied voices, choral and otherwise, within the haunted dronescapes “Act One, Begins,” “Act Four, Four Falling Branches,” and “Act Five, A Fluid Dawn.” As dreamlike is “Act Two, Two Vessels,” where murkiness is embraced to a marked degree. As compelling as Colbert's work is, it's Crowe's contribution to the recording that merits special mention. Without her presence, the work's oft-ponderous instrumental presentation would come across as emotionally cool and less involving; to cite one example, Crowe's anguished expression raises the emotional temperature of “Act One, Begins,” and her singing makes a critical difference elsewhere, too. Come Kingdom Come is an enigmatic work but a captivating tapestry nonetheless, and one Will Long should be proud to have appear on his Two Acorns label.

January 2014