John Ellis & Andy Bragen


(Parade Light)


Top photo of Gretchen Parlato by Anthony Browell.

“Red roses turn to black. It’s strange how fast they die,” sings Miles Griffith as the protagonist in this modern-day variant on Orpheus and Euridice, the sheer audacity of which is as exhilarating as the music is often chilling. For five years the man has been visiting the crypt of his beloved Melusina (Gretchen Parlato), and gradually he is drawn deeper inside, until he encounters her ghost and becomes trapped for an icy eternity. Composer John Ellis and librettist Andy Bragen’s song cycle, scored for two voices, string quartet and an eccentric quintet of improvising players (including Ellis’s own horns), swiftly grips you both narratively and musically, and doesn’t loosen its hold for the next hour.

Griffith’s slightly reedy voice might not be the most aesthetically attractive instrument, but few singers could have met the melodic challenges that Ellis lays out, while also realising the role’s tragic yearning so completely. Parlato is indeed siren-like in her otherworldly songs, and the music reflects a boundless imagination as it slides through the walls between chamber music, opera, jazz and even flashes of soul. A triumphant creation.