Interview · Line Tjørnhøj · LUFT

Edition·S has interviewed Line Tjørnhøj about her coming opera LUFT, commissioned by the Royal Theatre and set to be premiered April 24 2021.

Line Tjørnhøj · Photo by Anders Bigum

Sunday, May 24, Line Tjørnhøj turned 60, and on this occasion, Edition·S has interviewed the composer on her upcoming opera, commissioned by The Royal Theatre to by premiered April 24 2021.

The opera is titled LUFT (Air) and touches upon the myth of love and culture of silence in a dysfunctional family. The main character is a strong, young woman whose quest is to change her destiny and free herself from a family blighted by violence and abuse. This character was written specifically for soprano Sofie Elkjær Jensen from the Royal Danish Opera’s Soloist Ensemble.

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Line Tjørnhøj is known to have a strong, dramatic musical voice. She is well known for dealing with cruel subjects where men and women are challenged to the utmost as a consequence of the misuse of power in its various forms. She exploits the soothing quality and beauty of the voice to establish a space for the impossible and painful stories she has narrated in the course of her career as a composer.

Edition·S interviewed the composer about the theme and format for the coming opera.

Why did you choose to write an opera with violence in the family as the focal point?

Traditionally, the narrative of an opera (as well as many other genres) is about romantic love which endures everything. I want to challenge this narrative by creating new narratives within the opera genre. In this piece, I am looking at the love story from a different angle, and I am placing the opera in a contemporary context so that the theme is relevant to the present day.

The opera is based upon a child's position and point of view. The child stands in the middle of the violent drama between her father and her mother – a kind of drama that the adults perceive as a kind of love. The spiral of violence is established as its own normal and has its own kind of love within the four walls of their silent home. The child's needs are completely disregarded and in the most tragic consequence; the child is killed as revenge and punitive action in the parent's drama.

The theme has consequences for the text, instrumentation, and musical material that I work with in the opera. My first approach was to stylize Mother and Father so that they are not naturistic: The Father-role consists of nine male singers and Mother is written for two male singers. The men represent the old system, the darkness. While the art – and in my case music – is the hope and the light.

I am preoccupied with incorporating female protagonists into opera. The choice is not based on feministic reasons but pure facts: There is a lack of female-based narratives! And although the main character – the daughter – is sung by a woman, for me it is essential, that the music plays the main character as well – that it is performed by female musicians. The music is what carries hope and beauty throughout the tragic events.

How do you work with this topic musically?

In general, you will hear the title in the instrumentation; airy sounds and references to near-death/choking. I have also worked with concrete sounds that are magnified. The sounds of everyday life. And then there is an overall line around silence and a culture of silence in the family, which is a reference to inclosed families, where certain rules and moods reign, where one must constantly tiptoe around –  both in a literal sense and metaphorically speaking. In one movement one should be able to feel this terror and anxiety: First, there are sounds of everyday things like coffee cups and teaspoons which slowly transform into the sounds of shoes being used for beating and smacking sounds.

What can the opera format do for you as a composer?

The opera format is still super relevant because it brings together all the art forms: media, images, text, music, and dancing, and transforms the material into something magical in the myriad ways – while rolling out the violent themes of existential human conditions. But contemporary art also has an obligation to change the customary and traditional narratives. Another remake of Carmen doesn't necessarily bring any good. It is an old story, to which the audience has become uncritical and which contribute to preserving old-fashioned power structures and retained roles.

Although the subject of this opera is tragic and terrible, the music is beautiful. And it is a very special force of the artist: that in art itself, you can endure being something unbearable and be able to create a kind of comfort and reflective community – a kind of modern catharsis.

LUFT (2020) production and cast

Composer and librettist: Line Tjørnhøj
Conductor: Ian Ryan

Sofie Elkjær Jensen, The Daughter
Morten Grove Frandsen, The Mother
Steffen Jespersen, Mother

Premiere April 24, 2021.
Performance dates: 24.04, 28.04, 02.05, 05.05, 08.05, 12.05.

Venue: Takkelloftet, The Royal Theatre (Copenhagen)
Duration: 75'