Aria – Metamorphosis

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Souping up the classics with whatever contemporary music pulse is current at the moment has a long history. Some artists, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, aspired to classical grandiosity. Others, like Michael Murphy and his discofied “A Fifth of Beethoven,” turn classical melodies into pop hooks. Paul Schwartz falls somewhere in the middle with his Aria project, of which this is the third. Electronica grooves and effects angle their way through songs “based” on operatic works by Handel, Verdi, Puccini, and Monteverdi. Schwartz begins with a bar set high by some of these melodies, beautifully sung by soprano Rebecca Luker. Whether singing solo or in multi-tracked choirs, her voice opens heavens’ gates, but she has to slog through some pedestrian arrangements to get there. Schwartz understands the difference between an orchestra and a synthesizer and with only a few exceptions–like the cheesy opening to “Ombra Ma Fu”–deploys each in appropriate measures. “Ascension,” based on a Monteverdi aria is particularly striking with its underlying electronic ostinatos cycling through the breathtaking refrain. But too often, Schwartz’s strings are saccharine and his rhythms clichéd in a music that uses high art only to reach for the facile. Like most classical-pop crossovers, time usually renders a verdict of kitsch in the first degree.

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