ROSS CREAN (b.19??): The Great God Pan.
Catalogue Number: 08T084
Label: Navona Records
Description: Crean's opera, to his own libretto, is based on Arthur Machen's 1890 novella, a tale of supernatural horrors in the tradition of Lovecraft (who admired Machen's work) and M.R. James. This is to say that the gruesome events are described in literary terms with a degree of detachment by third-party observers, rather than being flung in one's face with nothing left to the imagination (which is thus free to conjure abominations that defy the writer's, film-maker's or comic-book illustrator's skill) in the modern fashion. Crean makes the entirely valid point that the novella contains a great deal of inexplicit subtext about the place of women in the Victorian society in which it was written, with its inequality between the sexes and dismissal of anything seen as 'otherness' or eccentricity in a woman as a potential threat. In fact, in the story, no female character has any dialogue whatsoever, and this despite the fact that a woman - or something that looks like a woman - is behind the disturbing events that lend the story the essence of its chilling drama. So in preparing the libretto he has taken some liberties, fleshing out the female characters with motivation and reflection, rather than merely moving them around the narrative like chess pieces, and in one case making a male character into a woman to no deleterious effect upon the sense of the story. Musically this works very well, as it permits some gorgeous arias for the newly minted female principals. Crean's idiom is strongly tonal, with much use of ominous ostinato figuration and chromatic harmony underpinning soaring vocal lines of admirable clarity. This is the composer's performing version of the piece for chamber forces, ingeniously scored for voices and two pianos, one of them variously prepared and played extensively in extended techniques, very effectively hinting at the colorful orchestration that is presumably to come when he finishes it. 2 CDs for the price of 1. Libretto available online. Tobias Wright (tenor), Matthan Ring Black (baritone), Sarah Thompson Johansen (soprano), Erin Moll (mezzo), Stephen Uhl (prepared piano), John Cockerill (piano), Catherine O’Shaughnessy (conductor).