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Two Chamber Operas:
Phantasmagorilla? No! Phantasmagoria & Clepsydra

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• CD Review by Colin Clarke of Fanfare Magazine (July/Aug 2009)

AMAYA Phantasmagorilla? No, Phantasmagoria!1 Clepsydra2 • Efraín Amaya, cond; Amadís Amaya (Bernard);1 Charlene Canty (Opera Singer, Mrs. Cirkem);1 Sean Donaldson (Father);1 Annie Rago (Nessie);1 Kimberley Steinhauer (Mother, Grandmother);1 Jeanne Wentworth (woman);2 Douglas Ahlstedt (Man);2 Point CO • ALBANY TROY 1075 (54:23)

Venezuelan-born Efrain Amaya is both the composer here and conductor (he is founder and music director of The Point Chamber Orchestra). The wittily titled Phantasmagorilla? No, Phantasmagoria! is set in America, in 2006. A boy is taken to the opera by his parents. He knows he will fall asleep and, sure enough, he does just that. The opera tracks his adventures in dream-space, including a reinterpretation of his father's role as hunter of gorillas: the gorillas turn on Bernard's father, stating their environmental case about the forests in the process.

The performance is slick. As Amaya's compositional voice includes (but is certainly not limited to) minimalism, it needs to be slick to be effective. Bernard, the boy star of the opera, is played by Amadis Amaya (whose mother is the opera's librettist, Susana Amundarain). He is confident and conveys the idea of the ever-curious child. Charlene Canty is a tremendous singer (she doubles as Opera Singer and Mrs. Cirkem, attaining ecstatic heights at the end of the imagined opera). Sean Donaldson (as the father) is perhaps not as steady.

Amaya uses simple but effective means to evoke atmospheres (as when it goes dark and the boy Bernard is left scared at the results of his wishing everyone away). Towards the opera's end, it is wordless music itself that enchants Bernard, and Amaya is, indeed, enchanting in his delivery. It would be better to see the opera, as it seems full of delightful and intriguing moments, but for the moment this audio-only document will suffice.

The coupling, Clepsydra, is subtitled "an operatic installation with 13 performers." Again, the librettist is Susana Amundarain, this time in conjunction with Carol Clavonne. The piece celebrates the collaborative spirit in the arts and involves music, painting, writing, video, and multimedia installation. The clepsydra of the title refers to an Egyptian water clock (although the word we use actually derives from the Greek; as does the word "hieroglyph," for example), which enabled people (particularly priests) to tell the time at night. There are three parts to the piece: "The Dreams," "The Eclipse," and "The Ritual," although in the music itself these three units overlap. The videos represent the creation of time through the flow of water and the repetitive way of dream space. There are only three characters, a Man, a Woman, and a whispering ensemble.

The music here is often intensely beautiful. Whereas in Phantasmagorilla one admires the sure hand of construction and, indeed, the wit, here one is transported to what might be termed higher realms. Minimalism is again touched upon at the "Transform" part of "The Ritual" (The sands shift in rare geometry). The important thing to grasp here is that, for all of its multimedia basis, Clepsydra works beautifully as a musical construct, and as imagined theater. As an aside, if ancient Egyptian ritual makes you curious, I recommend the fascinating book, Heka: The Practices of Ancient Egyptian Ritual and Magic, by David Rankine (published by Avalonia books:

Unfortunately, although both operas are generously tracked, the track points are not included in the provided libretto. Colin Clarke

This article originally appeared in Issue 32:6 (July/Aug 2009) of Fanfare Magazine.

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