NEW YORK – “There.”
“Do you hear it?”
At the beginning, there is only the voice of Jeremy Irons. Then, the sound of strings: high, sparkling filaments of sound that dance around the narrator’s voice like dust particles catching the light.
There is a whispering of wings in the silence of the night.
They’re coming. With feathers as white as snow and faces as bright as the moonlight:
“Angel Heart” is a tender and emotionally astute children’s story told in words and music. Last month it was released as an audiobook CD; on Monday it will be performed live at Zankel Hall with actor Chris Noth as narrator. The text is by Cornelia Funke, the best-selling author of children’s books including the “Inkheart” trilogy and the “MirrorWorld” novels. Mirada, the multimedia storytelling company founded by director Guillermo del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, producer Javier Jimenez and director Mathew Cullen, will bring out a related app in early 2014.
But in its original audio format, “Angel Heart” (Oxingale Records) is a story designed to enter the mind via the ear, bypassing text and image to slip straight into the imagination of a young mind on the threshold of sleep. Weaving in familiar songs from far-flung corners of the Earth into a tale of grief and healing, it has both the simplicity and the dark undertow of a fairy tale.
The story follows a young girl whose heart – we don’t know why – is “broken into a thousand pieces.” An angel finds her weeping bitterly by the side of a pond and guides her on a journey on which they encounter a number of fantastical creatures. At the end of a night of travel to the four points of the compass, the girl’s heart is mended; she has learned to remember and to forget, to be strong and to dare to love again. The angel’s work is done.
The idea for the project originated with the Montreal-based composer Luna Pearl Woolf and the soprano Lisa Delan, who is also featured as one of the singers on the recording. The cast on the CD includes other leading figures from the world of classical music: mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Zheng Cao (who died in February); countertenor Daniel Taylor; baritone Sanford Sylvan; the all-cello ensemble Uccello, led by Matt Haimovitz; and mandolinists Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall. The sound world they create in sensitive arrangements of lullabies and songs and original compositions by Woolf combines the comforting familiarity of folk song with the rich timbres and textures of classical music.
Although “Angel Heart” is marketed as a bedtime story for young children, its allegorical quality makes it suited for all ages.