Opera and rock music. Can it ever work? Can they ever just get along? From the monstrous pomposity of Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballé to the interminable Nightwish, it seems that the two genres can never be reconciled. Mike Patton didn't get the memo, because he's teamed up with the Ictus Ensemble to release Laborintus II, a recording of the eponymous chamber opera by the composer Luciano Berio.
Put all thoughts of 'Within Temptation' aside, as this release is a breath of fresh air. As somebody who knows nothing about opera aside from some bits and pieces I picked up on my travels around China, I had never even heard of Luciano Berio, let alone 'Laborintus II'. It plays out like a piece of theatre but with all of the sound effects performed by human voices, like a vocal tapestry woven around Patton's smooth, slightly croaky narration. His voice is one of the best in popular music but in this piece he really shows what he is capable of, also supplying screams, growls and traditional vocal lines.
Because it's a performance of an older piece of music, there's not much room for improvisation but having listened to a performance released shortly after 'Laborintus II' debuted, this new interpretation really benefits from the clarity of modern recording techniques and better vocal training. Patton's voice adds much-needed depth and a handy through-line around which the rest of the vocals position themselves.
In releasing this piece, the intention is two-fold - one, Patton gets to pay tribute to a music and culture that he is clearly deeply enamoured with, and two, it gets a fresh audience who perhaps would never have heard it otherwise. It would have been a shame for 'Laborintus II' to languish on some old record somewhere, and it's now getting the airing it deserves. For those Patton fans who are perhaps wrong-footed by this release (surely a true fan of his could never be wrong-footed?), it's not unlike Fantomas's less metallic moments in places, with its chaotic discord and the melding of voice and instruments in a raw and confusing way. It's a worthy album, the judgement of which depends entirely on your tolerance to opera, or the strength of your Patton perseverance.
Posted: Mon 25 June 2012