The music by Wolff demonstrated a search for authentic Hawaiian chant and island instruments including the nose flute, warrior sticks and stone castanets. The effective use of these instruments represented a reach to pre-Western influence, even as we had a Western orchestra juxtaposed in this clash of cultures.
Woolf might have done the music this way to allow for two Hawaiian compositions–the traditional “Kumulipo” (“Creation Chant”) and “Aloha ‘Oe”–to be featured. Queen Lili’uokalani was the English translator of “Kumulipo” and the composer of “Aloha ‘Oe.” The Dresser was impressed with how seamlessly and beautifully Woolf blended “Aloha ‘Oe” into the music ofBetter Gods, making this old chestnut new to the ear.
Offering something slightly more substantial than the 20-minute pieces shown last month, WNO premiered Better Gods, an hour-long work by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent on Friday evening. The subject is the fate of Queen Lili’uokalani, last monarch of Hawaii. In 1898, Lili’uokalani attempts to repudiate the U.S.-friendly constitution inherited from her predecessor and shore up Hawaiian sovereignty.
Washington National Opera’s Better Gods brings a mostly unknown chapter in Hawaiian history onto the stage at the Kennedy Center, telling the story of Queen Lili’uokalani, the island nation’s last monarch, with dignity and high artistic values. I imagine the Hawaiian “better gods” are happy.
Ms. Woolf’s gorgeous score is underlined by the use of traditional Hawaiian chants and her score utilized authentic instruments like the nose flute, Kala’au (percussive sticks), and Ili’ili (castanets), that are native to the island. Ms. Woolf’s score also uses Queen Lili`uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe”, sung in gorgeous counterpoint by soprano Ariana Wehr.
This fascinating and heart wrenching story of Better Gods is a production worth seeing. The touches of Hawaiian authenticity, and the tremendous strength of the performers, make the new fascinating and heart-wrenching Better Gods from the Washington National Opera a powerful experience.