This disc contains two one-act "monodramas" by American opera composer Dominick Argento. The word "monodrama" is Argento's, and, if this disc is any indication, the term basically indicates an extended monologue in operatic form.
"A Water Bird Talk" is by far the more interesting opera -- and a creative tour de force. Loosely based on a sketch by Anton Chekhov and adapted from Audubon's nature writing, this 40-minute chamber work introduces us to a hapless lecturer, bullied by his domineering wife into speaking about domestic waterfowl. Naturally, the lecturer tells us more about himself than about water birds. Argento's score weaves recordings of actual bird calls into the orchestral texture, to breathtaking effect.
"Miss Havisham's Wedding Night" is inspired by a fairly minor character in Charles Dickens's _Great Expectations_. This opera is written for a single soprano, who performs with as much technical bravura as you'd expect a soprano in her position to do. But there's a major problem: Emotionally, the opera hits only one note. This problem was probably unavoidable, given that, in the source material, Miss Havisham is perfectly obsessed. Dickens only devotes a few pages to her character; Argento gives us almost half an hour. Perhaps Dickens was aware that the more we know about Miss Havisham, the less interesting she becomes.
Both operas are well-performed. The Sinfonia of St. Cecilia, led by Sara Watkins, is consistently clean and precise. John Shirley-Quirk delivers a calm, nuanced performance in _A Water Bird Talk_; soprano Linda Mabbs, as Miss Havisham, is somewhat more overwrought but definitely worth a listen.