Scott Wheeler: Naga
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80814     Release Date: 2021-03-26

Libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs

Anthony Roth Costanzo, David Salsbery Fry, Stacey Tappan, Matthew Worth, Sandra Piques Eddy

White Snake Projects Chorus, Lidiya Yankovskaya, Associate Conductor and Chorus Master

Boston Children’s Chorus, Michele Adams, Chorus Master

White Snake Projects Orchestra, Carolyn Kuan, conductor

Fairy tale opera has been a challenging genre for composers, with even some of the musically most successful examples, like Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel of 1893, more often presented for children than for adults. Scott Wheeler’s (b. 1952) Naga, working from a text that lies between fairy tale and mythology, stands much closer to Mozart’s marvelous exemplar, The Magic Flute, in its musical account of a restless man setting out on a spiritual quest in a world polarized between good and evil forces that are not easily distinguishable one from another. Set to a libretto by Singapore-born writer and impresario Cerise Lim Jacobs, the opera follows a Buddhist monk as he leaves his wife and sets off in search of spiritual enlightenment, under the tutelage of a stern Buddhist master and the surveillance of two fiercely passionate snakes, the “naga” of the title, designating Hindu and Buddhist serpentine deities.

Given the religious content and fairy tale legendry of the libretto, it is striking that Wheeler’s Naga is neither ritually minimalist in its musical composition, nor carefully neo-classical, but a work of full-blooded passion, longing, and jealousy, gorgeously composed in the spirit of late Romantic opera. Mozart is clearly an important model for the fairy tale composition, but Wheeler, who was a student of Virgil Thomson, reflects some of the musical values of mid-twentieth-century composers like Barber, Britten, and Bernstein.

In Naga, with its beautiful, disturbing, passionate pair of snakes, playing morally ambivalent roles, vocalized with the otherworldly timbres of a high coloratura soprano and a plaintive countertenor, Wheeler stakes out new operatic terrain, while also returning to the domain of fairy tale and legendry in opera and the precedent of The Magic Flute. Naga richly suggests some of the ways in which contemporary opera might engage not just with the intensity of human emotions but also with the complex relation between human beings and the natural world.

Various Artists

Scott Wheeler: Naga

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Naga, Act I: "I am the Sata-snake, long of years"
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Naga, Act I: "Apophis comes, Apophis comes . . ."
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Naga, Act I: "It is time, I must go now"
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Naga, Act I: "Twelve years, One red peony"
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "What moves these mortals?"   
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "Amitabha Buddha, Infinite Light"
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Naga, Act I: "I renounce all that I am"
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Naga, Act I: "We have watched many humans come and go"
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Naga, Act I: "We see clearly only after the fact"
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Naga, Act I: "And the serpent said unto the woman"
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "Ling long, ling long"
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "You hellish gods"
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Naga, Act I: "We see clearly only after the fact" -
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "What terrible famine wracks this land"
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Naga, Act I: "Xiao Qing, we must save him"
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Naga, Act I: Aria: "O beauty beyond belief"
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Naga, Act II: Aria: "A young wife sat at river’s edge"
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Naga, Act II: Aria: "We’ve been here since we led him"
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Naga, Act II: Aria: "How many winters have changed to spring?"
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Naga, Act II: "Is the fever potion ready?"
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Naga, Act II: Aria: "Love seeketh not itself to please"
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Naga, Act II: "Aaia, snake, snake"
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Naga, Act II: "He has cast a spell on this cage"
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Naga, Act II: "What a beautiful snake"
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Naga, Act II: "Snake, he is not your Saviour"
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Naga, Act II: "We spit upon you, O Apophis"
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Naga, Act II: "Slice off my tongue"
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Naga, Act II: "Magic whiteness, magic albino"
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Naga, Act II: "My loving embrace"
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Naga, Act II: "Open the cage"
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