The European Debt Crisis was the result of so many factors that it would take an opera on the scale of Wagner’s Ring Cycle to address them all. Sehgal was working as an investment banker in New York as the ruinous crisis began to take shape. He said that one of the many reasons for the far-reaching problem was that the leaders were, obviously, from different countries with different cultures and different peoples with their own unique and sometimes self-serving approaches to international economics. That is the basis for Angela’s Ring.
Writing with Sehgal was Marie Incontrera and producer Herschel Garfein. What began as a Classical work was rewritten to combine the sometimes opposed but frequently complementary styles of Jazz and Classical. Sehgal used all of his connections to bring together a remarkable collection of artists from the Jazz and Classical worlds.
The music is performed by the Leveraged Jazz Orchestra and guest soloists including Aaron Diehl (piano), Grace Kelly (saxophone), Grammy-nominee Manuel Valera (piano), Oran Etkin (clarinet), Edmar Casteñada (harp), and Grammy-nominee Papo Vazquez (trombone). The music is superb and the delivery is excellent, providing the Jazz rhythms and swing against which the classically-trained vocalists are tasked in Angela’s Ring.
The Angela of Angela’s Ring is, of course, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is played deliciously by Lucy Schaufer. Schuefer’s Merkel is tough, charming, witty, and/or unbending. From Follow Germany and The World looks at Me we see the sentiment that Germany was indeed the leader of the European Union and the doubt she experienced is hauntingly described in Is It Too Late to Save Europa?
David Gordon portrays George Papandreou, Greece’s Prime Minister from 2009 to 2011. He is a character we pity in his unenviable position of being caught between the nation he loves and the cruel or, at best, intractable European Council. His negotiations with Merkel in Let Us Lie is delightfully full of double-entendres followed by his cheering nation in Papa the Greek. It all goes sour after that with Greece requiring not one but two multi-billion-dollar (actually euros) bailouts, culminating in A Greek Tragedy and What Have I Done?
Brandon Snook is France’s president Nikolas Sarkozy who is paired with Merkel in the brilliant and hilarious We Are Merkozy. His unique role is emphasized in Greece Relies on Me and What Plan Is This? Gordon plays the insecure Sarkozy wonderfully well.
Throughout the album are ten News Flashes that keep the events moving. While not all of the details are stringently accurate, they do present the mood, tension, and drama of the events.
Erik Bagger portrays the philandering Italian Prime Minister (2008-2011) Silvio Belusconi. Berlusconi was brought down by his sex scandals and “bunga bunga parties.” In the riotously ribald Bunga Bunga, Berlusconi and Papandreou are in duet with Berlusconi saying the unforgettable lines, “Did you hear the latest poll? They asked young women if they want to make love to Berlusconi. One-third said Yes and two-thirds said AGAIN???” It was followed by the appropriate rimshot. This provided much-needed levity in the midst of a heart-breaking story of catastrophe.
In the end, however, it is Marnie Breckinridge’s portrayal of International monetary Fund (IMF) Chair and Managing Director Christine Lagarde who stepped into the five-year term in 2011. She was reelected to a second term in 2016. Lagarde solves the crisis with her usual diplomacy and toughness. It was the imposition of Greece’s austerity measures that secured the needed help. In 2015, she called for massive debt-forgiveness for Greece.
The final News Flash tells of the second bailout to the tune of 130 billion euros and the imposed austerity measures. The opera concludes with a reprise of Let Us Lie with an introduction based on the melody of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy which is referenced three times in Merkel’s parts.
Ironically, only days before the scheduled release of Angela’s Ring, the European Union and Central Bank had extended the eurozone to most European countries with the exception of Greece.
It is not very often that we see a Jazz opera and rarer still to hear a work of Jazz and Classical vocals that is so instructive, humorous, and sympathetic to an international crisis but Angela’s Ring is all of that. Sehgal, Incontrera, and Garfein have teamed to create a magnificent work that serves an historical landmark as well as a musical wonder.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl