Classical Post highlights Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

'Voice Of The Lake' Oratorio Highlights Environmental Concerns

July 11, 2019

In response to the 2014 algae bloom in Lake Erie, Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer decided to create an environmental oratorio with hopes of increasing interest around Lake Erie and other threatened bodies of water.

After two years in the making, Brouwer’s 80-minute oratorio, “Voice of the Lake,” premiered at the Cleveland Institute of Music in October. The performance is now available on DVD and YouTube.

Composed of four parts, the oratorio opens with “At the Lake,” a joyful tribute to Lake Erie. The piece progresses with “The Public Hearing,” which portrays the conflict of opinion in Cleveland as to whether it is safe to dump dredged sediment into the lake. The third part tells the story of “Evening Near the River,” during which two campers come across the algae-filled lake and see some of its causes and solutions. Finally, the piece ends with “Sunrise at the Lake,” a resolution to clean up Lake Erie.

Through these four parts, Brouwer attempts to reveal the significance of the lake, which is used as a recreational site, natural habitat and source of drinking water for potentially 11 million lakeside residents. Due to phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and leaky septic systems, however, the lake was filled with algae, much of it poisonous. In order to convey the reality of the situation, Brouwer took phrases from public hearing transcripts in relation to the algae bloom. The result is a libretto based more so on factual information than on poetry.

The video of the performance is now available for purchase on DVD for $30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society.

The performance features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir. The soloists include soprano Angela Mortellaro, mezzo Sarah Beaty, tenor Brian Skoog and bass Bryant Bush. The show was conducted by Cleveland Opera theater director Domenico Boyagian.

— Kristine Liao