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"Daron Hagen’s Bandanna was commissioned by the College Band Director’s National Association (CBDNA) as part of their effort to raise the profile of band music in American musical life. The boldness of the commission (Bandanna is an opera whose accompanying ensemble is a wind and percussion orchestra) is evidence of the Association’s seriousness. It is a shrewd move, as well””if a sizable fraction of the institutions participating in the commissioning consortium (they are listed in the sumptuous booklet accompanying this release) mount the work, it will gain a wide hearing and help raise band music’s profile.

Bandanna is a kind of “headline opera” in that its events are surrounded by a theme of contemporary interest””immigration. The story (by Paul Muldoon, who also wrote the libretto) has the elements that traditionally make for compelling opera””violence, secrets, treachery, and infidelity or claims of infidelity, in the setting of a Texas border town in 1968. Muldoon’s libretto is poetic when dealing with feelings and direct when describing action. The stage directions are vivid for a reader, though they may be a bit constricting for a director.

Daron Hagen is an experienced and accomplished composer, for winds as well as other media. His melodies are singable and memorable without being cloying. His text setting is outstanding, and as Sequenza21 readers know well, English is a difficult language to set. The rhythms, in both vocal and instrumental parts, are supple when appropriate, and driving or incisive when that is called for. Harmonically, the music is tonal, sometimes venturing into pop/Broadway territory, with more astringent harmonies at dramatic moments.

I want to single out the orchestration. I think one of the reasons wind music has had some difficulty holding a place in the mainstream of concert music life is that so much of it sounds alike. Massed flutes and/or clarinets carry the melody, with occasional help from the trumpets, horns for majesty, trombones for gravity, the lower instruments grinding away in accompaniment, and banging percussion. This, combined with sheer volume, makes many band concerts exercises in aural fatigue. Hagen’s music in Bandanna offers a way out of the fatigue syndrome, with its use of thinner textures and a more flexible use of instruments.[1] Hagen’s judicious and creative use of percussion is a highlight of the music, and all of the instrumental writing is idiomatic and makes the band sound work.

The performance is excellent, and we are assured by the composer that it is what he meant. The student singers from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Lesley DeGroot, James Demler, Paul Kreider, Mark Thomsen, and Darynn Zimmer are well-trained and more than up to the task. The UNLV Opera Theater Chorus and Wind Orchestra acquit themselves with style and poise, as well.

Bandanna is accessible to small opera companies as well as college opera companies, both of which often struggle to find new works to stage. It should have a long life." - Sequenza 21, Posted by Steve Hicken in CD Review, Steve Hicken, June 2015

"Composer Daron Aric Hagen (b. 1961) and poet/librettist Paul Muldoon could not have known in 1998, when they were commissioned to write Bandanna, that illegal immigration would become such a hot topic by the summer of 2006, when this recording was released. Even so, it was still a fairly provocative subject for an opera — the policing of immigrants crossing the Texas—Mexico border in the late 1960s, as a backdrop for a hot-blooded desert tale of lust, jealousy and revenge. In musical terms, Hagen combines elements of the vernacular and the opera house, drawing on both sacred (a recurring “Dona nobis requiem”) and folk (the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration) traditions. Hagen’s contemporary-music bona fides are impressively in evidence, but the popular element is never far off, as in, for example, a series of dances in the Act II wedding (waltz, bossa nova, tango), plus the frequent contributions of an onstage mariachi band.


The opera’s finest moments come when Hagen manages that wonderful, much-sought fusion of highbrow and lowbrow, championed by, among others, Leonard Bernstein (with whom Hagen studied). One of the best examples is an Act I aria for Jake, a local policeman who sympathizes with the immigrants and moonlights by helping them slip into the country. Jake sings of his love for Emily, his fiancée, who he knows feels neglected because of his demanding double life. This sinuous jazz-tinged aria is a slow dreamy waltz that features a smoky alto sax in the accompaniment. Then, as the topic moves to Morales, the volatile chief of police, who lake knows suspects him of professional duplicity, the orchestra becomes dissonant, driving and explosive. As Jake plots his revenge Morales has passed him over for a promotion), we hear snarling trombones and cascades of vibraphone-dominated dissonance. All this is highly dramatic and accomplished seamlessly. Earlier a “double duet” for the four principals shows a great deal of contrapuntal skill and melodic appeal. The orchestration, for a thirty-piece “wind orchestra,” creates a distinctively vibrant, ear-catching fabric. The only strings are the violins of the onstage mariachi band; when the three violinists turn up as the sole accompaniment to the Act II “Prayer” for Mona. Morales’s wife, the contrast is strikingly lovely.


The success of these and other passages make some of the misfires seem bewildering. The mariachi band (two trumpets, guitar and bass, in addition to the violins) doesn’t give the proceedings nearly the energetic kick one might expect, and the wedding dances are oddly inert. The syrupy tune intoned by the chorus in the prologue, and reprised at key dramatic moments, sounds like a conscious sop to the “give-us-tune-we-can-hum” crowd and seems stapled on to the text. A long seduction scene, which could have been deliciously ominous, doesn’t really go anywhere.


Still, the characters are compelling and musically differentiated. The cast conveys the grand passions effectively and with full conviction, if not absolute vocal perfection. Muldoon’s libretto manages to be both poetic and dramatic; Hagen saves the librettist when the metaphoric imagery occasionally threatens to spin out of control. The composer conducts the forces of the University of Nevada Las Vegas Opera Theater and Wind Orchestra, who acquit themselves remarkably, in a complex, multi-stylistic and ambitious new work. –JOSHUA ROSENBLUM" - Opera News, December 2006

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