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Opus Avantra - Strata CD (album) cover


Opus Avantra


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4 stars A rather indistinct record and possibly too contrary for its own good - the individual pieces hold up well enough but it's difficult to find a unifying theme among them. Variously gothic, alien opera, Bartok-esque and evocative of languid court music, the only constant Opus Avantra offer you is the hook of Donella del Monaco's remarkable voice - which is admittedly sensual in certain places - and certainly don't deign to play rock music on this album. That would be uncivilised.

Even so, this reviewer rewards Strata with four stars in reverence to the moments of brilliance contained within - this record bears the signs of meticulous arrangement and a resourcefulness which spans beyond the wide arsenal of instruments it employs. If you want to hear avant-prog undiluted by rock and roll, then here it is.

Report this review (#116766)
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Over a decade had passed...

...since we last heard from Opus Avantra and their musings about Lord Cromwell and the "seven deadly sins." The decade of hiatus for other projects obviously stoked Opus Avantra into music that feels the product of great inspiration. This is some pretty deep music that I don't mind saying goes over my rock and roll head in places. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Alfredo Tisocco is reunited here with famed soprano Donella Del Monaco, who for some reason did not appear on Lord Cromwell but made history with Tisocco on the Opus debut, a favorite of many classically enthused RPI fans.

What struck me was the change in my own feelings between my initial plays and later ones. At first I found the new approach to be stiffer, drier, and stuffier than the first two albums. It all came across as incredibly formal and with an air of affluence and sophistication. Impeccable arrangements and tight emotions emanate from Tisocco's piano and the disciplined string section. The world class vocals of Ms. Del Monaco are pure operatic beauty in the grandest Italian tradition, and I close my eyes and let her voice take me to some imaginary theatre in the old country. It is a spiritual experience to hear her on this record and I find her performance much more rewarding than the better known "Introspezione" vocal tracks. Tisocco throws everything on the table in just the second track "Quiete e Tumulto" as he begins with the sheer beauty of the piano before letting it descend to pure chaos in the second half. "Danza Degli" displays the fine string section paired off against flautist Vincenzo Caroli. There are four main vocal tracks for Del Monaco and each is separated with two mainly instrumental pieces. The instrumental sections can get pretty nuts with piano, flute, and strings flailing in a gonzo avant stew-what I imagine Henry Cow to be like from the little I've heard. And here is where the initial misperception falls away. What I first perceived as drier was anything but--Strata has plenty of rich personality and warmth, it simply is presented in a slightly more upscale package, figuratively speaking. It simply is a bit more mature (and perhaps more challenging) while maintaining all of the heart and inquisitive spirit of those two albums from the mid 70s. And it has confidence. Strata never sounds like an album trying to tiptoe back into the music scene a bit rusty from hiatus. It sounds like the album Opus Avantra was destined to leave us.

While "Lord Cromwell" has the melodic hooks that I would describe as more instantly likable, "Strata" may well be the most fully realized recording by Opus Avantra. It may be the most daring and I believe it is the recording that will age the best to the older RPI fans-this one will get better and better with each passing year you listen. Fans must find the Strange Days issue Japanese mini-lp sleeve, which will give you a gorgeous, high quality gatefold reproduction along with a delightful 11 minute bonus track that fits well into the context of the album. This album, along with Cromwell, are the two reasons Opus Avantra are one of my favorite RPI groups. That said, Opus Avantra is a group I must be in the mood for. While I can always appreciate their beautiful side, their experimental/avant side can nearly drive you batty if you're listening in traffic, stressed out, or hungover. Make sure you're ready for attentive listening before you go here.

Report this review (#235116)
Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars A very difficult album to form an opinion, worthy a review, on.

"The beauty and the beast" is an old cliche we writers sometimes grab hold of when we have run out of both imaginations and rope. In this case; that cliche really describes this album.

So let me start with the beauty. That's Donella Del Monaco's truly excellent operatic vocals. She is using them to great effects on some psalms songs. They are truly superb songs (I have mislaid the CD booklet at home so I do not have their names).

The beast...... Well, that is the not so cleverly made dissonant avant-garde bits here. I am happy to listen to avant-garde music. But in this case; these songs does not sound coherent and as dynamic as truly good avant-garde music has. It seems more like the extras to Donella Del Monaco's vocals and hastily made/written/recorded.

In short; Strata is an incoherent album which is saved by Donella Del Monaco and her efforts. That and some good pieces of other music too inbetween the not so clever other half of this album.

Strata is by no means a masterpiece or even a great album. But it is still a good album and worthy further investigations.

3 stars

Report this review (#417677)
Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Review Permalink

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