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Review | "In a Grove represents a technical feat that blurs the boundaries of traditional opera..."

By Bob Dieschburg

Opera Wire


A meditation on trauma and the fallacies of human memory, “In a Grove” is Christopher Cerrone and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann’s take on a 1922 short story by Japanese author Ryonūsuke Akutagawa.


With its limited cast of four soloists (doubling as two characters each) it centers on the murder of Ambrose Raines which Cerrone recounts in four testimonies and three confessions. Accordingly, the opera is divided into two parts with interludes set to orchestrally comment on the narrative and its “blur[ring] the edges of remembering” – to quote the character of Luther Harlow in Scene five.


The result is a harrowing dive into the human psyche, minimalist, in terms of the music, and experimental at the same time. “In a Grove” is written for a small orchestra of only nine instrumentalists (incl. a piano) focusing on a lean blend between their sounds and electronics. The latter also enhance the singing in an attempt to recreate Akutagawa’s concept of the unreliable narrator, using distortion and granulation seemingly at will.


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