Bridge records is an outstanding company which has taken on the production of several “complete works” sets of some of the finest 20th and 21st century composers (Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Harry Partch et al). A combination of excellent scholarship, top notch musicians, and state of the art recording techniques virtually assures that these will be definitive productions. Any Bridge release is a cause for celebration and this is a fine example of why that is so.
Poul Ruders (1949- ) is the subject of one of those complete works projects. If you like modern classical and haven’t yet encountered this composer you are in for a treat. Ruders is a highly skilled composer with positively lucid orchestration skills. I first encountered his work on the 1988 album Manhattan Abstraction which led my hungry ears to the 1992 Bridge release Psalmodies, then Gong/Tundra on Chandos and now anything with Ruders’ name on it compels my attention.
This release contains Ruders’ fifth opera. It is a relatively brief (all on one disc) but very charming piece in which producers David Starobin and Becky Starobin play multiple roles including as librettists, conductor (David Starobin shares conducting duties with Benjamin Shwartz), and production design all done with loving attention to detail.
The opera is a charming little fairy tale which showcases Ruders’ facility with drama. Speaking of the composer’s style (this reviewer hears him, especially in his earlier works, as a sort of noisy modernist but one who has not abandoned lyricism) is ultimately a minor detail because his music engages (as opposed to challenges) the listener in the natural flow of the narrative. This is a very listenable and entertaining little opera whose two acts fit on a single CD. Included is a set of notes and the libretto in a beautifully designed slipcase.
The opera was a joint commission from the Odense Symphony and the wonderfully adventurous Santa Fe Opera. It is a fairy tale opera with a happy ending. I won’t go into detail as to the story except to say that it follows some of the more charming conventions of fantasy including kings, queens, princes, successors, family conflicts, and magical occurrences which move the story along. The recording is wonderful as per the standards of the Bridge brand and the performances are heartfelt. Any opera lover will likely love this release and anyone interested in contemporary composition, particularly of the wonderful Poul Ruders must have this record.