Professional opera singer Valentina O is the eclectic and multifaceted songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and producer behind Nymphya. After a personal tragedy in 2006 when her fiancé, record producer Keith Keller, suddenly died, Valentina struggled to bring herself back to life from her crippling grief through music and spiritual practice. Using what Keith taught her, Valentina built her own recording studio in 2011 and began producing and recording “DREAM DANCE” – an album which she finally released at the end of 2017 – as a tribute to him. The album features Valentina on vocals, guitar, keyboards, and music programming. After reading Valentina’s impressive bio (of which you can read a snippet at the foot of this review), I was preoccupied. Why? I am typically adverse to classically trained or opera singers performing contemporary pop music. I am by no means anti-Classical. Classical techniques have given the world many virtuoso vocalists, and set high standards for the development of singers. My point is only that when a singer wants to create sounds with pop variance, new techniques are needed to support the broader sounding vocabulary used in contemporary musical styles, especially the vowels, which are less focused and more spread.
When I hear Pavarotti singing Pop together with Bono, or Andrea Botticelli performing Showtime songs with Celine Dion – no matter how much I adore them – I don’t drool. I cringe. I told you I was atypical. Each to his own. So when I found this epic concept album by Nymphya, my biggest fear did not concern the quality of the music, but if I would at least like Valentina’s voice in this modern setting- My doubts were confirmed the minute I heard the two back to back tracks “Wasteland” and “Heart On A Shelf”.
I didn’t like Valentina’s voice. I simply loved it! Soulful, stirring, edgy and totally affecting, nowhere does she ever sound cold, mechanical, forced or out of context in anyway. Not even when she brings her operatic techniques to the fore on the driving electro soundscape of “Over The Hedge”. I have never heard a professional opera singer, perform with such technical nonchalance until now.
To be honest, Nymphya’s vocals already captured my attention, earlier on, in the album’s stunning title track, “Dream Dance”. This song is the perfect example of how her music has a flair for escapism but is still so emotionally charged. The way the track swells and expands with increasing layers of vocals, causes an effect that is very powerful and intoxicating. It’s dark, haunting, and euphorically comforting at the same time.
This album has a very dramatic flair, and a sense of momentum and power, that is hard to find elsewhere in the mainstream today. The melodies here are very strong, the songs focused and inspired. Again, I want to point out that Valentina aka Nymphya, writes the songs, plays all the instruments (aside from the rhythmic and harmonic foundation provided by the extensive bass lines courtesy of Ray Schaeffer), and performs all the vocals. This process requires a lot of vision, discipline, patience, and of course an otherworldly talent.
With this album, Nymphya has created an integrated musical experience with a beginning, middle and an end. Put the music on, and then sit back and listen, and you will soon have grown to love it, to crave it, to want to live in it. Nymphya creates a world that you can only appreciate by totally inhabiting it. This album has a beautiful, unique, consistent musical and emotional vision, so that when you arrive at the upbeat EDM electronics of “We Carry On”, you will not be surprised, because Nymphya has consciously and purposely ushered you to this point.
A note of interest is how uncannily Valentina can sound like Kate Bush (“Heart on a Shelf”) one moment, and then forge the breaking huskiness of Marianne Faithfull (“We Carry On”), the next. It’s a voice that brings you through an emotional journey which transcends this world.
I even hear traces of Barbra Streisand’s incredible high vocal strains on “Going Home” and “Spiral”. But there is nothing derivative about Nymphya’s vocal cords whatsoever, she’s just so versatile and able to infuse each song with its own particular tone and timbre, that she sounds like three or four different singers all rolled into one. This is perfection at work. We may have waited six or seven years for this album to become reality, but it is certainly worth the wait.
One song in particular plays with my mind: “Wasteland” – it is simply brilliant in every possible way. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve put this on replay already. Apart from the beautiful vocals, distinctive percussion, and chord progressions, Ray Schaeffer’s resonating bass lines on this track is absolutely sublime. I have already put “Wasteland” on my ‘best track of the year’ list for 2018.
You get so swept away by the poetic beauty of the melodies, atmospheres, and moods that you forget about all the sweeping and genial electronics being applied in the musical arrangements, which in itself is a massive feat. What can more I say about this beautiful woman with a beautiful voice that hasn’t already been said? Breathtaking vocals, deeply stirring music, all impeccably produced. In a word – Spellbinding!
MORE ABOUT NYMPHYA: Valentina has appeared throughout the United States as an opera singer, actor and performer, as well as on numerous soundtracks for television, film and commercials, and on multiple CD projects for recording artists, including backing up John Cale (The Velvet Underground) on the Tonight Show and appearing on MTV with her group Screaming Divas. It was with Screaming Divas that Valentina also opened for Todd Rundgren at the Fillmore in San Francisco and for George Benson at Villa Montalvo, as well as Dana Carvey at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. Developing a love for opera, she launched her professional opera career, which brought her to the concert halls of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and New York City Opera, among others.