Bernarda Alba

Off-Broadway Cast, 2006 (Ghostlight) 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5) This recording begins with a thrilling and percussive “Prologue” that lays out the haunting story of Bernarda Alba, the recently-widowed mother of five daughters. After her husband’s death, Bernarda refuses to allow any member of her household to leave their home or interact with anyone from the outside world for a set mourning period of eight years. Armed with this concept, the composer, Michael John LaChuisa has packed his score with strong Spanish flamenco beats and rhythms that pay tribute to the source material, Federico Garcia Loca’s drama The House of Bernarda Alba. A strong nod should also be given to Michael Starobin for his fantastic, rhythmic orchestrations throughout the album. But although this musical was certainly an artistic success on stage, it’s difficult to recommend the recording due to LaChiusa’s aversion to melody and song structure. While he has here gifted us with appealing songs such as “Love Let Me Sing You” and “The Smallest Stream,” the bulk of the album is filled with difficult, meandering melodies that hold the listener at arm’s length from what should be a compelling and harrowing story. In the recording’s favor, it does feature Phylicia Rashad as the titular mother. Rashad’s Bernarda is filled with bitterness that has turned to oppressive anger, and she wrings every drop of emotion from the aforementioned “The Smallest Stream.” The rest of the cast of this Lincoln Center Theater production is an abundance of riches, with Saundra Santiago, Judith Blazer, Sally Murphy, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Nikki M. James as the five daughters. Each of their unique voices are recognizable throughout, but with such an incredible group of performers, it’s a shame they aren’t given more standout material. Overall, this album is not an easy listen; the dark subject matter and complex score make for an intellectually stimulating listening experience, but not always a pleasurable one.  — Forrest Hutchinson