Facing Goya review | The Arts DeskMay 27th, 2011
Michael Nyman: Facing Goya Soloists, Michael Nyman Band/Michael Nyman (MN Records)
Michael Nyman’s jaunty brand of Minimalism is still powerfully evocative – memories of late-night screenings of impenetrable Peter Greenaway films came flooding back within seconds of starting to listen to Facing Goya. Plot wise, there’s a lot going on, and those chugging rhythms do keep us interested. Nyman’s music is often harmonically lively, never lapsing into New Age stasis. Victoria Hardie’s occasionally baffling libretto begins with an unsung account of the painter’s body being exhumed years after his death, minus its head. What follows is the story of the modern-day Art Banker’s voyage through time – rescuing Goya’s skull in 1828, travelling back via the eugenics-obsessed 1930s to a present where Goya’s DNA is used to create a clone of the artist.
All of which seems overheated and portentous in print, but Nyman does fashion a witty, entertaining piece from unpromising source material. It’s a work of many incidental pleasures – the insidiously catchy “Leonardo says” aria in Act I, or the resuscitated Goya asking the scientists why he couldn’t have been left in peace in the third act. Contralto Hilary Summers’s low contralto is perfect for the key role of the Art Banker, and the small multitasking supporting cast, notably sopranos Winnie Böwe and Marie Angel, are excellent. Nyman’s own chamber ensemble provides punchy, incisive backing under the composer’s direction in a reissue of a recording dating from 2003.
—Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk