Gate to the Law Wide Open – Try to Enter
With the Waiting for Godot dramaturgical ground-plan, the congeniouslyseized part of the Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial closed the New Opera Days Ostrava. The Gate to the Law by Salvatore Sciarrino is excellently written and Petr Kotík rehearsed it in adequate quality. The perfectly launched new festival saved the best for the last.
Speak to him as an angel or as a devil, the result will be the same. The Gatekeeper will offer you a chair, will ask you about your past but you will not pass through the gate to the law. Even though it seems to be opening, there is at least a crack through which you can peep in, still you will stay outside and never will you know if behind the gate, there is the Law you search. Finally the despair is crowned with the discovery that the law is not only one – the gate you have been lonely and in vain striving to enter all your life through, was created just for you.
Those expressive means of Salvatore Sciarrino that were indicatedin the previous performance of the miniopera Infinito nero, could be experienced in full power in the more than an hour longopera La porta della legge . This is already a full-blown music-theatre piece, a real contemporary opera – not only because of the date of its origin. Absolutely seriously and without any playing them down, contemporary problems are treated here , using contemporary means of expression. Talking round in all manners was represented here by two almost identical acts where the Gatekeeper (bass) is talked round to free the passage through the gate for Man 1 (baritone) and Man 2 (countertenor). None of them succeeds and in the final act they express their despair in unison to visually multiply themselves into up and down going countless paternoster lifts . Besides the socially critical view inherent in the opera, the staging itself indicated one more question: whether the closed or open door is not rather an issue of the state of our mind than an objective reality.
I would describe the musical language used by Salvatore Sciarrinoas several interpenetrating and interacting layers of musical shadows, mist and aphorisms. The shadows, those are the bass tones creating a dark foundation. On it, there rolls a mist of undefined sounds produced on the mechanisms and parts of the instruments fulfilling the harmonic role, in an unusual way. Aphorisms are inconspicuous fragments of motifs, rather only indicative of the motifs that would be if the composer finished expressing them. Sciarrino is almost strict in avoiding any literal meanings, however, the piece thus only gains the purity in style, impressiveness and, paradoxically, also comprehensibility.
Within the context of contemporary music, the way that human voice is treated here, is completely extraordinary.In my opinion, the singing parts are written really for the singers, respecting their capabilities. I do not want to say that they would be easy, the opposite is closer to the truth, but taken the unconventional manner in which the instruments are treated by the composer, the human voice is handled in a very conservative way. I can only speculate whether it is a conscious approach or the inertia of the operatic Italy, but in any case, it is a very pleasant attitude.
The staging prepared by the Ostrava festival in cooperation with the Wuppertaler Bühnen was, with the exception of the very ending, conceived in a very minimalist, Wilsonian spirit. Orange, and later black background left open only thelight aperture of the gate and behind it, the white-blue horizon of changing height. One chair and a stand for the Gatekeeper’s coat were sufficient as props. Nevertheless, the seeming simplicity was hiding a very detailed work with the changing size of the gate, the changes in the horizon height and mainly the economical and at the same time eloquent gestures and movements of the characters.Black slapstick comedy elements were coded in their mutual positioning, creating contrast or parallel, even mosaic-fitting silhouettes against the light aperture of the gate, inseparable from Kafka the same way as so much worn-down existential anxiety.
Ostravská banda conducted by Petr Kotík played a blinder.The orchestra learned the exacting piece in mere three rehearsals on such an excellent level as if it was a common repertory piece. In the chamber instrumentation nobody can hide and therefore they were excellent individual performances, however, the conducting of Petr Kotík stays essential. He conducted the performance with certainty, carefully he took care also of the singers and their entries, leaving not one thing to chance.His treatment of dynamics was exquisite: Sciarrino’s music often moves at the borderline of audability but Ostravská banda did not lose dynamic colourfulness even in fine piano and pianissimo dynamics.
The singers had their parts mastered, their voices well joining together, nobody sticking out of the well rehearsedwhole. Taking the conventional view, there were no ensembles, however, the individual phrases of the singers often followed each other and certainly it was not easy to achieve smooth continuity free of unpleasantjumps – in dynamics, vibrato, manner oftone production etc.
There is no need to evaluate the first biennial of New Opera Days Ostrava with any reservations, inhibitions and compromises, nobody has to plead here for a hundred days ofprotection before he gets acquainted with his function. The event, behind which it is Petr Kotík and Jiří Nekvasil who are the most visible as initiators, was a clear success. In its second biennial, it will be the most difficult to at least maintain the level settled now.