Classical CD Reviews

ELODIE LAUTEN: The Death of Don Juan – Randi Larowitz, soprano/ Elodie Lauten, Fairlight CMI, harpsichord, trine, alto and contralto/ Bill Raynor, electric guitar/ Arthur Russell, cello and tenor/ Steven Sauber, bass and speaker – Unseen Worlds Records

A post-minimalist classic resurfaces—but is it really worth the fuss?

Published on July 24, 2008

ELODIE LAUTEN: The Death of Don Juan – Randi Larowitz, soprano/ Elodie Lauten, Fairlight CMI, harpsichord, trine, alto and contralto/ Bill Raynor, electric guitar/ Arthur Russell, cello and tenor/ Steven Sauber, bass and speaker – Unseen Worlds Records

ELODIE LAUTEN: The Death of Don Juan – Randi Larowitz, soprano/ Elodie Lauten, Fairlight CMI, harpsichord, trine, alto and contralto/ Bill Raynor, electric guitar/ Arthur Russell, cello and tenor/ Steven Sauber, bass and speaker/ Peter Zummo, trombone – Unseen Worlds Records (www.unseenworlds.net), 51:57 ***:

Elodie Lauten’s The Death of Don Juan is a pseudo-opera/psychological drama presentation where the Don comes to terms with his debauched life through encountering death in the form of a woman. In the end, he comes to terms with his actions and is able to forgive himself, and is forgiven. This is not an opera in the conventional sense by any means; in fact, it is more a study of emotional and psychological scenes that take place in an almost mystical, meditative environment more in relation to Zen than Zemlinsky. WNYC’s John Schaefer, who wrote some of the notes for this production, even goes so far as to demonstrate an ignorance of the meaning of traditional opera when he says that the Don’s mental breakdown is shown here “far better than the usual operatic silliness where a person who’s going crazy actually takes time out to sing about it.” Of course, anyone who knows and understands opera realizes how silly a statement this is: opera is a stylized art form, where we are able to peer behind the obvious reality to find out the hidden emotions and activities that take place outside of the incident itself to better our understanding of what is happening to the person or people.

This piece was on WNYC’s Top Ten for the year 1985, and is resurfacing to make a bit of a comeback. I am not convinced of its absolute validity outside of the cultish environment where it surfaced and will undoubtedly continue to draw breath; some of the music is quite nice, reminding me of Tangerine Dream’s score for Risky Business, also composed during the same time period, but other parts are not so aurally attractive. Seeing this on stage may make a difference, as it seems to in so many works where the music fails to maintain interest from a purely sonic standpoint. Nevertheless, I do not want to shortchange it, as there are some things of interest, though I do not always get the connection between the music and what is supposed to be happening at any given moment dramatically speaking. However, you might, and I may be the one struggling with anachronism.

The sound is close and vivid, while the performance seems completely acceptable and no doubt definitive due to the presence and participation of the composer. If you are familiar with this work, here it is; if not, I would suggest a real fascination with the minimalist school and its experimentations as a pre-requisite before diving in to this. On the other hand, it has achieved somewhat of a classic status in certain circles.

– Steven Ritter




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