I am currently in Germany where we are staging the new chamber opera UR_. It is wonderful to have such a substantial rehearsal period, thanks to our premiering Theater Trier and our wonderful project manager and Far North founder Arnbjörg María Daníelsen.
The rehearsals are going well and we are all very excited and looking forward to the premiere in September in Trier and then at the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival in Oslo.
UR_ combines two main narratives, told through an abstract metaphorical persona, the various aspects of which are portrayed by the different elements of a trilogy (the three singers) which together forms a single character in the work. The elements merge and divide throughout the work, but are fundamentally tied together through the presence of a central being (ambiguously portrayed by the actor). The grand piano is a separate character, representing the “Mother” – the protecting element.
One narrative looks backward, the other forward: The first narrative, which is the primary focus, is the story of the human being struggling to find a way back to the UR_ – the perspective of this narrative is primarily that of the trilogy; the other, the secondary focus (more theatrically presented), is the story of how we got here, so far removed from the UR_.
The progression in the voices primarily represents the backward element – the UR_ in the human being waking from hibernation and finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment, struggling to find their voice and to be heard – this is the struggle of the human being rediscovering the UR_ in itself (in its several forms, which – although different – are part of the same), the abstract persona conflicted and confused by its seemingly unheard voice and presence. This struggle is characterized by the struggle of each to find its voice, their struggle to communicate with each other, and their struggle to communicate as a unity with the “other” side of the abstract persona, the one responsible for this alien state. This is all part of the struggle to find a way back to “nature”, which can have many meanings. Once found/heard, it is liberating and beautiful but also difficult in many ways. For all its presence and importance for the human being, however, this wondrous achievement all but disappears as we become aware of the UR_ itself, its vast and massive expanse. The human being, despite its (perhaps inevitable) perception of the significance of its own values, its place in the world, and the impact it has had on it (for good and bad), may “disappear overnight”, its time here “a blink in the eye of evolution”.
The forward element – how the UR_ in the human being was pushed into hibernation – is less represented in the music and more in the theatrical elements. This narrative contains elements of the trajectory of Western culture which got the human being to where it is, for good and bad. This current environment in which the UR_ elements find themselves, and find to be alien to them, is also represented primarily theatrically – it is the “other” side of the modern human being whose UR_ has now woken up, confused and desperate to find its way back, to be heard.
The primary narrative – the search for a way back to the UR_, the struggle to be heard/included – is spoken through sequences of musical imagery and phonetic sound structures where language merges with music in sound and expression. Phonetic patterns become an instrument where elements of various languages are dispersed and recombined, generating a strained and fragmented idiolect. Language – in its familiar form – in part represents the emphasis on human reason which partly underpins the ideology of Western culture that got us to where we are. Language facilitates an important kind of understanding, but there is also a certain kind of understanding that it can limit, be a barrier to. It can mean the difference between “us” and “them”. Being heard, understood, can change these boundaries, redraw the line – being truly heard means being genuinely included, and true inclusion is a kind of freedom or liberation, an elimination of hierarchy.
Communicating through expressive phonetic gestures is a mechanism that allows for important conversations that cannot be had in language, but can still be understood and appreciated – conversations that remain lost until the UR_ elements find a natural way to communicate and a natural voice to speak with.
Without these, they are truly voiceless.
In writing the opera I really had to dive deeply inwards in a unique way to search for themes, layers of metaphors and expressions, and to find ways to carefully weave the threads together but still to leave elements open for theatrical interpretation. It took me on a substantial inner search for sounds, textures and expression for the human voice, to find the "right" lyrical materials and textures to construct the whole and the text for each part. The process was extremely personal but at the same time in constant realization that in the end the music would be placed in the hands of another to interpret the work visually and theatrically and thereby growing it into its ultimate existence.
The layers of metaphors in the work can be interpreted in different ways and one of the several interesting approaches that director Thorleifur Örn Agnarsson is taking is that of an "opera in the making", a kind of contemporary self-scrutiny of the operatic form. I am very excited to see what the production will become and can't wait to share it with everyone!
Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir is doing stage design and costumes, Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason is coaching the music during rehearsals and conducting, Baldur Brönnimann will be conducting the premiere, the rotating ensembles are BIT20 and CAPUT, and the performers on stage are: Melis Jaatinen mezzo-soprano, Joa Helgesson baritone, Sofia Jernberg singer, Miké Thomsen actor & Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir pianist.