Liza Lim: Singing in Tongues

Liza Lim: Singing in Tongues

Huddersfield Contemporary Records
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Release date: 15 October 2021

This three-disc collection documents the operas and major vocal works composed by Liza Lim for ELISION, Australia’s preeminent new music ensemble, with whom Lim has maintained a close collaborative relationship for nearly four decades. As with all of her works for the stage, here Lim embraces opera’s opportunities to explore radical ideas of anthropological ritual, transculturalism, transfiguration, and the spiritual dimensions of myth, memory, language, and culture.

To sing, in Lim’s operas, is an act of ventriloquism through which a body onstage becomes possessed by a second powerful presence—multiple characters, identities, truths, or temporalities vie for embodiment through the voice. There is perhaps no better example of Lim’s staging of this flickering presence than in the ‘Angel of History’ aria at the end of the first scene of The Navigator (2008). The character, borrowed from Walter Benjamin’s meditation on Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, is a paradoxical creature who gazes upon the past while being bulleted into the future, caught at the wings by the storm of human progress. As a result, The Angel speaks with a voice that is at once part beast, part deity, part bird, and part human, combining past, present, and future in a single conjugation.

In addition to The Navigator, these discs include world-premiere recordings of Chang-O Flies to the Moon—the sixth scene from Lim‘s opera Yuè Lìng Jié (Moon Spirit Feasting) (2000), in which Chang-O struggles to reconcile in a single body the many versions of herself that populate her myth—and Mother Tongue (2005), perhaps the most significant vocal work of Lim’s beyond the operas, a meditation on the ecology of language and also a radical act of preservation: encased in Patricia Sykes’ libretto are words and sounds from Aboriginal languages now on the brink of extinction.

These are joined by The Oresteia (1993), a remarkable work—even more so considering it was only Lim’s third published composition, undertaken just shy of her twenty-fifth birthday—which was originally released by Dischi Ricordi in 1994, but has long been out of print. This “memory theater in seven parts” summons the characters of Orestes, Electra, Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and Agamemnon into a space to revive, rather than retell, their unrequited feud. The libretto weaves single-word fragments from the Greek play with Tony Harrison’s modern English translation and the poetry of Sappho.

Disc 1: The Oresteia (1993)
Julie Edwardson, Deborah Kayser, Tyrone Landau, Andrew Muscat-Clark, Grant Smith, Jeannie van de Velde, Sandro Gorli (conductor)

Disc 2: Chang-O Flies to the Moon, scene 6 from Yuè Lìng Jié (Moon Spirit Feasting) (2000)
Deborah Kayser (soprano) (Chang-O, the Moon Goddess), Simon Hewett (conductor)

Mother Tongue (2005)
Piia Komsi (soprano), Jean Deroyer (conductor)

Disc 3: The Navigator (2008)
Omar Ebrahim, Deborah Kayser, Philip Larson, Talise Trevigne, Andrew Watts, Manuel Nawri (conductor)





"Its airy extended techniques, snatches of luminous vocal harmony and gnarly full-ensemble blasts of sound give a sense of Lim’s approach to music drama: It’s more about traveling between timbres than it is about moving from one plot point to the next." The New York Times

"The vocal writing, and the instrumental parts that seem indissolubly fused with it, is visceral, confrontational, and totally compelling, and the work takes on an exceptional power and directness; it’s hard to believe that Lim was just 24 when she composed it." The Guardian

"Lim’s brilliant orchestral admixtures match the resonant depth of her themes, and an enduring association with the ensemble ELISION has ensured that performances, with judiciously chosen vocalists, are equal to the scores." The Wire

"The music of Australian composer Liza Lim turns opera on its head, finding thrilling new paths for contemporary vocal music," The Quietus

Release date: 15 October 2021
Catalogue number: HCR25