There was something called 'The Exotic Muse' last night at the Library of Congress. Thespis and Calliope would not have been amused, but there was much fine music in this unusual program.
Rare treats by Busoni, Knussen, Debussy and Holst promised much, and the musical side of things was rather nice. The instrumental transparency of Busoni's "Berceuse Elegiaque" -- subtitled "the man's lullaby at his mother's coffin" -- was poignant in Schoenberg's chamber arrangement. Knussen's haunting "Ophelia Dances" proved that madness can be bliss as the heroine danced toward her end with a light and eerie step.
The finest work, however, disappointed. Debussy's "Chanson de Bilitis" for narrator, two flutes, two harps and celesta was a tasteless mess. Its unusual colors remained vivid; but nothing else worked. Rheda Becker declaimed the words but never meant them; her speech had vulgar precision and bogus refinement. There was also an amateur slide show, militantly unfocused and underlit. To add insult to injury, the audience was made to suffer the fool's gold of amplified sound in a hall where any trained actor could easily project a real voice.
Holst's short opera "Savitri" fared much better. This tale of a woman's fight with Death himself for her husband's life is hardly a masterpiece, but it is fascinating. It was brightly sung and acted by Linda Mabbs in the title role, with Stanley Cornett as her husband and Ben Holt in rich voice as Death.