What’s That Spell? for 2 sopranos and large chamber ensemble | Michael Daugherty, composer | Official website

What’s That Spell?
for 2 sopranos and large chamber ensemble (1995)

Instrumentation: 2 amplified sopranos; piccolo, oboe, clarinet; alto sax, tenor sax; horn, trumpet, trombone; piano, percussion; strings (1/1/1/1/1 or small complements)

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 13 minutes

Program Note:

What’s That Spell? is a pop cantata for two Barbie-sopranos backed up by a rock and roll chamber orchestra. The two sopranos pose in various roles to sing about the fate of American plastic dolls. Echoing each other in the first movement, the singers chant like cheerleaders as they spell out the name of America’s favorite female toy. Their mantra turns into a finger-snapping scat song in “Ballerina,” a rhythmic march in “Drum Majorette,” and a lyrical lament in “Oh Ken.” “Oh Ken, Oh Ken, what can I do?/I’m plastic just like you./I love it when we have our talks,/when you and I get put back in the box./Oh Ken, what can we do?/You know I’m plastic, so are you.” The final movement returns to the cheerleader incantation and the pulsating rock beat of the opening, and concludes with the two sopranos spell-bound on a high D.

–Michael Daugherty