Ji Yoon, Aki Hashimoto, Orchestra of Nationaltheater Mannheim & Matthew Toogood – Bjork: Vespertine — A Pop Album as an Opera (Live)

bjorkMotherfucker, do you see this? Now that’s what I’m fucking talking about!

This is like the first time someone decided to put meat between slices of bread. The two elements had been there the entire fucking time but nobody thought of slamming those two together. Björk’s fourth album Vespertine, released back in ’01, broke pop genre barriers by, basically, being an opera. She put down the beat-heavy electronics and picked up a harp, a celesta, a clavichord, a fuckton of strings, and some custom-made music boxes. You know, instruments usually found in a fucking opera! This album has been waiting for classical music to pick it up. I guess we had to wait 18 years because the world needed its 10000th version of the magic fucking flute.

Even in the classical world, opera is esoteric and with good fucking reason. You know how hard it is to convince someone to listen to opera? Ask nicely and they’ll even tell you why they fucking won’t. Some say it’s because they don’t speak the language that’s being sung. Well, of course they don’t. You think everyone that goes to the opera speaks that fucking language? And here’s a secret, even if you do speak the language the shit is difficult to understand. Blame it on the style of singing. Go ahead and listen to an English opera like Punch and Judy, Taverner, Where the Wild Things Are, or one of my faves, Nixon in China, and you’ll find yourself straining to hear. But, let’s be honest, when the fuck did understanding lyrics become such a big deal? Do you understand everything Björk is saying? I rest my case.

The second, and more important reason, is that opera is often really fucking lame. Who knew that something with so much murder, war, sex, and betrayal could be so yawn-inducing? Many opera houses have been going through the same top 10 hits since the 1800s. But in the same way jazz changed the game for a younger audience, opera has to do the same. Enter Matthew Toogood, the Orchestra of Nationaltheater Mannheim, the Children’s Choir and Women’s choir of Nationaltheater Mannheim, soprano Aki Hashimoto, soprano Ji Yoon, baritone Raymond Ayers, and newcomer Simon Oesch to fuck some shit up.

This album tells a story of a shy woman that falls in love and sings in giant elated passionate cries out to heaven, as one does. Many have thought this was Björk’s personal exuberant love note to Matthew Barney. Björk has always been upfront about this shit being fictional. The song “Cocoon” comes from a female perspective of having some mind-blowing sex. The guy “enters me lightly”. She inhales “a beard loaded with courage”. Shit even has a poetic cum shot with the line “a train of pearls”. This song is sensitive, gorgeous, and beautiful as all hell. I got shivers when I listened to it.

When you think of the power, control, and talent it takes to sing a perfect note across an entire auditorium and louder than a fucking orchestra, that shit should be registered as a weapon. Once you get a taste for the beauty of opera, you’re fucked. All that’s needed to become an addict is that first relatable step.



2 thoughts on “Ji Yoon, Aki Hashimoto, Orchestra of Nationaltheater Mannheim & Matthew Toogood – Bjork: Vespertine — A Pop Album as an Opera (Live)

  1. So I’ve been away a while, my laptop died for a few weeks and I was checking in, but couldn’t be fucked typing out comments on my broken phone. Then I got it back and overthought whether or not to go back and leave all my thoughts, but ultimately, that’s more effort than it’s worth, so to sum up in reverse order:
    Beth Gibbons rocks; the Odd Future twist in the Wilma Vritra story grabbed me by the balls; I’ve previously enjoyed most of the tracks on the Karyyn record individually but haven’t got around to the album experience yet; thanks for filling me in on the backstory to what I fully thought was just a cash grab Marvin record; Flume and Christian Scott are both great; I like the new place; and of course, RIP Scott Walker. Onwards to today.

    This is the shit, my favourite Bjork album, rearranged to help me ease into a genre that I’m interested in but have all the reservations you listed above (Opera), by way of a genre I’m liking more and more each day (Classical – I can pretty well tell eras apart now; it’s a small victory, but it feels much larger). Now, I never realised how much I like the melodies and harmonies on Vespertine – I was keyed into for the production and vocals, but sampling this, which obviously has neither of those, the orchestral arrangements of the melodies jump out at me like a motherfucker. I’d love to sit down and compare this to the official ‘Vespertine Live’ album put out ages ago, I think the differences between this and that would reveal still more to me about this pristine album. Thanks as always, and it’s good to be home!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome home, dude! Sorry to hear about your laptop. I’m glad to see you’re writing comments again. We missed you around here. Telling eras apart in classical is some legit shit. Take the “W”. Vespertine arrangements are slick as shit. Bjork has always killed with her arranger choices. And Vince Mendoza is fucking good. You don’t win 6 Grammys for being a hack. He also did the arrangements for “Selma Songs” and Joni Michel’s “Both Sides Now”. One of my oldest and favourite ways of discovering new great music is by looking through the liner notes on my fave albums. It’s how I originally found out about Matmos, the electronic talent behind Vespertine. They recently made “Plastic Anniversary”. Welcome back you gorgeous bastard.


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