Noel Akchote (musical director), Stefan Winter (producer), & friends “Der Kastanienball (The Chestnut Ball): The Fall of Lucrezia Borgia” [Winter & Winter]
A ‘cabaret-opera? is what they’re calling this, and it’s a fair description. In episodic fashion, an array of players tell the story of Lucrezia Borgia, illegitimate daughter of the family whose ruthless politics in 16th century northern Italy came to define ‘Machiavellian? (her dad was ‘elected? Pope, she had 5 husbands, supposedly killed 3 of them… the list goes on). It’s in VII parts but with many more tracks. Part III, The Rape of the Virgin, is clearly the dramatic centerpiece of the work.
This particular setting of her story (and there are many, including: a Donizetti opera, which is quoted, and the 1949 Paulette Goddard vehicle Bride of Vengeance) makes her more of a victim than a player; witness her frail delivery of Over The Rainbow after being raped. Inbetween scenes, Machiavelli himself comes out and narrates in German, always over the same or similar (and some of the only original) music, a little guitar or accordion lament. ‘I’m not so sure that these tracks by themselves will be very interesting. The scenes themselves are just appropriated opera tunes (from Gesualdo, Donizetti, Offenbach, Wagner) or songs (Arlen, Spoliansky, Bach, Machaut, Stevie Wonder, Schiffer, Hatch, Schumann, Geldof, Freddie Mercury) in arrangements mostly by the pianist Fumio Yasuda, sung by the various characters: Lucrezia, her father the pope, her totally evil brother Cesare, the papal whore Giulia, and welcome appearances by Sadiq Bey and Theo Bleckmann lecturing us as Savonarola and Martin Luther. A few instrumentals are mixed in. Every once in a while Jim Thirlwell’s theremin and Steve Beresford’s electronics add a warm series of layers to the melee. A few selections track together, which is dramatically important, but makes it unfortunate if, for example, you want to listen to Noel Akchote’s opening guitar lullabye without then hearing Machiavelli bemoan in German for several minutes.
Despite the vicious subject matter, this release feels candy-coated, like a Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack (is this a W&W trademark? Those Uri Caine releases are also sickly sweet).
-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006
you heard it 32 times on kfjc! most recently:
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