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Photo: Christoffer Askman
The word ‘opera’ evokes visions of celebrated singers filling plush opera houses with large voices conveying equally large emotions. Nothing could seem further away from the concerns of present-day composers of 'new music'. Yet a large number of them have embraced precisely this genre as an outlet for their creative efforts.
Perhaps it is precisely the strong identity of opera, and the instituions that surround it, that has provided contemporary composers with something to throw themselves against. A genre ripe for deconstruction and re-invention. Music in the company of language, scenography and image is apparently an appropriate setting – close yet removed – from which to examine the multimedial world we now find ourselves in.
Anorexia Sacra (2006), 'Stabat Mater' (2009)
Line Tjørnhøj’s works apply words, images and sound to often cruel and tragic stories from real life.
Tjørnhøj’s works from the most recent years open up new perspectives for the chamber opera format, in the sense that the composer in her dramaturgical role rejects the usual operatic myths about love and power. Works like 'Anorexia Sacra' (2006) and 'Stabat Mater' (2009) confront the audience with issues relating to sexual identity and religious fundamentalism. This development ushers entirely new female characters on to the opera stage, and new voices have to be created for such figures” —Danish Arts Foundation.
A significant aspect of the composer’s activity is her engagement and close conceptual collaboration with the artists and performers she works with. Tjørnhøj builds on the “devising” techniques of performance theatre as well examples opened up by electronic technology as a means of establishing her expressive palette. This in addition to her bold choice of subject matter has enabled her to “go where no other composer has ever thought or dared to go”, as the Houston Chronicle put it in 2009.
In contrast to the cool detachment sometimes taken to characterise the avant-garde, the music of Steingrimur Roloff has always embraced an emotional nerve.
In his opera Babel he has has created a piece of music theatre that reaches out over conventional operatic conventions. He enriches the tradition with interactions, video-doppelgangers, percussion pieces that turn into rituals, imaginary languages and arias on film.
The narrative centers around a figure from a story by Borges: A blind man in an infinite library with an infinite number of books containing all letters and signs, a library containing all people in all versions of themselves. The books and the pursuit of their unattainable content leaves him unable to sleep, plagued by the phantoms and images that emerge from his desires. A commentary both on and through modern multimedia.
Simon Steen-Andersen has long been concerned with expanding the realm of music 'from within'.
My aim is not to stand in one place and then add something else, but that I can be able to position myself inside the music and then expand it from that position.
He considers musical sound is inextricably connected with the situations and actions that create it – the behaviour, media and society that bring it about.
Simon Steen-Andersen's 'Buenos Aires' grows out of these concerns. It has been described as a 'meta opera' – an opera for singers deprived of the opportunity to sing. It incorporates video and audio technology in an examination the consituent elements of song, sound, air, freedom and coercion, but also of the genre itself.
It is a powerful multimedia work that underscores Simon Steen-Andersens's growing prowess as a composer equally adept in the fields of video and performance art.
Niels Rønsholdt began his involvement with opera a decade ago with in Inside Your Mouth, Sucking the Sun, a chamber opera based Based on the letters from Napoleon Bonaparte to his empress Josephine. The work, created together with media artist and interaction designer Signe Klejs, has been described as 'an ambitious endeavour to reinvent or evaluate the traditional opera drama'.
Since then Klejs and Rønsholdt have created a number works taking the operatic genre as a point of departure.
Triumph, is a 'micro-opera' with electronics and real time visuals by Signe Klejs. Based on text material from Tjekhov and Sade, it explores the theme of longing and the tension field between pleasure and pain. Essentially a stylized whipping viewed from the two point of view of each of the persons engaged – staggered in time and space.
Honeymoon, also created together with Klejs, takes the idea of opera in another direction, this time in the form of an interactive installation for 3D stereo video, 4-channel audio and wind machines, with viewing restricted to a single audience member at a time.
Breathless brings the interactive installation form to the iPad in the form of an app. The pilot project was created in collaboration with The Royal Opera House, London and produced in collaboration with CAVI, DR’s Radio Choir and Edition·S.
In Word for Word Niels Rønsholdt returns to live preformance, this time taking on the role of protagonist himself. Once again he aims to systematically overturn conventional notions of opera: “The spectacular becomes intimate, the many contributing become one, set design becomes dark. And above all, it’s true. From the often quixotic and exaggerated opera dramas to a small piece of reality, as we all experience it.”