In “Europera 3” and “Europera 4,” both dating from 1990,
John Cage (1912-1992) sought to combine the operatic
experience into single theatrical situations, during which
the dramatic elements were organized via chance
operations and loosely determined boundaries.
The director of this two-CD recording, Andrew Culver,
collaborated directly with John Cage on these works,
as well as on “Europera 1,” “Europera 2” and
“Europera 5.” The performers were from the Long
Beach Opera, which has been renowned for its
“cutting edge” productions of lesser-known repertoire.
These pieces definitely fit that description! In this set,
“Europera 3” was the longer of the two. At a running time
of 70 minutes, it required six singers, two pianists,
12 Victrola record players operated by six people, and
a person controlling a composite of more than 100
superimposed operas, known as a “Truckera” tape.
“Europera 4” is featured on the second CD. At a running
time of 30 minutes, it only required two sopranos,
one piano, one Victrola, and a Truckera tape in the distance.
Of course, with an audio recording, the visual element was
missing, as well as the lighting requirements, but I’d say
that Cage’s vision was realized, given the circumstances.
These recordings were done on November 13, 1993,
with “Europera 3” performed before a live audience. No live
spectators were present for the recording of “Europera 4.”
These performances can lay claim to being authentic,
vis-à-vis Culver’s close collaboration with Cage, in all
aspects of these works. I hate to use the term,
“definitive,” because the very nature of these pieces and
much of Cage’s music represents the antithesis of that
which is planned or predicted. In fact, I believe that this
composer would consider the word “definitive” oxymoronic,
in reference to any of his works.
What of the music itself? Both of these pieces are comprised
of various well-known, operatic arias that are both
prerecorded and sung live, in combination with paraphrases
of Franz Liszt’s works performed by the pianist(s). In fact,
the pieces are actually chosen by the various performers,
and their “entrances happen at chance points” during the
course of the performance. It’s like entering a party in a
dream and overhearing the conversations. By contrast,
“Europera 4” requires fewer performers and is more
ethereal and “ghostly.”
As with much of John Cage’s works, these are conceptual
compositions in that there isn’t much original “music” per se;
the “compositions” are an amalgamation of preexisting
music, arranged in a novel fashion.
It was definitely an adventure in listening. Did I like
these compositions? Not really, but once I bought
into the concept, I could appreciate the achievement.
The accompanying booklet was also very helpful,
in that regard.
Even if few people care to listen, Andrew Culver,
Long Beach Opera, the various performers, and the
MODE record label should be commended for making
these pieces available to the public for the first time.