Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dr Dee: An English Opera



Dr Dee An English Opera by Damon Albarn
 Damon Albarn has spent the good part of the last decade producing music a million miles away from his band blur and traveling all over the globe listening to music from as many different cultures as he could. This of course has led to a massive output of original and fascinating pieces. All these travels from Gorillaz to Chinese opera bring him full circle to a different kind of Brit Pop.
Dr Dee An English Opera.
Originally meant to be collaboration between Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and Michael Moore for the Manchester International Festival it fell on Albarn’s broad shoulders to carry the project when Hewlett and Moore moved onto other projects. The original Manchester Festival performance and the later Onefest performance are different from the album reviewed here. Albarn has said the piece has been an evolving project and when it is to be performed in June for the Cultural Olympiad he hopes to have a proper narrative running through the whole performance.
But back to the May album release.
Without the narrative Dr Dee seems like an experiment in medieval pop and there are some wonderful pieces here. The much promoted Apple Carts and The Dancing King (originally titled The Reigning Queen) are two standouts but it’s the three tiered The Moon: Exalted that is a highlight with soprano Victoria Couper and Albarn giving the song a strong emotional edge and mingled in and out some beautiful thematic melodies to add more sadness to what comes across as a song of regret and loss.
The use of traditional instruments builds an atmosphere of time and place but its Albarns vocals that give the album it’s true Englishness. This is no more evident with Marvelous Dream (originally titled Claxton), sadly in the earlier versions the chorus included a woodwind compliment that gave it an almost carnival feel. It still shines as another great piece of poppy traditional music.
All up Dr Dee delivers a great selection of tunes that crosses a broad sphere of musical tastes and once again shows Albarns brilliance as a song craftsman. I look forward to the inevitable DVD release of later performances hopefully with the full stage performance with narrative and actors. Then we will rally see this music shine.

 Other Bits!
 The melody of Apple Carts and part of the Tree of Beauty can be heard on the DVD The making of Plastic Beach soundtrack that came with the special edition of the Plastic Beach CD in 2010. Both Albarn and Moore have conflicting reasons why the colloboration failed to work out but the work Alan Moore did do for the project (unfinished) was published in Strange Attractor.
The track Nine Point Star originally featured an actor reciting matjamatical equations delivered over a Tony Allen's drum progression

 The Moon: Exalted original version (with it's original title To Love Another)
   

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