Helena Rasker as Erna;Christoph Pohl as Johannes;Will Hartmann as Peter;
Photo: © ROH Photographer: Clive Barda
The Royal Opera House presented the world premiere of Morgen und Abend (Morning and Evening) with music by Georg Friedrich Haas and libretto by acclaimed Norwegian writer Jon Fosse based on his novel Morgon og kveld. Although Austrian composer Haas may be unfamiliar to UK audiences, one of his previous works in vain, composed in 2000 was described by Sir Simon Rattle as “an acknowledged masterpiece of the 21st century”.
Klaus Maria Brandauer as Olai;Photo: © ROH Photographer: Clive Barda
The first act begins with a stark grey set with few objects, drum rolls punctuate the air before an ashen faced fisherman Olai ( played by distinguished Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer) enters the stage and sits on a chair. What follows is a spoken monologue about the impending birth of his son who will be named Johannes. The music acts as a soundtrack to the words of Olai creating a heightened sense of the joys and fears of the fisherman. Eventually, there are cries from a baby and the mini drama is over when the midwife enters the stage to announce that mother and baby are fine.
Christoph Pohl as Johannes;Sarah Wegener as Signe / Midwife; Photo: © ROH Photographer: Clive Barda
The second act features Johannes, now an old man and also a fisherman who describes his feelings of emptiness since his wife Erna passed away. The regular visit of his daughter Signe brings only temporary respite to his loneliness. The sparse dialogue is sung above the music that evokes the emptiness and despair of the situation. A bright light illuminates the greyness of the stage. The appearance of Johannes dead wife and best friend Peter leaves the fisherman to question his sanity. His anxiety grows as he notices that there is a coldness enveloping his body. A visit from his daughter in which she notices the coldness but cannot see him brings the realisation that he has died. His friend Peter arrives to take him away to a place where he can see his lost loved ones again but ‘words will have no meaning’. The pair leave the stage and music implies a spiritual journey for Johannes is about to begin, whilst his daughter returns to call for her father as the lights fade to darkness.
Christoph Pohl as Johannes;Will Hartmann as Peter;Photo: © ROH Photographer: Clive Barda
This extraordinary production seeks to extend the limits of the genre, the traditional lavish operatic productions are replaced by a minimalist opera that uses music that is not harmonies and melodies but soundscapes that swirl around the actors. The nature of the piece places enormous responsibilities on the cast, conductor and orchestra. Nowhere is that more evident than in the first act where Klaus Maria Brandauer and the music provided the tone and atmosphere of the production. Johannes ( Christoph Pohl), Erna ( Helena Wegener) and Peter ( Will Hartman) in the second act gave powerful yet restrained performances. The confident direction by Graham Vick and sparse use of lighting by Guiseppe Di Iorio were key elements in how the pace of the production developed.
Death is not unusual in opera, however it is doubtful it has been treated in such a poetic and emotionally powerful way. The level of intensity for performers and audience was remarkable when every note and gesture seemed amplified to a higher degree.
This innovative, bold and engaging opera has the courage to concentrate almost totally on raw elements of the human life such as birth and death that remain the great mysteries of existence. Whilst there are those that perhaps would not to like to consider those concepts, many in the Royal Opera House audience were thoroughly engaged and showed their approval of a unique production.
Morgen und Abend is being performed at the Royal Opera House from the 13th November to 28th November 2015
If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website here
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