ANTHONY GATTO (b.1962): Wise Blood.
Catalogue Number: 08W058
Label: New Focus Recordings
Description: “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” Thus Flannery O'Connor, whose searing, disturbing fiction marks her as one of the most remarkable figures in American literature, and whose theological and ethical insights, handed out freely in her fiction with the soul-shattering intensity of an Old Testament prophet, make her fiction one of the most successful integrations of a profound Catholic faith into popular culture of any evangelist. The dark humor, violence, and the skewering gaze she turns on her warped, flawed characters form a style once encountered, never forgotten. Wise Blood was her first novel, the tale of Haze, a bitter, furious atheist whose crisis of faith leads him to found a "Church Without Jesus"; he falls in with a supposedly blind street preacher and his morally bankrupt daughter, a disturbed young man who believes he has "wise blood" which enables him to discern spiritual matters without guidance and who is caught up in the blasphemous anti-church, and various other deluded or unsavory characters. A mummified dwarf is stolen from a museum, there are murders, a blinding, a gorilla costume, and the unexpected redemption of a relatively minor character. O'Connor described the book as being about "freedom, free will, life and death, and the inevitability of belief." Gatto astutely sets this provocative theatre of bizarrerie as a kind of radio opera, presented live as an immersive multimedia installation, which this recording, with its electronic effects and studio production techniques, emulates. The strangeness of O'Connor's narrative, its overlapping, intertwining, contradictory meanings, actions and consequences are thus presented more accurately than any conventional operatic telling could achieve. Paragraphs of O'Connor's matchless descriptive prose are woven into the libretto, to powerful effect. The result is accessible, as O'Connor's writing is accessible, the better to draw the audience into the unsettling narrative; musically Gatto draws on parodies of Southern church music, the exaggerated faux-ecstatic style of evangelical preaching, a post-modern mixture of tonal orchestral music from the brass-heavy wind ensemble and sonoristic modernism, and some moving arias accompanied by rich brass sonorities. The result is as apt an adaptation of the novel as we are ever likely to hear; almost as disturbing and shockingly revelatory, indeed, as reading the book ... Libretto included. Vocal soloists, The Adam Meckler Orchestra and other instrumentalists; David Bloom.