A musical and poetic expression
of madness, solitude and enlightenment, Wrequiem is a supremely evocative
work that draws from the remnants of nearly-lost cultures as well as touching
on the resonances of the European Romantic/classical tradition, American
popular culture, and high camp. From its opening moments, in which Harold
Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” is given
an absolutely otherworldly treatment by Karen LeBlanc on the musical saw,
up to and beyond Ra’s own virtuosic theremin renditions of sacred
Armenian melodies, accompanied by the enchanting Somna M. Bulist on the
harp, the theme of an ever-more-desperate desire for a home—not
just a physical dwelling but a spiritual and psychological one—reaches
dimensions that transcend the physically modest design of the production.
Weaving texts from Kahlil Gibran’s The Madman (read by Kembra Pfahler,
Donna D’Cruz and special guests) with Ra’s own compositions
as well as pieces by Verdi (“La Vergine degli angeli,” sung
by extraordinary countertenor Benjamin Marcantoni) and Massenet (Ra’s
treatment of the latter’s “Meditation” on the theremin
can only be called virtuosic), Wrequiem creates a powerful spell, fueled
by the emotional commitment, eclectic sensibility, and painstaking craftsmanship
of its creator. Elements of religious ritual bring the piece to a shattering
but strangely hopeful conclusion.
Much of Wrequiem’s power is attributable to Ra’s incredible
command of the theremin, the unusual electronic instrument on which the
player creates sound by seemingly manipulating the air around the instrument.
Most familiar to mainstream listeners as the source of the “weird”
sounds heard on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and
in countless ‘50s sci-fi films, the theremin has an expressive potential
that is only now being fully explored by a small but dedicated band of
visionary musicians. Ra—whose visual presentation (he is often bedecked
in jewelry of his own design) is a dazzling as his musical talent—
is at the forefront of that group, and Wrequiem is just one powerful example
of his overall vision as both a creator and performer.