Jexper Holmen Interview (UK)

On 30 May a new opera by Jexper Holmen with libretto by Jesper Lützhøft will be premiered at KLANG festival. We asked the composer a handful of questions about the work with the enticing title: The Darkblue Purplewomen in the Residential Neighbourhoods

Read the interview in Danish

As far as I am aware 'De mørkeblå lillakvinder i villakvartererne' (The Darkblue Purplewomen in the Residential Neighbourhoods) is your first opera - how have you approached the opera genre?

JEXPER HOLMEN: I did actually write an opera once before, 'Berenice' from 2008. It was very untraditional and consisted of one long aria for a motionless singer and with cut-up, incomprehensible text. Contrary to this I have approached the opera genre more traditionally in 'De mørkeblå lillakvinder i villakvartererne'. It is a progression of dramatic events performed by opera singers on a stage accompanied by an orchestra.

I have set the libretto in music as it seemed natural. That has brought about a somewhat untraditional relation between the singers and the orchestra which is firmly bound together. An effective way to let the voices of the singers stand out from the orchestra is to write them in a different register than the instruments of the orchestra and give it a different texture. I did the exact opposite: I let the orchestra double up the voices and have the same rhythm and phrasing.

I have done that because this opera is atonal and needs something else to secure coherence instead of the traditional tonal relations keeping the dialogue together in the recitatives of a baroque opera. In this opera, the coherence emerges on a different level with singers and the orchestra articulating and phrasing together.

How does the opera genre differ from the works you have previously written?

JH: It is completely different because there is a narrative with dramatic characters whose psychology I relate to in my composition.

The parts of the singers are tightly composed so that I have decided in detail which words to stress and how much; if they should sing fast or slow, high or low, quiet or loud. This all has an influence on the dramatic meaning of the text and the narrative. The meaning of a sentence can change radically depending on the exact words emphasised. For instance: "Have you gone MAD?" means something different than "Have YOU gone mad?

It is also completely different because the opera will be staged which adds an extra dimension after the score has been finished, and the success depends largely on the interesting interaction between the score and the staging. The staging is done by Freja Friberg Lyme. She is the one to ask if you want to know more about that.

Jexper Holmen (Photo: Brian Slater)

How did your collaboration with Jesper Lützhøft play out?

JH: Lützhøft had dreamt the sentence "De mørkeblå lillakvinder i villakvartererne", and since he had just premiered the opera 'Angelo' that he wrote together with Lars Klit I jokingly said to him, that the dream was the title of his next opera and that I would like to write the music for it. That developed quickly and soon after he had written the libretto.

We had some dialogue about the content while he wrote it, but it is mostly him who decided the character of it. For instance, I had imagined that the narrative should unfold around the main character's passive aggression, but the libretto turned out very violently. Throughout the opera, the moments without something violent happening or approaching are few. 

That was, by the way, the hardest part of writing the work: merging all the expressive violence with the psychologising style of the composition in a way that seems well motivated.

How do the narrative and the music of the opera affect each other?

JH: They take turns driving each other crazy.

Can you say something about the aesthetic expression you have worked with in the piece?

JH: I have made an effort to hold on to the fact that it is characters in an opera and not living people in flesh and blood we are dealing with. That is one more reason that the doubling of orchestra and singers makes sense. The voices of the singers merge with the orchestra and are partly wiped out - this shows that they are part of a larger whole, which they cannot completely see through. It makes good sense in relation to Lützhøft's libretto which has something alienating to it.

What kind of experience can the audience expect? (Experience = oplevelse)



The opera will be performed in KoncertKirken in Copenhagen four times during KLANG festival
Thursday 30 May 20:00
Friday 31 May 20:00
Saturday 1 June 20:00
Sunday 2 June 20:00
Read more about the performances here.