Stockhausen Opera With Helicopters For London 2012 Festival

London 2012 Festival announces world premier of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht opera, featuring musicians playing from helicopters that hover above concert hall

‘This is a huge day for us at the London 2012 Festival’, says Director Ruth Mackenzie, upon the announcement of the world premiere of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht – the climax of his monumental opera cycle on Light, never performed in its entirety, and featuring musicians playing in helicopters that hover above the opera hall.  

The opera will be presented by the Birmingham Opera Company, and directed by Graham Vick. For Vick, Mittvoch is ‘utterly utterly beguiling, seductive, irresistible and fabulous’, and created by ‘one of the great originals of all time: a dreamer; a visionary; a man who dared to believe things were possible which I have no idea how to achieve.’

In its sheer complexity, both technically and conceptually speaking, it fits with the London 2012 Festival’s efforts to present a programme that is, in the words of Mackenzie, ‘as once-in-a-lifetime as the chance to have the Olympic and Paraolympic Games is the United Kingdom’. And, she says, the production was top of the list of key events at the very conception of the festival.

The five-hour-long opera will take place in Birmingham within two enormous halls of a former chemical plant, with sizeable enough grounds to land the four helicopters needed for the production. It begins with an hour of electronic music for the ‘Wednesday Greeting’, with sounds rotating in different speeds through the hall. The audience will then be moved to the next hall for the first scene – World Parliament – in which an acapella choir sings in a fantasy language.

Then 11 soloists will play along with electronic music to create an Octophonic soundscape, in which eight ‘speaker groups’ are divided between the four corners of the floor and four the corners of the ceiling to create ‘vertical sound walls and movements’, with the audience experiencing the sound all around them, both above and beneath. It is then that the four ‘players of the helicopter’ will depart to fly above the buildings, kept in sync via a radio click track, and with the sound and vision of the happening transmitted back into the hall.

The work ends with surrounded by a choir who sings the ‘super formula’ for the entire opera for the first and only time – one minute out of which Stockhausen made 29 hours of music for the seven days of Licht.

The choice of this work is, in the words of Vick, ‘driven by the vision that opera must go beyond the opera and beyond the enclosed existing opera audience’. It fits with the Arts Council’s vision, as defined by Director Moira Sinclair, to ‘really engage the public in different ways. … and to get people thinking about the role of culture, and how they might engage with culture beyond the Olympic Games.’ What’s more, it has what Vick believes to be ‘a fantastically beautiful spiritual aspect, which makes it, I believe, ideal for the Olympic year, and the themes of the piece – concord and  cooperation – make it ideal for this moment’. Words: Thomas Keane © 2012 ArtLyst

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