Argento to me has always been a text based composer. Here too when a point has to be made the music drops out the words have their sway. In fact the text is featured over everything musical, except for the occasional patter where the last syllable of a two syllable word is accented when perhaps it shouldn't be. Its a style.
I liked this work yet it did not draw me in because every time I thought the music might take me somewhere Argento's musical austerity dropped me like a hot potato. Again and again there were sections of solo vocal, or accompanied by a drone, that stop the drama in its tracks. These sections, though short are just too similar and repetitive. If this is to reinvent the recitative, why not also bring back melody? The vocal writing is constant hetherophonic vocal obbligato to the orchestral melody. Even in the finale the appogituras are not taken up by the singers who end up never singing anything memorable.
The response to modernism here is to break up the continuity of the tonal form. The problem with interrupting continuity is that all musical events then become only local. There is no long range musical form no arrival no departure simply events--oddly what many tonalists accuse 12-toners and John Cage. The music is interrupted but the text is not. This too places more emphasis on the text as a formal element. This work seems more akin to melodrama than to operetta.
I liked act 1 best event though the quotations from Mahler seems a little much.
His dramatic experience shows of course. The harmony was persuasive. The scenario was the best part. Plenty of variety. Yet, the variety of its cast of character seemed so much that in the end there was no variety at all. The famous opera in an opera scene, though effective, caused other problems for me-either it came to soon (as it might have worked better as the finale [the device, not the music]) or it was just plain virtuosity. This section also displayed the penchant for obbligato hetherophonic vocal parts that sit on the harmony and don't seem to move it forward again. It simply became one of many clever devices.
After Dr. Atomic I'll take clever anytime.