Justin Dello Joio
Edvard Grieg – Njí¥l Sparbo, bass
Nina Grieg – Marianne Andersen, mezzo soprano
Doctor Rossing – Torben Grue, baritone
Percy Grainger – Nils Harald Sí¸dal, tenor
The Norwegian Wind Ensemble – Kenneth Jean, conductor
This one act chamber opera, scored for only a handful of voices and winds, is amazingly colorful and nuanced in orchestration and full of lyrical power. The introduction, for winds alone, oozes and shimmers while presenting one of the accompaniment’s best used leitmotifs – rapid crescendos and decrescendos in the various instrument choirs. The scoring for winds (with a solo violin and bass) provides a reedy, dark, and luscious grounding for the lyrical gifts of the singers. When Njí¥l Sparbo, as Grieg, erupts with a call of “Silence!,” the ensemble is properly put into its place.
The vocalists in this work, telling the tale of Grieg on his deathbed, exude strong emotional profiles without every devolving into melodrama. The libretto, by Andrew Boyle, is tight, poetic, and gives us the emotional cores of the action instead of simply chugging through plot descriptions. Sparbo, in particular, seethes with rage at his current situation and surroundings. Marianne Andersen, as Nina Grieg, is equally skilled at giving a powerful and touching performance. Even a part that could have been a simple plot device, Doctor Rossing, is brought to emotional life by Torben Grue. Percy Grainger, sung by Nils Harald Sí¸dal, is vital and energetic.
I keep using the word “powerful.” There is a reason (other than lack of vocabulary). This is a moving, colorful, and emotional composition. This is opera done right. All the energies in this work are focused upon the emotions of each character and the deeper subtext beyond the surface events. The ending of the opera is nebulous and does not clearly convey the action in this audio-only setting. The plot description lacks details on this moment as well, but the music is ethereal and touching so my lack of visual stimulus doesn’t bother me. I want to see this opera, which I find is a good reaction to just hearing the work. Blue Mountain is lean and lithe. Dello Joio’s compositional craft and attention to emotional trajectories combine in a strongly effective (and affecting) opera.