The opera-house in Basel stages Stockhausen's opera DONNERSTAG aus LICHT completely – a project we cannot be but very grateful about. Over decades no opera-house dared to do so, and now we have the opportunity to take part and get to know this famous and important work. More than that: In the end of September there will be a Stockhausen-week in Basel with masterclasses and a symposion to promote the knowledge of Stockhausen's work – very very important, and I wish, that other institutions, especially in Germany, should follow this initiative! I attended the first performance. Though this gratitude persists, I must confess: I was not really happy with this production, and I have the suspicion, that what here is to be seen, is part of a common pattern to stage works nowadays. The evening started with the GRUSS in the foyer. The room was filled with red (!!) colours, the setting suggested a bar-atmosphere with a show-band, the conductor clad in a red suit, everybody moving casually, with cigarettes – I asked myself: What is happening here? For the music of the GRUSS is just the opposite to a show- or a bar-event; it is a powerful first representation of the cosmic powers that act in the opera-cycle. Then the first act: For me the first scene KINDHEIT is extremely difficult. A scene without glamour, mostly just the voices, with many different events that follow each other after just some bars – is it possible to clarify in detail what is going on in a stage production? I have my doubts. It was a pity, that for me the voices of the mother and of Michael were painfully loud and hard, sometimes even shrill – so a human relationship between the protagonists could not become evident. But you got a general impression of the dark atmosphere of the scene. The theme of MONDEVA, the second scene, is to show the happy future for Michael in his first encounter with the forces of female spirit and of love against the dark background of the death of father and mother. We should see in a ritualized way in one side of the stage the father falling 12 times till he finally finds his death. In the meantime in the center of the stage young Michael meets Mondeva, the girl from the stars, and we witness a poetic and joyful dialogue between man and woman, voice and instrument, Michael- and Eve-formula. Here in Basel nothing of that kind happens. It is not the father that is killed in war, but on the contrary he himself shoots down 12 women who try to come to Michael; that happens in a way that interrupts brutally the musical dialogue of the score and destroys it totally. I must confess: Watching this scene the blasphemous thought came to my mind: Why did you not drive some miles further to Zürich opera house to listen there to an immortal masterpiece: „I Puritani“ by Bellini? I regretted to be in Basel. Not only the music – also the subtle art of Merve Kazokoglu with her basset-horn as Mondeva could not unfold. For me that is an unbearable scandal and I personally take offence at the production-team. For we do not listen to Stockhausen any more but encounter the ideas of the stage-team that destroy the original ideas, and not only the ideas, but the music as well. In this way the production goes on. EXAMEN, the third scene, is not the promotion of Michael to musical mastership, but „promotes“ him to being a client in a psychiatric hospital, and the second act of the opera, MICHAELs REISE, is therefore the fantasy of this sick mind of poor Michael. It is always a joy to listen to the extremely beautiful music of this act, and the orchestra and the soloists did a good job. But also here the idea of the stage-team does harm to the music: It simply is a difference if Michael represents himself with his formula in a narrow room in a hospital as a sick person, or if he stands in the center of the stage under the open sky, playing triumphantly as the musical master, even the cosmic person he is intended to be in this opera. This part of the composition is extremely demanding, and Paul Hübner with his trumpet meets the difficulties successfully, but in spite of that it is clear that in this staging the music cannot radiate – there is not the glamour in it that we should hear. Generally speaking: The production suffers from a total lack, a fundamental mistrust against the spiritual dimension of the work. We know that this dimension for the composer was simply essential – therefore no wonder that the whole production is severely damaged. In many single traits we can see that. For instance in the fact that in MICHAELs REISE Luzifer as a cosmic spirit is not really present. The station „Africa“ of the journey represents Saturday, the day of Luzifer, the day of the death – instead of that we simply see a video of an African safari with lions and other animals, one example of a narrow-mindedness of this production among others. We hear Luzifer-sounds in the orchestra, but, if we do not know the piece very well, we are not able to get the meaning of these sounds, because on stage nothing happens. Also the beautiful dialogue between trumpet and double bass does not really happen, though the bass is beautifully projected by sound-projectionist Kathinka Pasveer, because again nothing happens on stage. MISSION is pressed into a small hospital-room without any resonance for the romantic love-story. And HIMMELFAHRT, for sure, is totally lacking: what a pity! In the third act we encounter the same problem. There is no big room for the mystery of heaven. We do not see the bow of colours that represent the whole 7-days-cycle, and we are not allowed to look into the heaven of the stars, the zodiak, which happens in the music when the voices sing TIERKREIS. The performance ends with VISION in a much better way. The music is simple and the content does not need scenic action. So we are able to listen to the Michael-tenor Rolf Romei who sings his important text beautifully and touchingly. In the background we hear on tape main musical events of this opera. They stem from the world premiere of the opera in La Scala Milan and are of unsurpassable quality – a final hint to what in Basel is missing. To sum up: The staging reduces the opera to a patological life-story of an individual person. We do not get Michael's universal meaning as an energy that permeates everything, we do not get DONNERSTAG as part of the week in which we encounter the fundamental tasks that each human being has to fulfill. And: If that is missing, everything is missing that makes the opera interesting and important, that makes the opera-cycle an intellectual challenge – that may lead to the question: In which way shall I live – and what is necessary for that.
I totally agree with Thomas but consider the musical quality as much better than he does. But what was to be expected: Some critics are joyful about this production for it got rid of Stockhausen's ideological "burden". See e.g. the article of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung: http://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/buehne/stoc...727?cid=dlvr.it
I have read already many comments about the Basel version of Donnerstag aus Licht, from Karlheinz Stockhausen. I shall go on defending this production, even the interpretation of some important parts could be wrong… , « trotz Luzifer, trotz Satan, trotz allem…» In the opera cycle of Stockausen, Luzifer is the only one who is sure of himself, arrogant, pretending to know what has to be done, criticising other human being, even the all humanity… It is maybe better to be a «Narr» or a child and rather enjoy this type of version, than a « museum version », where everything is predictabe and…dead… Who knows really who is Michael…who knows what is happening in Heaven…etc… At the end of Vision Stockhausen gave these words in the mouth of Michael: «Ich babe mich unsterblich in die Menschen,in diese Erde, und ihre Kinder verliebt, trotz Luzifer, trotz Satan, trotz allem…»
All these pretentious discussions reminds this beautiful and classical indian parabole: La parabole des « aveugles et de l’éléphant » « Six hommes d'Inde, très enclins à parfaire leurs connaissances, allèrent voir un éléphant (bien que tous fussent aveugles) afin que chacun, en l'observant, puisse satisfaire sa curiosité. Le premier s'approcha de l'éléphant et perdant pied, alla buter contre son flanc large et robuste. Il s'exclama aussitôt : « Mon Dieu ! Mais l'éléphant ressemble beaucoup à un mur! ». Le second, palpant une défense, s'écria : « Ho ! qu'est-ce que cet objet si rond, si lisse et si pointu? Il ne fait aucun doute que cet éléphant extraordinaire ressemble beaucoup à une lance ! ». Le troisième s'avança vers l'éléphant et, saisissant par inadvertance la trompe qui se tortillait, s'écria sans hésitation : « Je vois que l'éléphant ressemble beaucoup à un serpent ! ». Le quatrième, de sa main fébrile, se mit à palper le genou. « De toute évidence, dit-il, cet animal fabuleux ressemble à un arbre ! ». Le cinquième toucha par hasard à l'oreille et dit : « Même le plus aveugle des hommes peut dire à quoi ressemble le plus l'éléphant ; nul ne peut me prouver le contraire, ce magnifique éléphant ressemble à un éventail ! ». Le sixième commença tout juste à tâter l'animal, la queue qui se balançait lui tomba dans la main. « Je vois, dit-il, que l'éléphant ressemble beaucoup à une corde ! ». Ainsi, ces hommes d'Inde discutèrent longuement, chacun faisant valoir son opinion avec force et fermeté. Même si chacun avait partiellement raison, tous étaient dans l'erreur. » Let’s go on to discover the Elephant,( Licht is certainly a very big one…) but who can pretend to know the all Elephant… ? Let’s go on to work on it, dream in it, enjoy it….and let the others, work on it, dream in it, enjoy it…trotz…trotz…trotz
Dear Alain, thank you for your reaction. For sure, especially as a theologian I have to be very cautious not to fall back into dogmatic behavior. And it is very necessary, not to make a museum out of a work of art, but to interpret it with our questions, with the means of our time. BUT: I personally think, that cannot mean: Everything is possible and justified. Maybe this is oldfashioned - but I think: When you stage a work of art, you have to ask, what the artist wanted to deliver to the public - you have to serve the work and not use it to just stage your own ideas. As to the Basel production I think: There are 2 problematic layers in staging a work: The first is, when what happens on stage does harm to the music. For me that is the case here in the interpretation of MONDEVA. For me that is intolerable. The other layer is, when the interpretation does not meet the essence of the work. To give an example from my own experience: I was dramatic adviser in the production of MICHAELs REISE 2008 for the Wiener Festwochen with Carlus Padrissa as stage director. When it came to the staging of MISSION, we went through a really critical process: There was a process at the beginning, where what happened on stage got more and more a pure sexual demonstration; to show that, everything was flooded with red light. And it took much time and many controversies, to clarify: What should be shown here is, how the powers of eros elevate mankind, that this power is decisive to bring mankind in contact to the divine sphere. I still remember how helpful Marco Blaauw in this process of discussion has been. Thus the colour on stage changed from red to blue and the behaviour of the musicians on stage changed to expressing eros, not just a sexual act. I personally would comment that: We went in our process from wrong to right. and could better meet what Stockhausen wanted to deliver. And in this sense my critic to the Basel production is: It misses the central point of the work. The central point is the religious dimension. It is not popular in our western culture at the moment, but the more important it would be to point to it - even if this feels strange. To stay in a realm that is familiar to everybody is not a real challenge. That is my critique. Over and over again in the last decades I have seen, that in stage productions the scenery is a psychiatric clinic; it is a rather common pattern. Everybody who is interested in theatre knows that. And here it is (according to my opinion) not helpful to convey the message of LICHT, but just makes the big work onedimensional. Therefore my impression: It is narrowminded, not so great and overwhelming as it could be. But I know: That is hard to achieve. However, you should try, even if you fail - much better than to reduce this part of LICHT to a simple personal story.
I can fully understand your viewpoint but will never agree with it.
My only problem with the production is that so much of the score (gestures, movements, staging instructions) was either not realised or was changed.
What you are basically saying below means that you would also condone, even welcome changes in a score like INORI, which when performed exactly as composed is predictable, therefore dead?!
While he was still alive Karlheinz said time and again that regie theater should stay away from LICHT because to change his staging instructions (gestures, steps, actions) would be the same as changing the music. The gestures and actions are filled with meaning much of which or even most of which most of us will not understand, which makes it even more important to carry them out exactly as composed.
Karlheinz was a humble servant of God who composed as he was told to do, even though he himself did not understand everything...but he dutifully composed and defended it anyway, often alone without anyone at his side who believed in him and his vision, except God.
Therefore it is our duty as interpreters - and this includes stage directors- to respect this fact and to humbly serve and carry out the vision of this great master. To change or leave out any of the composition or make a persiflage of the religious ceremony is arrogant, luciferisch...
In this context, the story of knowing only parts of the elephant supports my argument that we-as opposed to Luzifer-must respect a given hierachy and assume that what Karlheinz saw and heard of his elephant vision is far more than we can or will ever see, even though I was at Karlheinz's side constantly as he composed DONNERSTAG and all of LICHT....but maybe it is exactly because I witnessed his attitude of humility that makes me feel this more strongly than ever before, even though he wrote these words for me in MONDEVA and EXAMEN long ago : Sirisu: "hilf mir den Auftrag zu erfüllen" und "Stehe mir im Examen bei..."
As we all know, our brains are capable of prooving everything and its opposite. Lucifer's intelligence has made him incapable of feeling the love Michael speaks of as life's only permanent answer.
But as for me, as long as I live, I will stay true to Karlheinz's vision as he wrote it in black and white in his scores. What is in between the lines we may interpret as was the case in Milan and London.
The rest, assuming that Karlheinz was a medium of God as was Bach, for instance, we must do our best to humbly carry out his vision according to his very clear instructions. If we don't, we are acting like Lucifer who assumes that he is capable of seeing as much of the elephant as God does...
Dear Alain, we do not have to agree with each other to be friends.
Thank you for your beautiful, rich and precise answer !
As you say, even we may not agree on certains points, we shall stay friend, even better friends… !Emoji
I like your comparaison with Inori !
Of course, it is true that you cannot change anything in Inori ; I shall never do it. But to present Inori, you do not need others « artists » interfering in it, except musicians and a conductor. Musicians are more used to be humble servants of the music. The « beter » has not a story, a character, an interaction with other figures, etc. If there are two beters, or more, they have to be synchron.
On this planet, when you need a team of « theater » people : regisser, costums designer, stage designer, lights, videos composers, etc, you cannot avoid that these people bring with them their one world, their team, their special technics, their methods or whatever.
These people do not have the same sense of time than composers. For a composer what is written is for ever. For these people, to manage the interactions between them, the connections with the interpreters, with the time « here and now » they have to manage the rehearsals and the performances, with our time, all of this drives to another type of mediumnity. If they have to direct the same piece in another ten years, they maybe will do it in a different way.
In India, in Japan, they have this tradition of repeating a piece without changing anything through centuries. It does not exist yet in occident.
It is true, that these people have also sometimes the tendancy to behave like « vampires » or «parasites» , because they may use other creators to express themselves only.
I think it is not easy to find an ideal team in the world of opera houses !!!
My positive reaction, came from the fact, that even « I » ( or my Luzifer side… ? ) did not agree intellectually in this production, for example, with the concept of Mondeva, Examen, Michael Reise, some moments of Heimkher, etc, something very strong and alive came out of this performance !
Of course this power came from the power of the piece itself, and from the work of the interpreters beautifully prepared by Kathinka !!!
But to reveal some mysteries, one has sometimes to take some risks. Lydia did it, sometimes very kitch, exgerated, but it made burst out or blossom some interpreters, some inexpectable senses, moments, connections, revelations, meanings, intuitions, emotions; is it because Lydia is a woman ? Ronconi and Bogdanov were men and have build a more « square » world. Lydia developped more these aspects connected with the mother, with the feminine, with the mother of Michael, also with the crazyness, even she missed Mondeva…
I believe like you, that Karlheinz was strongly inspired and connected wit God. But this inspiration was certainly not always coming directly . A lot of pieces came from his connection with people he met, or the interpreters he met in his life, his loves, his children, etc, and to reveal them, or help them to reveal themselves to themselves.
Do not you think, for example, that the tendancy of Karlheinz to control all the gestures of he interpreters and to give strong indications to he dancers, has also a story ? It came also maybe from the fact that he was sick of seing these stupid gestures on opera’s stage, and also a reaction to he extrem freedom of Bejart when he choregraphed Stimmung ? We must not forget that initially, Inori, the beginning of this process of extrem controlled gestures, was composed for Bejart right after Stimmung…
And the inverted tendancy came also after this extrem controlled gestures, in Inori, Vision, Examen, Drachenkampf in the first version. Jean Christophe and Michèle did after London a «modern dance» version of Drachenkampf and these version was played a lot. In Luzifer zorn, there is a lot of freedom in the gestures, most of he time, besides of the musical aspect, only indications for the type of voice, sometimes the name of an animal.
Maybe one has also to consider more the effect and the fonction of such a performance: I was moved to see the public so enthousiastic, a various public, a lot of aged people who stayed concentrated for all these hours ! When I see also for example the enthousiasm of my friend Heidi, who knew nothing about Stockhausen, or the enthousiasm of the mother of Kathinka, I think that is also very important !
I think you can also be happy, and forgive all these human mistakes, and I am sure that certainly Karlheinz do it too !
I can only agree with all that Suzee wrote and most of the remarks by Thomas. It's a crying sin that for example the three blue circles were never been seen and that was certainly no accident but an attempt to "purify" DONNERSTAG from its spiritual attitude. I was also angry about the idea to show Michael as a kind of ridiculous cult leader with idiotic devotees. That shows that the responsables of this production have no idea of devotion in the best sense of the word. Real devotion doesn't mean surrender but being 100 % convinced by the things you do. And I'm sure that Stockhausen's œuvre only "works" with this kind of devotion. And that's the reason why the Basel DONNERSTAG doesn't work at all.
Thank you for your answer ! As Suzee said: "Even we may not agree on certains points, we shall stay friend.., and I added " even better friends…". I have nothing to say against your beautiful analyse, but what can I do ? I also enjoyed the performance « Here and now » in Basel, yesterday from 4pm until 9.30 pm. I was not drunk, or stone, or whatever…I was aware that I had the chance to participate to the two other versions, and with Karlheinz alive, so I could compare my sensations, and I was happy to discover new one. I am aware also that you are one of the best specialist of the spiritual content and the symbolic in the work of Karlheinz, especially also because you are a theologian. Is it because I have a foot in the world of theater and dance since long, or because I did also regies or choregraphies myself, or observed a lot other creators, regissers,choreographers, that I have more the tendancy to forgive the mistakes of these artists ? Or is it because I feel very fascinated by this type of behaviour of some saints, by example in Soufism : who prefer to be seen as a fool or a stupid one, than as a saint… the one of the « Malamatis » ? For this Malamatis,, crazyness, extravagance, humor, non-conformisme, even sexuality has a very important role, but not for themselves, or in itselves. Some of them even dance in the streets naked, like the Bauls in India. St François d’Assise had sometimes these attitudes in his Saint Life; something that we can feel in Samstag Abschied… These people brought a fresh breath in a too close and definite or secure world. For them the wisdom of man is maybe crazyness for God, and the crazyness of man is maybe wisdom for God…our world for them, our certitudes, are conventions and are full of lies.. Rumi himself was saying: « Et moi, j'ai aussi beaucoup éprouvé la raison ; dorénavant je vais chercher un champ où la folie puisse vaguer à l'aise. » Some others Malamatis gave also these advises : « do not focalise on the mistakes or the sins of the others, but trust in the Mercy and the Divine Grace » I was the body of Luzifer in the version of Donnerstag of Ronconi in Milano, and of Bogdanof in London, and I repeat that I was happy to fell this fresh Breath and crazyness in the version of Lydia Steier…
I saw the production twice, read all the posts so far, and I cannot decide who is right. I just try to arrange my thoughts. My comments are preliminary. First of all, I want to say here that I read an interview with the director Lydia Steier in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. There she states that most young composers have not the slightest idea about opera, they even hate the genre without knowing the repertoire. She demands craftsmanship and knowledge before someone tries to tear down the walls. I liked that conviction of a young director because I suffered much from the dilettantism of „Regietheater“. Therefore, I talked with Miss Steier after the performance. She made a very good impression of a woman who is thoughtful and determined. I asked her abruptly whether she believes in God. She said yes. I answered that in this case, she should not be able to deceive the work completely. She replied that she simply could not imagine how to present this work as it is to a contemporary public. Instead (this is my point of view) she tried to extract a layer which might ALSO be in DONNERSTAG and tried to superimpose it as stringently as possible. What does that mean? In my opinion, it means that we HEARED an opera by Stockhausen but SAW an interpretation by Stockhausen (1/5) and Steier (4/5). It is a sad fact that nowadays it seems that even a believing person is not able to confront the public with the vision of an Ascension of a human being to the Light Divine. It was clear for me that nowadays redemption or salvation seems imaginable only in a secular way, as a coming-of-age story, as a kind of reconnecting with oneself, and (organized) devotion is to be condemned. The problem is that „greatness”, „holiness” are sacrificed to the concept of postmodern relativity which is the Zeitgeist. What can be done? Nothing except no performances of LICHT for the next hundred years... I said that we SAW an opera by Stockhausen/Steier. Does that mean „Regietheater”? Not really. The first act was Stockhausen until MONDEVA. There, Steier started to put the extracted „psychological” layer of KINDHEIT over the libretto. I understood that the father not only suppressed his son but also (metaphorically) nearly killed his son's ability to love. But who killed the father? That was not clear. Similarly enforced was the exam as a clinical test for admission to a psychiatric ward, and the whole second act. Here, Steier tried to catch up with a famous movie by a Czech director where it was shown how a person helps patients to escape from a psychiatry. This humanitarianism, this help for the others seems to be what Steier identifies with „holiness”. At the same time, MICHAEL finds peace with regard to his past. He exaggerates this new self-confidence and becomes an object of worship for others (FESTIVAL) until he fights this devilish self-esteem (DRACHENKAMPF) and has his very humble VISION of a psychological and therefore secular „salvation” which is nothing more than a medical healing. I told this only to show that Steier tried at least to be consequent. For „Regietheater”, this was much too coherent and also much too opulent. I do not want to comment, although, on the „Stockhausen altar” and the persiflage on the Holy Communion, these were very cheap things. All in all: This Freudian view may be a cliche of modern theater but I heard from members of the public and read in the newspapers that there still was too much „unbearable” holiness and esotericism. We have to face the fact that the majority of German society is atheist to the bones. Lydia Steier managed to extract a small layer of Stockhausen's libretto and put it over the whole staging which meant that there was quite a lot collision with the words and the spirit of the libretto. On the other hand, she succeeded in telling a rather coherent story in an opera that was judged to be completely „against interpretation”. This was new and so she opened a door. WERKTREUE in the sense of Stockhausen was lost and he (and the work) were treated like any other composer. This is not the baddest thing that can happen to a composer: to be interpreted while played. I think there is no other way. It is good because it will offer the possibility of other productions. Some of them will be WERKTREU, some will be not. The more productions there will be, the more possibilities of faithful rendering will be offered. To hear the operas live is the most important thing. It would be fine if we could discuss every year how bad a staging of a LICHT opera has been...!
I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus.
A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes!