Ice doubles the glass/divides in here from out there/white webbing the dark/– glazing patch wire branch and stone/crazing the snow’s smooth expanse/one red and one black/two koi move, each one solo/now this way now that/swim beneath a frozen sky/longing for another sun/your coat around me/hollowing out your pillow/your lamp still burning/making snow angels in sheets–nothing warms our empty bed/divides in here from out there
Thus begins Douglas Knehans’ monodrama BACKWARDS FROM WINTER, with a libretto by Juanita Rockwell, a work for voice, electronic cello and electronics issued by ablaze records (ar-00054)
BACKWARDS FROM WINTER is an unusually structured musical journey taken in a retrograde manner, commencing with a desolate depiction of a woman in a darkening winter of the physical world and the soul.
Longing, separation, grief – are motives that will echo throughout a four chapter account that begins with the chill of winter, then moves to the cool of fall, then to the heat of summer, and finally to the joys of spring, with interludes separating the sections, in each of which the emotions that began the trip into memory gradually change from utter desolation to recent grief to the memory of intense passion to the hope eternal that lives in spring.
With great economy of means composer Douglas Knehans has created a potently compelling composition for the stage that should prove utterly viable for production now more than ever in the perilous world in which the arts live.
Conceived for soprano voice and one non-singing actor and scored for one accompanying instrument and electronics, BACKWARDS FROM WINTER should allow great freedom to any stage director, given its poetic, non-linear narrative.
The role of the woman is taxing, calling for endurance and utter comfort in the upper reaches of the soprano range, demands that do not seem to faze soprano Judith Weusten, who delivers an impressively sung and intensely expressive performance in this recording.
The electronic cello part is beautifully played by Antonis Pratsinakis, and composer Knehans provides all manner of electronic effects, strongly supported by engineers Greg Gurr and Silas Brown.
All in all BACKWARDS FROM WINTER is a superb chamber opera whose future – we fervently hope – will be bright and fruitful.
Rafael de Acha www.RafaelMusicNotes.com September 24, 2020