This opera based on Chekhov by composer/conductor Peter
Eötvös is perverse in many ways. The three sisters are all
counter tenors, in an all-male cast, that for no reason I can comprehend
or have seen adequately explained. A production photo shows that the first
production by Ushio Amagatsu, was in Japanese guise, so there is an obvious
link with Kabuki tradition.
It may likely all have been much clearer in the theatre, without
an additional struggle to identify the characters. Natasha is another
counter-tenor (a field day for their employment!) and the old nurse Anfisa,
a bass. None of that makes for easy listening.
Nor does the libretto, by Claus Henneberg and the composer. Sections of the
plot are dissected and reconstituted three times, in a Birtwistlian manner.
Unless you know the original play inside out, you will be hopelessly lost
much of the time. The music is for long stretches slow, indeed static. There
are two orchestras, a chamber orchestra of individual instruments associated
with particular characters, and a larger main orchestra placed behind the
Despite all the foregoing, some of the music is arresting and afterwards
haunting, and for those not completely put off, worth the effort. Importantly,
The Three Sisters has achieved considerable international success, with
productions scheduled this year and last in Holland, Germany and Hungary,
with female singers in the latter.
This lavishly produced recording is of the premiere in Lyon. The recording,
made in the theatre, is good and well documented. There are additional tracks
of listening guides by the composer. The names of the singers were not known
to me and are not
reproduced above. This is one to try to sample before purchase.
Of Peter Eötvös's earlier music, his Chinese Opera for stereo
orchestra, intended for theatrical and cinematographical presentation, has
long been a favourite in my CD collection [Erato ECD 75554] and there is
an enthusiastic review of his recent
zero points in
S&H, February 2000.
Peter Grahame Woolf