The Bitter Suite: A Musical Odyssey

Music Composed by Joseph LoDuca
Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Philips Oland and Dennis Speigel

Varése Sarabande VSD-5918


Xena sung by Lucy Lawless
Gabrielle sung by Susan Wood
Ares sung by Kevin Smith
Callisto sung by Michelle Nicastro
Joxer sung by Ted Raimi

Fans of the series have long admired the work of composer Joe LoDuca, indeed two CDs of music from the series have already been well received. (Not too many TV series get to release three soundtracks.) Fans are also well aware of star, Lucy Lawless' singing talents. First heard in the beautiful and haunting 'Burial' song from the episode Mortal Beloved, on US tv chat shows and lately on Broadway, Lucy Lawless' vocal participation was probably a major reason for a musical episode. When news began to filter out about a possible musical episode, the rumours began flying about who would sing and what the songs would be like.

The episode when aired was an immediate hit with fans and critics, and so a CD release inevitably followed. March 1998 saw the US release of The Bitter Suite:A Musical Odyssey (my, they love their colons in this series!) Running at 42 minutes and 50 seconds, the cd has all the songs and a few snippets of dialogue from the episode.

It begins with 'The Sweat Hut/Slapped Out of it/Xena's in Town', a montage of the music from the early scenes with Gabrielle and Xena including a few extra bits that presumably were cut from the final edit of the tv show. Amazon drums and a strong rhythmn, followed by the agonized wailing of Xena's snowy mountaintop encounter with Ares. We then have 'Horrible Drag/On the Edge/Song of the Fool', which as you might guess takes us through the VERY horrible drag and to the beginnings of Illusia. It begins with the well used Bulgarian chant before switching to the dramatic music that accompanied Xena's fight with the Amazons and the drag to the cliff edge. The beginning of the Illusia music is instantly recognisable although sadly, Callisto's poems are not on the cd, just her introductory song....This is Illusia!

Its right into the songs then. Track 3 is 'What's Still Unwritten..(Song of Illusia)'. This one features Hudson Leick in the talking bits, and Michelle Nicastro singing for Callisto. The songs works well due to the marked similarity between Hudson Leick and Michelle Nicastro's voices. There are all those singing animals too, and a little bit of Xena dialogue. "still I wouldn't trust you, as far as I could throw you." This was a great opening song. The visuals were very good, and the colour and effects immediatley eye catching. Of course on CD we only get the music and singing, but its still a lively introduction to Illusia. Next, we have Gabrielle's introduction to Illusia, and again miss out on Callisto's poem, but we get all of Gabrielle and Joxer's dialogue and the Joxer the Mighty song. Ted Raimi displays a fine, operatic style voice in his brief bit of singing. With his voice its a bit of a shame all he got to sing was that damn Joxer the Mighty song!

Track 4 is 'War and Peace', a lengthy and expertly coreographed sequence comparing the war-like warriors and peace loving villagers. This one has particularly good lyrics- something you don't catch the first time on tv. Getting panacea to rhyme with Poteidaia was a particularly clever one! This track also displays Kevin Smith's lovely deep singing voice. Ares is a seductively attractive figure in the series and Kevin Smith's singing was one of the most pleasant surprises on seeing the episode for the first time.
I think Willa O'Neill who plays Gabrielle's sister Lila sings the part too in the Poteidaia section- there was also a guest appearance from Entertainment Tonight reporter Julie Moran as a villager. Clever lyrics and a wonderful contrast in the tone of the war and peace makers' songs. I was soon singing along with this one.

After this comes one of my favourite songs, 'Melt into Me/Let Go'. Xena and Ares tango around Gabrielle's body while Kevin Smith seductively sings in that smokily sexy voice of his. This was a stand out the very first time I saw the episode, and shows Joe LoDuca's ability in a variety of musical styles. Wonderful.
In 'Dead/Hearts Are Hurting (part 1)', Lucy Lawless finally gets to sing, along with the Gabrielle voice artiste, Susan Wood. Personally I didn't like Ms Wood's voice. She didn't sound much like Renee O'Connor and her voice is rather annoyingly squeaky. We get a bit of Xena and Gabrielle's dialogue from the tower. Lucy Lawless doesn't really got going in this one, but soon...!
Track 7 is largely soundtrack music, 'The Deliverer', and is an extended version of what is on the tv episode. Lots of choral chanting building in an ominous crscendo that certainly takes us back to the temple of Dahok and Gabrielle's trials. The next song is 'Hate is the Star(Song of the Torment)', not my favourite song, although a recent interview with Joe LoDuca in Whoosh quoted him as saying how pleased he was to work with the singer Phil Marcus Esser. It is the only song with an off-screen singer, and consequently I felt it didn't work quite as well as the others. it segues into 'Hearts are Hurting (part 2)', where Xena and Gabrielle discover that their friendship can be healed if they can defeat the hatred. In the tv episode Xena sings this one on a cross while Gabrielle is shackled to an altar, but the words are particularly touching.

The final track on the cd is 'The Way Out/The Love of Your Love/Passing Through', which is, of course, the ending to the whole adventure. The Way Out segment includes some lovely music including a brief snatch of the Chinese flavoured music from The Debt, one of my favourites. We also get the dialogue from when Gabrielle and Xena see Solon and try to leave through the waterfall. The climax of the whole episode is Xena's song The Love of Your Love, and Lucy Lawless puts this ballad across brilliantly. It is her final redemptive song asking for forgiveness from Gabrielle and Solon for her wrong doings, and is a beautiful song. Joe LoDuca also did the lyrics for this one, and it is a real highlight- get those hankies ready! The last piece of music that accompanies Xena and Gabrielle's return from Illusia is an extension of that ballad. It ends the cd with a nice bit of classical guitar and is an appropriately feelgood finale.

For many of us, The Bitter Suite was a quite stunnning episode. Visually it took a few viewings to take it all in, and listening to the cd, I was again very impressed with the amount of work that went into this one episode. I read somewhere that much of the budget for series three went on The Debt and The Bitter Suite- all I can say is it was money well spent! I loved the songs, and this cd is essential for anyone else who enjoyed the episode. particularly those who were distressed by the drag scene- the cover of the cd is as much trauma we see Gabrielle go through.
The CD also has high quality still from the episode and full lyrics so you can sing along with all the songs to your hearts content. A variety of musical styles are displayed, clever lyrics and the chance to hear Lucy Lawless and Kevin Smith sing. Get out there and BUY THIS!

Catherine O'Grady
© April 1998

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