Soldier Stories Richard Auldon Clark conducting the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, with Kurt Vonnegut, Brad Hougham and other vocal soloists (Mulatta)
Wed Sep 14 2005
There's something immediately intriguing about a CD of post-classical music affixed with a "Parental Advisory/Explicit Content" sticker. In the case of Dave Soldier's faux-radio opera, A Soldier's Story, it's not the obscenities that cause alarm, but rather the way in which moral contradictions inherent in the tale resonate against present-day military involvements. Based on a text by Kurt Vonnegut, A Soldier's Story recounts the experiences of the only American soldier executed for cowardice during World War II.
Soldier manipulates patriotic jingles to high effect, but most of his scoring is subtle, and just off-kilter enough to create an uneasy yet oddly toe-tapping ambience. Vintage-sounding radio ads and an affected recording style, not to mention Vonnegut's caustic script, make for a morbidly amusing presentation.
Where A Soldier's Story is ear-catching and clever, the other piece on the disc, The Apotheosis of John Brown, mines its Frederick Douglass--derived subject matter on a deeper level. Rather than relying on a Ken Burns--ish narrative nostalgia, Soldier devotes more time to developing characters and events musically, with passages of Vivaldi-like intensity, cantorial beauty and Americana charm. In both works, Soldier employs a talk-singing style that can dent the lyrical flow, but assures comprehensible diction. Considering recent FCC crackdowns, it's unlikely that Soldier's operas will be granted public airtime. That's a shame: Together, these pieces constitute the best sortof history lesson.—Molly Sheridan