Fine but chilling
Definitions of art genres are, naturally, neither absolute, nor sharp, nor unchangeable. Moving away from the clearly determined centre concurred by more or less all, and the nature of which is given mainly in historical terms, the unambiguity gets weaker and intersections with the other areas of art activities increase in number.
If the three previous performances of the first biennial of the New Opera Days Ostrava in majority explored precisely the borderline areas of what is considered to be opera, examining how far one can reach in the divergence from the imaginary canter, the final Porta della legge by the Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino was, concerning the formal aspect, a „problem-free“ opera. The spectators sit in the auditorium, singers sing a continuous libretto while standing on the stage, the orchestra is located in the pit underneath, the conductor conducts, the stage designer stage-designs. In spite of that, it is probably for the first time in the near history thatto such a degree uncompromising an opera was performed in our country.
Sciarrino’s position at the contemporary art music scene is exceptionally strong. This Palermo native (born 1947) found his original and characteristic musical language using highly avant-garde instrumental techniques already in the late sixties. For several decades already, his star has been rising always higher and Sciarrino is one of the most prominent opera composers of present times.He is distinguished by large productivity. The individual technical and expressive elements and musical solutions cross from one piece to another, often completely identical. In rather unpleasant words, Sciarrino knowshow to be the unique Sciarrino (by no means can it be compared to what is done by the crowds of his imitators!) but it has been so long and in such a stubbornly identical manner that he has been doing it, that after the initial fascination even a light allergy can come, mainly implied by the fact that Sciarrino’s music is a permanent exaltation, game with tension and the psychology of expectation.
If somebody gets fed up with Richard Serra, it is double sure that he will be sated with an art based on continuous attacking the nerves and senses.However, providing the dosage is modest, each good performance of Sciarrino’s music is a joy and holiday. All in it excellently works, it is immediately impressive andenthralling.
At the Ostrava festival, they succeeded even twice: on Monday June 25th (White operatic spots (No. 2)) and on Tuesday the 26th when the opera Gate to the Law (2009) was staged in the Antonín Dvořák Theatre, in cooperation with the German Wuppertaler Bühnen theatre. Ostravská banda chamber orchestra completed with guest musicians was conducted by Petr Kotík, the stage-set and the soloists were provided by the German theatre which commissioned the opera to Sciarrino.
An eighty-minute opera in three acts is based on Kafka’s parable Before the Law which, however, it explicitly shifts in the direction present in the Kafka’s text only as a possibility – i.e. that the Man striving to „enter the Law“ is only one of many such men (or rather that actually we all are in this situation) and that the depicted situationkeeps occurring again and again in innumerable copies as an eternal cycle. Repetition and cyclic nature are principal for both the libretto and music. The unhappy Man (first in baritone version by John Janssen, second as countertenor by Gerson Luize Sales) leads in fact a monologue into which entries of the adamant and mischievous Gatekeeper (Martin Jeasesok Ohu, bass) are inserted in the form of direct speeches.The Man tries, repeating his pleads and insistence, his speech broken, discontinuous, moving from one exhaustion to another, even larger one, and then to death when – naturally – he finds out that this entrance to the law was designed solely for him. Now the gate closes and the next stop, yes, another same Man and the whole thing again, with minor variations. The third act, in its size, is only an epilogue where both the Men sing simultaneously (again almost the identical thing) behind a semi-transparent projection screen on which Escheresque multiplication of paternoster lift runs up and down with silhouette-simulacres of both the singers, from nowhere to nowhere, ad infinitum. Sciarrino himself wrote the libretto. He comments on it in the sense that his intention was to draw attention to the dismal state of public life and defective relationship between society and the state apparatus in Italy. I would describe the directing approach of Johannes Weigand as Wilsonian: on the minimalist stage the famous one chair, distinctive lighting, elaborated gestures and facial expressions of otherwise static soloists. In a very sophisticated manner, the director underlined the fact that the pleading Man is, to a certain degree, accomplice of the existing situation – if in the first act the gate to the law opens to the back, away from the auditorium, in the second act the perspective gets diverted and the „law“ with all the hostile, law-guarding „gatekeepers“ is located in the auditorium. A fine but rather chilling reminder…
The first NODO biennial could not have a better ending – excellent choice of title and brilliant performance. I would like to be mistaken but probably it is really for the very first time that in our country, a new opera was performed bya contemporary composer belonging to the progressive elite, an aesthetically uncompromising work equipped with music loaded with no prefixes of „neo“ or „post“. I do not want to belittle the importance of some successful stagings ofthe operas by Glass in our country, but this feeling of uncompromisingness got me only now, with Sciarrino in Ostrava.