Amy Winehouse has never heard of Claude Vivier

Bored by Barber, Bernstein, Britten, Tippett and Tchaikovsky? Try Claude Vivier! Never heard of him? Neither had I, but when I saw the announcement of a DVD from De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam my curiosity was aroused and I ordered it. Those Dutch are producing the most astonishing array of new opera productions. And I always saw them as a dull and unimaginative tribe. Pierre Audi, the artistic director of De Nederlandse Opera, has become one of my favourite directors since I saw his Ring, now my favourite Ring video, shoving the Harry Kupfer/Daniel Barenboim off its pedestal, at least in the video category.

I can’t possible give you a blow-by-blow report of the opera Kopernikus I watched yesterday. It is not called an opera, but a “ritual opera of death”. I never heard any of the singers, nor the conductor, who, surprisingly, took his applause in a protestant minister’s outfit, his real occupational garb. The performance took place in a cavernous old building, former warehouse or factory or something with a stage-like rectangle covered by a deep layer of sand, matching the general lighting throughout! Same with the costumes; very thick sheets of heavy felt. It might be moulded foam, I couldn’t tell, which the singers use skilfully to wrap themselves in, or their fellow actors. The “furniture” sets are wooden crates.

All this is mostly the background, my eyes were busy following the action. No orchestra, but musicians, in costume and make-up, are on stage, acting while playing their instruments. One brilliant slide trombonist doing a duo with the bass actor-singer, even while flat on his back. The female violinist moved all over the sand, wearing a billowy grey outfit with a very long train, and of course no stand for her notes. It is almost an hour of music she has to memorise. A few woodwind players, percussionists and a solo piano complete the “orchestra”. The music is not as strange as I had expected from a student of Ligeti and Stockhausen; of course I won’t walk around humming it.

Watching the singers gave my eyes more to do. Singing with the open hand occasionally tapping the lips to vibrate the sound created something new, not unpleasant to hear. A soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass, plus the narrator completed the cast. I have to include the musicians in the cast, because they were just as skilful actors as the singers. The language is “invented” but a running translation in English helps tremendously to let me know what is going on.

I think I shall watch Götterdämmerung tomorrow, give myself a day of respite from Claude Vivier, and then maybe his Marco Polo during the weekend.

Anybody seriously interested in new music, new composers, new ways to be a spectator and listener of an exciting experience, do try this DVD. Also it would be great to see a gay composer getting more recognition for a change.

All I need to add is that even Stockhausen thought this guy was weird.

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