A Madrigal Opera
By Philip Glass


Orange Mountain Music 0062


1. Opening 8:06
2. Part I 13:12
3. Part II 12:11
4. Part III 10:17
5. Part IV 12:07
6. Closing 4:38


Orange Mountain Music presents the world premiere recording of Philip Glass’ A Madrigal Opera performed by Finland’s Ooppera Skaala. Glass’ second opera after the hallmark Einstein on the Beach in 1975, A Madrigal Opera contains no narrative or subject matter. It is a work composed for future writers and directors to create in and around Glass score.

The work is composed as for a traditional madrigal, with six voices with violin and viola accompaniment. The clean and dynamic Glass score from 1979 represented a huge musical step for the composer as he moved toward a more expressive idiom which later produced works like Satyagraha and Koyaanisqatsi.
The birth of the Madrigal came in Italy in the 16th Century as part of the evolution of secular music and the desire to set text to the poets of the day. Early madrigals were for a small collection of unaccompanied voices and became a new way of secular expression for musicians that were pioneering the marriage of verbal language and musical language in the early 1500s. So it is also with Philip Glass’ A Madrigal Opera from 1980.

The early form of madrigal called for a small collection of mixed voices with later forms of the style incorporating the accompaniment of a solo instrument. The style spread beyond Italy to France, England and elsewhere, and was eventually taken over by the birth of opera itself in the 17th Century when Moneverdi’s musical vision expanded beyond the madrigal form. Secular music had a new and exciting challenge to consider: to fuse into one unified dramatic form, music, text and singing as a dramatic work. Namely, opera.

The history of opera is that of Western culture’s great musical minds expanding their creative forces by reacting to the needs of a particular drama. Philip Glass has consistently argued that the radical changes in music happened more often in the theater than the concert hall. Monteverdi, Mozart, Wagner and Stravinsky made huge leaps in the language of music, found new means of expression and broadened their creative voices by confronting dramatic situations which called for new and different ways of writing music. Today, this evolution of musical language continues owing much to extra-musical materials found mostly in the world of theater, dance, and opera.

In the late 1970s, the opera world was confronted with one of the 20th century’s seminal works which redefined what an opera could be. The “opera” is “Einstein on the Beach” created by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass. Their piece contained all the traditional elements of most operas. It had actors, dancers, singers, text, and a subject. However, their work contained no narrative whatsoever. Most of the public who saw Einstein were aware of Einstein (the man) as a giant of the 20th century and knew various details about his life and the legacy of his work. However, in Einstein on the Beach, the audience is presented with a theatrical portrait of Einstein, called an opera, which possessed nothing akin to the traditional dramatic linear story that the Western World had come to expect in opera. The result was a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of the possibilities of construction of an opera.

For many, a gigantic creative and expressive license was forged by what Glass and Wilson had done. Furthermore, they had produced the piece in great institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which stood as a beacon of conservatism and conventional opera. At that time, Glass’ musical language of highly reductive and repetitive music had begun to change (during and before Einstein on the Beach.) Forever a composer with a strong relationship to the world of theater, Glass considered the period of so-called musical Minimalism having ended in 1975 and he soon embarked on a successful career as an opera composer.

After Einstein, Glass was asked by Hans de Roo, Director of the Netherlands Opera, to compose a “real” opera for the City of Rotterdam in 1980. This opera was to be Satyagraha (which also was presented at the Met Opera in 2008) and was the composer’s first writing for orchestra in more than 15 years. Writing a “real” opera, for orchestra and acoustic operatic voices, meant in fact a departure from writing for Glass’ own amplified ensemble of electric keyboards, woodwinds and soprano voice. Orchestration aside, for Glass, it was a period of the incredible possibilities of “putting back” into the system after having stripped musical language down to its essence and beginning anew. This “putting back,” created music that at that time was incredibly expressive in contrast to the music composed only 5 or 10 years earlier and it led to new discoveries of how Glass’ music could be used for dramatic purposes.

It was during this time of blossoming discovery that Glass composed A Madrigal Opera. Written for six voices (soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor, baritone, bass) with violin and viola, the piece originally composed for the Dutch theater artist Rob Malasch. The opera is conceived as and abstract music theater work, which is designed to be “completed” by various future directors. It is for this reason that though the work has a clear emotional shape, it has no specific theatrical content. This idea relates to the origins of renaissance and baroque madrigals that were in effect one of the first attempts to merge secular proto-dramatic text and music. In early madrigals, there is a seemingly naive relationship between the text and music; those madrigals possessed an inherent abstractness, as they were the first essays in connecting the two elements. Philip Glass’ music plays greatly on that broad possibility for connection.

Glass’ score, still bearing elements of his reductive style of that time, leaves tremendous room for directors to create a story in or around the music and the wordless singing. Part of the ingenuity of the piece is that the score leaves so much emotional room between what it is as it stands alone as a piece of music and what it could be as a piece of theater. As such, it can inspire an endless amount of versions. Including productions in Holland (Attaca – A Madrigal Opera, 1980), New York and Houston Grand Opera (The Panther), and Los Angeles (A Madrigal Opera, 1985) and the recent Finnish production after which this recording was made which used texts Oton Lauri Koski (A Madrigal Opera – Cameo. Sinfoninen runo Symphonic poem.)

Excerpted fom Music by Philip Glass (1987):

“A Madrigal Opera” is a vocal work for six voices, violin and viola, and it could be classified as a chamber opera with an unspecified story line. My idea was to write a musical//dramatic work tat could, with different direction, be realized with different narrative content. In this way, I was following common practice in the dance world, where choreographers routinely adapt music written for another purpose to their own dramatic needs. In this case, a new writer can be brought in to complete the work for each new production…

“…there are a few works (of mine) such as A Madrigal Opera that are completely written in terms of the music but await the contribution of other yet unknown authors in order to be completed for the theater. The results can, of course, be unpredictable. But for those wo have the nerves for it, having an open-ended piece of this kind can be very exciting.”

The score was completed in March 1980 and premiered at the Carré Theater at the Holland Festival that year. This is the first recording of Philip Glass’ “A Madrigal Opera”.


A Madrigal Opera is published by Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. (ASCAP).

℗ and © 2009 by Orange Mountain Music.

Ooppera Skaala

Direction:Janne Lehmusvuo
Music direction: Jari Hiekkapelto
Recording Engineer and sound design: Timo Muurinen
Editing,mixing and mastering: Michael Riesman

Petri Bäckström,tenor
Essi Luttinen,mezzo-soprano
Vikke Häkkinen,baritone
Laura Heinonen,soprano
Satu Jaatinen,mezzo-soprano
Riku Pelo,bass
Max Savikangas,viola
Linda Hedlund,violin

Director’s assistant:Benita Laakso
Lighting design:Harri Peltonen
Choreography:Thomas Freundlich
Costumes:Tyra Therman
Make-up:Kukka Silius
Voice of a child:Minna Luukka
Production:Ooppera Skaala
Photos:Timo Muurinen
Thomas Freundlich,dancer
Tanja Kuisma,dancer

Recorded at Sipoo Church,Kuninkaantie 19,Nikkilä Finland

Album produced by Don Christensen and Richard Guerin

Executive Producers for Orange Mountain Music:
Philip Glass, Kurt Munkacsi, and Don Christensen



A Madrigal Opera