|Philip Glass' latest recording "The Voyage" is indeed one of the composers' most brilliant works for the stage. The opera is an oblique portrait of Christopher Columbus and its main theme is not set on him per se but more on discovery itself. Along with writer David Henry Hwang and the expert conducting of Dennis Russel Davies with the Landestheater Linz, "The Voyage" creates a real adventure in both sound and in imagination.
The plot of the opera is best described as a pageant of poetic questions of man's quest of the unknown. The opera's empassioned Prologue features a scientist and chorus posing questions about the universe, the first act is set on an alien spaceship crashing into Earth during the Ice Age, its crew members subsequently exploring their personal callings on the new planet. The second act is set on Columbus' 32nd day at sea. Here with his crew and Queen Isabella (who is only presnt in his thoughts), the composer presents a dreamy reflection of the many hopes and fears of this uncertain voyage at sea. The third act is set in 2092 at the launch of a space shuttle with astronauts seeking out radio signals from a distant planet. The opera ends with Columbus on his deathbed. He again with Queens Isabella share a final aria in which he clearly states his intentions as an explorer.
Musically the work is standard Glass. However though his chugging rythyms and ever present reams of arrepegios are also coupled here with subtle experimentations in harmony, disonance, and irregular timbres. Throughout the opera themes flow in and out of a sort of aural tapestry creating a sense of dramatic tension that is usually not present in Glass' work. As a result "The Voyage" is an unusually rich opera that proves that even Glass can challenge himself to write a work that goes beyond his often mannered style of composition.
From the uneasy rumblings of the Prologue to the gloriously triumphant ending of Act 1 on into the dark elegaic lines that snake throughout most of Act 2 and the often bright comedic moments of Act 3 on into the daunting end of the Epilogue. "The Voyage" is indeed one of Philip Glass' most appealing works to date. Ricardo Francis