Composers: Pascal Dusapin
Compositions: Penthesilea
Performers: Natascha Petrinsky ms, Orchestre Symphonique et Choers de la Monnaie, Franck Ollu
Catalogue Number: Cypres CYP4654

According to a lost epic, the Amazon Penthesilea was killed by Achilles who fell in love with her on removing her helmet (and some say sexually violating her corpse). French composer Pascal Dusapin’s eighth opera (2015) is based on an obscure variant reading in an 1808 drama by Heinrich von Kleist. An exploration of carnal frenzy that Goethe pronounced “unplayable,” it reads today as a pathological battle of the sexes. Kleist reverses the ending with Achilles killed and the deranged Penthesilea tearing and consuming his raw flesh. Not one for the faint-hearted…

Dusapin is a brilliant musical dramatist and a master colourist. This may be the darkest operatic score you’ll ever hear, but it’s shot through with moments of breath-taking beauty – lots of rasping low woodwind, but also flecks of harp and cimbalom. This is music that writhes and retches; shocking, yet hypnotic as a train wreck.

Natascha Petrinsky delivers a visceral, no-holds-barred performance in the title role, making up with raw emotion for what she sacrifices in tonal beauty. Georg Nigl is a snarling Achilles, Marisol Montalvo a lyrical Prothoe (Penthesilea’s confidant), Werner van Mechelen a strident Odysseus and Eve-Maud Hubeaux powerful as the unbending High Priestess. Franck Ollu draws extraordinary sounds from the Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie, all captured in excellent live sound. Powerful stuff for those brave enough to go there.