Morgen und Abend

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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This ethereal new opera has a melancholy magic.

Georg Friederich Haas does not deal in the business of traditional plot-driven opera. His latest ‘Morning and Evening’ sets a narrative that can be explained in a sentence – ‘A man is born and, in a moment, he is dead.’ The dramatically austere, but musically compelling 90 minutes, deals with the birth of fisherman Johannes and the slow acceptance of his new post-mortal condition; the principal characters in his life each playing a role in his crossing over – distressed daughter Signe, nostalgic wife Erna and fishing friend Peter.

The libretto by Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse is startlingly spare, and while lacking the morbid wit of, say Samuel Beckett, it remains engaging as the inevitability of the end draws on. Graham Vick directs sensitively, the characters display no histrionics, just puzzlement and calm elucidation.  Though beautifully lit by Giuseppe di Iorio, the monochrome costumes and set (Richard Hudson) immediately give the game away and one wonders if the production might have benefitted by some ambiguity as to Johannes’s situation, easily achieved by a less-obvious ethereal pallet, or if the whole thing might not be better presented as an oratorio.

The characters are distinctly depicted, baritone Christoph Poul believable as the bewildered Johannes, with strong support from Will Hartmann as Peter, Helena Rasker as Johannes’s wife Erna and sweetly controlled singing in the upper register from soprano Sarah Wegener as Signe. The opening speech from actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, however, seems an unnecessary inclusion, his voice glossy and faint amid the driving score – consummately conducted by Michael Boder and enthusiastically delivered by the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

The star of the piece is Haas’s ravishing score that begins with thundering antiphonal drum drills between a pair of percussionists in the stage level boxes and is dominated by the recurring motif of eerie descending string glissandi, embellished by offstage choir. Opening with a bang and the jangling confusion of birth and slowly fading out gradually and imperceptibly at the end of life, Haas shows that contemporary music need not be relentlessly dissonant nor vocal writing constantly melismatic. His engaging score remains compelling in its constant reinvention, shimmering textures and colours swirling in a wonderful cloud of microtonal harmonies.

By: Jonathan Lennie

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