On the cancel-culture cancelling of my opera „Die Verwechslung“
Long, monotone busy streets on the outskirts. New malls and glassy office towers dig into obsolete industrial relics. While waiting to be torn down, artists are welcome to either crack what is left or prepare ground for coming gentrification. One of those places is Vienna’s 23rd district, Liesing, at Breitenfurter Strasse. A former coffin producer (!) has turned into a venue for contemporary opera. Seems that the coffins are also made to bury opera in times of pandemy.
If you don’t want to bother what this is about you can jump to the end of this text for a preview clip.
On November 10, the premiere of my opera „Die Verwechslung“ on a libretto by Helga Utz should have been taking place at the main hall. The post-industrial charme of dirt, dust and dung fit to images coming up when calling for the DDR. The what?
Die Verwechslung, commissioned by Sirene Operntheater is based on authentic stories collected by librettist Helga Utz about anti-regime activists in the 1980s. Gruesome stories about worker’s paradise had been discovered following the Wiedervereinigung of the two Germanys in 1989. Most of it also copied and typewritten on endless staples of paper the regime hasn’t been able to dispose of. Too much was piled in those years of the socialist’s state existence. A mere forty years brought forward more paper than possibly could be burned in months of feverish attempts to bury the deeds of Mielke’s henchmen. Mielke was secret police head in all those years and the real power grip of Eastern Germany. He literally meat-minced many and mostly young Germans, men and women. Don’t ask. How could he peacefully sleep into death in a comfortable retirement home? But lets head over to my opera.
The piece is infact narrative as it can get, despite Helga Utz‘ structure of „cuts“ like in motion pictures. But this is a wish left to a stage director’s discretion. When facing the libretto I was asking myself what the hell DDR could possibly sound like? Nothing than cheesy emulation of western pop and Schlagermusik popped up. Yes, and the sound of a domestic electrical machines only very few people could count to their inventory: freezers, mixers, vacuum cleaners or even more rare radios, television sets, cars, Their electric malfunctioning buzzing and brrzzling came to my mind. It melted finally down to an electric typewriter. I like typewriters, but not so much electric typewriters. Their sounds however are the perversion of literature. Writing down false affidavits by tortured people. The sound of perverted literature so to speak in musical terms.
The other idea hit me when visting Saint Thomas‘ in Leipzig. There is a corner with written items by groups of resistance people attached to the protestant (!) church. And all this in J. S. Bach’s working place!
The opera shows a young guy named Gustav who hates the place he lives in and the people. He tries to break free and gets dumped by a Systemerhalter, that is one of those who find their personal prosperity in clinging onto a terror system. I found this story to be a secularised version of the passion of Jesus. So the plan was to write a sort-of „Gustav’s passion“, hovering on Bachs immortal John’s Passion. This is why at some points Bach is present through his music, expressing the political and ideological power of religion, and music serving the religion. It isn’t a denunciatory move but inherently how I see the DDR-Terror-Regime withering away internally despite all efforts to fill the gap of people’s spiritual needs with political slogans. Slogans so dissonant to reality that most DDR inhabitants actually should receive a live long free therapeutical treatment for the brain wash they had undergone following the 12-year Nazi period uninterrupted in transmuting Nazi-ideology into Socialist-ideology.
So here we are. Errrh … actually no, we aren’t anywhere. The premiere had been cancelled for CoVid-19-Sars-2 hygiene reasons – state’s measures to prevent the flaring surge of cases in Austria. Instead: The piece was recorded on audio, synchronised via play-back in filmed scenes (I haven’t seen at the moment of writing this text) and should be due soon to a drop-by-for-free-on-youtube video.
Arrrhh… Yet another video on your small screen and – small speakers. If you have a nifty home-theatre audio system hooked up to your laptop, this would make things only worse. Why? Because… one cannot possible mix a heterogene, noise-loaded contemporary music score into streamlining-normalizing youtube audio politics. This is not a Youtube bashing, it is just a bashing of ANY mass media device we are currently relying on when it comes to translate contemporary instrumental-vocal life music. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes even close to my … vinyl discs stereo amp system. And even more absolutely nothing (!) comes close to playing this piece in a ex-coffin factory. Believe me! I am probably the only person on earth who can tell you this. I am the composer of the music. Before sounding to much funerally: Have a go with the link to a preview… and pray for more to come. Stay save!