Adrian Partington Singers
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
The "Poisoned Kiss," VW's "romantic extravaganza," was written whilst
he was working on "Sir John in Love" and the ballet "Job." Model influences
include Gilbert and Sullivan, Mozart of the "Magic Flute," and Bizet's
Carmen. The "Poisoned Kiss" is a lightly-textured opera with an abundance
of lovely songs, an absence of recitative, and some small bits of spoken
dialog, (thankfully) compressed and softened by Ursula Vaughan Williams.
Having listened, I can see a resemblance to the above influences, but
I believe that these "tips of the hat" are more structural than musical.
Musically speaking, VW invests the score with a breezy lyricism that is
often profoundly beautiful-think of an English Canteloube if you will.
VW, through his correspondence with librettist Evelyn Sharp, seems to
have been concerned that the opera "was becoming too serious," and losing
it's comic sensibility. I find, ironically, that it should have stayed
that way. When the sublimely-crafted intimate moments of the
score --Tormentilla's 'Lullaby,' the duet "Blue Larkspur in a garden,"
or the extended love duet beginning with "There was a time" for instance--
pass and the "light opera" comes back, it can be jarring and almost a
let-down, like waking up from a dream. "Flos Campi" mysticism then a
Carmen-like Tango! There is plenty of ingratiating orchestral magic in
the extrovert sections--more is discovered upon repeat hearings--it's
just that I hear two VW's at work with regards to inspiration. The comic
just doens't stand up to the sublime.
The libretto bothered me at first. There are ensemble pieces of the
"scrub and rub-a-dub" variety, though I forced myself to get over it.
After all, why should "Spinne, spinne tausend Fadchen" sound any less
embarrassing in Wagner's "Dutchman" just because I don't understand
German? (Spin, spin a thousand threads.) The "Poisoned Kiss" is about
an evil magician, Dipsacus, who brings up his daughter on poisons so
that the first man she kisses will die, (of course he doesn't and they
all live happily ever after), and so we listen to the daughter, Tormentilla,
ask for a glass of Cyanide or Vitriol, (on ice or on the rocks?) as
she whiles away the afternoon. Again, just concentrate on the music.
The libretto originated from a short story, "The Poisoned Maid, by Dr.
Richard Garnett, which was in turn derived from one of Hawthorne's short
stories, "Rappaccini's Daughter." All you have to know is that the kiss
of love is the remedy for all poisons. And VW's music is the remedy for
all bad.OK, I'll stop it, but I just wasn't impressed by the libretto.
Hickox and Co. are wonderful, the voices of the leads Janice Watson and
James Gilchrist are fresh and youthful-sounding; the warm and resonant
acoustic works very well for voice and orchestra. Two-channel is fine,
but SACD surround is even finer-voice and orchestra both gain more space
and palpability. VW's string-laden climaxes unfold like great wings,
as the soundstage is increased dramatically in both width and depth.
There are a few effects--cat meows, thunder and wind--, that are quite
effective and fun in surround and add quite a bit to the atmosphere of
the story. My dog even cocked his head at certain points. Vintage