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Shine CD Cover
Image © E-Magine Entertainment 2002 

(10 August 2002) Producer and writer Lord Vanger, the creative impetus behind 2000's O: Operatica, Vol. 1 has revisited the opera halls and dance halls with a new album entitled Shine. While O featured the vocals of celebrated siren soprano, Maureen O'Flynn, Shine teams Vanger with divas Ying Huang, Inva Mula, Persian vocalists Shakila and Jihae, and tenor vocalist John Osborn. The stellar Ms. O'Flynn also (gratefully) makes a reappearance on the title track, "Shine." This review features brief profiles of Lord Vanger and several of the contributing vocalists where biographical information was available.

Lord Vanger: Lord Vanger was born and raised in the UK. After spending time in France and Switzerland Vanger relocated to New York where he earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University. In 1997, Vanger formed a highly successful commercial music and design company called B5 Atomic. Vanger has since produced commercial music for Dodge, Hyundai and Tropicana. Vanger has also worked in the film industry as a music supervisor.

Maureen O'Flynn: Noted as an "Artist to Watch" by Musical America Ms. O'Flynn is the recipient of the Opera Index First Prize and a grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. The Dallas Opera also awared Maureen O’Flynn the Callas Award for Outstanding New Artist of the Year. Ms. O’Flynn has also performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, La Scala, La Fenice, Arena di Verona, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, the Satander Festival, Covent Garden, New Israeli Opera and the Vienna Staatsoper.

Ying Huang: China's Ying Huang has performed with numerous leading opera companies throughout the world. As a soprana, she was chosen from over 200 candidates to portray the title role in Frédéric Mitterrand's 1995 film version of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Deemed one of opera's most skilled young sopranos, Ying Huang has performed Sonnets to Orpheus, a six-movement song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble based upon the 1923 poems of Maria Rilke and composed by Richard Danielpour.

Inva Mula: Albanian soprano Inva Mula-Tchako is probably best known to the world for her brief, but memorable performance of a section of Gaetano Donizetti's opera Lucia Di Lammermoor in the movie, The Fifth Element, where she provided the singing voice of the Diva Plavalaguna. Inva rocketed to fame after becoming a prizewinner in the George Enescu Competition in Bucharest in September 1991. Since that time, Inva Mula-Tchako has performed in the United States, Italy, France, Japan, Austria, Norway, Spain, South Korea and Turkey. Her repertory includes Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Boheme, Gilda in Rigoletto, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Leila in Les Pecheurs de Perles.

Shakila: Perisan singer Shakila was born in the city of Tehran and began performing at a very young age with her family. Shakila came to the attention of producers after performing on a national television show at the age of nine. Thereafter, Shakila honed her talents by performing in school contests and talent competitions. At the age of fifteen, immediately before Iran's revolution, Shakila became a student of Ostad Mahmood Karimi, familiarizing herself with Persian traditional repertoire and "Radif." Moving to the United States at the age of eighteen, Shakila studied classical music in pursuit of her dream to become a professional singer. Shakila has since released eight albums and finds herself greatly inspired by the poet Rumi.

Riding the rising wave of the new classical-crossover genre (which combines classical and original pieces with modern electronica), Operatica's Shine is a heavenly and hypnotic soundtrack that merges the beauty of opera with modern instrumentation and rythms. Lord Vanger has expertly selected a variety of vocalists for each track, lending color and individuality to the album. Pianist Alan Steinberger and guitarist Aaron Jaffe also contribute to the lovely melodies by providing organic textures to the music.

The adaptation of Grieg's "Solvejg's Song" from Peer Gynt is performed to perfection by Ying Huang and highlighted by snappy percussion and swaths of electronic pulses. Inva Mula's impassioned vocals perfectly accent the Middle-Eastern tinged "Mon Amour (A Rose Under the Desert Sky) inspired from music by Joaquin Rodrigo. Vanger deserves credit for infusing the music with a mysterious and nomadic quality.

The lush title-track "Shine" is given amazing treatment by the incredibly talented Maureen O'Flynn. Although the lyrics and melody are original (written by Lord Vanger), Ms. O'Flynn performs the number with utmost skill. Her voice (singing in English) soars, demonstrating that she can even imbue a pop song with grace and beauty.

Shakila's voicings on "Kokab" are mesmerizing, flowing perfectly into the Delerium-esque sounding music. "Standing on the Edge of the World" displays touches of Ofra Haza and Dead Can Dance with its sultry and exotic vocals. "Lost in Someone Else's Dream" is a delightful drum-and-bass piece featuring ethereal Persian vocals sung by Jihae.

Serpentine ambience surrounds "Khodoya" with its rising arpeggiated synths and slow-burning beats. "Je Crois Entendre Encore" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers is a gentle transition into peaceful lands. Tenor John Osborn's sensitive and aching voice is soothing while retaining a sense of melancholy. Ying Huang returns on the Debussy-inspired "Passepied." Again, dreamy instrumentation creates an aura of serenity and bliss. Lord Vanger takes lead vocals on The unusual "Under the Desert Sky" which sounds like an unique melding of the Bee Gees, George Michael and Operatica. The final track is the "Extended Grooveshaman Remix" of "Kokab" which would fit perfectly into an after-hours club mix.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. In sum, Lord Vanger has done a fine job of joining spectacular vocalists with fresh, contemporary music.--Justin Elswick

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