The Infinity of Lists A spoken opera consisting of lists, series, catalogues and indexes. It starts with the best known, such as the alphabet and Mendeleev’s periodic table. The lists may seem prosaic, or their effect may be vertiginous, such as the list of fantastic imaginary cities from Italo Calvino, or the images of which the “unfathomable universe” is made up in Jorge Louis Borges’ magical tale. The main source of inspiration for the creators of this opera format, however, is Umberto Eco’s voluminous book The Infinity of Lists. The opera, in its original form entitled Open Sesame! was created to order for the NODO Festival (Ostrava Days of New Opera), organised by the National Theatre of Moravia-Silesia and the Ostrava Centre for New Music. With the orchestra Ostravská banda and the Canticum choir, and the music direction in the hands of Ondřej Vrabec, the original version of the production had its world premiere on 26 June 2014 in the Antonín Dvořák Theatre in Ostrava. In this form it gained the Divadelní noviny award for 2014. Composer Martin Smolka has now rewritten it for string quartet, harp and piano, while Jiří Adámek and artist Ivana Kanhäuser has created a minimalist set, which expects audience and actors to be in close contact. Alongside countertenor Jan Mikušek, the main roles are filled by spoken-word actors from the group Boca Loca Lab. Under Jiří Adámek’s leadership they have become used to musically-precise orders, detailed voice work and perfect harmony of rhythmically-stylised speech.
// Credits //
Direction: Jiří Adámek
Set: Ivana Kanhäuserová
Sound design: Jan Veselý a Eva Hamouzová
Lighting design: Jan Kalivoda a Ivana Kanhäuserová
Produktion: Maria Cavina (jedefrau.org), Lenka Hradilková (HIS)
A coproduction between Jedefrau.org and Motus (an Alfred ve dvoře production)
Speakers: Vendula Holičková, Bára Mišíková, Pavol Smolárik a Daniel Šváb (členové skupiny Boca Loca Lab)
Countertenor: Jan Mikušek
Pavel Bořkovec String Quartet: Alexej Aslamas (housle), Ondřej Hás (housle), Matěj Kroupa (viola) a Štěpán Drtina (violoncello)
Piano: Jana Holmanová
Harp: Hedvika Mousa Bacha
Premiere 27th June 2016 at Alfréd ve dvoře
// Authors & Ensemble //
Martin Smolka (1959) Studied composition at AMU and privately under Marek Kopelent. From 1983 to 1998 he was the co-leader of the Prague ensemble Agon. His compositions have been played in many places in Europe, North America and Japan. His best-known work in the Czech Republic is the opera Nagano. Since 2003 he has taught composition at JAMU in Brno. At the start of Smolka’s career as a composer it is possible to identify the influences of post-Webernism, minimalism, American experimental music and the Polish school. In the early 1990s Smolka was interested in bizarre instrument techniques and sources of sound (very under-tuned strings, old gramophones, various items used as percussion, etc.). He used them to stylise sounds observed from nature or the city, and talks about some of his compositions from that period as “sound photographs”. These sound memories have helped to define the expression of his music, often nostalgic or grotesque, sometimes both at once. The imitation of real sounds led him to microintervals, which he then used in various ways – for example to deform tonal triads and melodies. A selection of his compositions includes Solitudo (2003, ensemble), Semplice (2006, old and new instruments), Rush Hour in Celestial Streets (2007, ensemble), Still Life with Tubas or Silence Hiding (2007, two tubas and orchestra), Die Seele auf dem Esel (2008, ensemble), Poema de balcones (2008, double choir), Blue Bells or Bell Blues (2010-11, orchestra).
Jiří Adámek (1977) Studied direction at DAMU in Prague, where he now teaches. He developed an original type of sonic theatre, in which most emphasis is place on voice and the combining of voices. His scripts and librettos play with breaking up words into syllables and sounds, the rhythmisation of speech and with imaginary language. He develops his specific approach above all with the theatre group Boca Loca Lab, which he founded in 2007. Projects he has created with Boca Loca Lab include Tick Tick Politics (2006, winner of awards at Music Theatre now! in Germany and the Kontakt festival in Poland), Europeans (2008, awards at the Mess festival in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Fire 1911 (2011), Say Something (2013), Four Three Two One (2014) and others. He frequently directs at the Prague theatre Minor. He has created a scenic collage from the post-revolution years, After Velvet (2014) for the National Theatre’s New Stage, and he also creates sound compositions for Czech Radio (Tick Tick Politics in a radio version, Marriage Minutes etc.) He also writes theoretically on the linking of theatre work with music and composition principles, above all in the study Théâtre musical/divadlo poutané hudbou (NAMU, 2011) and in a number of articles for the magazine Svět a divadlo (World and Theatre), of which he was an editor for several years.
Boca Loca Lab A theatre group founded in 2007 by director and author Jiří Adámek with the aim of implementing stage forms that combine theatrical and musical approaches. The distinctive features of the projects created include a musically-composed structure, minimalist acting and a singular approach to language (the fragmentation of words, rhythmisation of text, playing with semi-abstract clusters of syllables and consonants). Boca Loca Lab has thus far created the following projects: Tick Tock Politics (2006), Click on the Video (2007), Europeans (2008), Territorium (2010), Fire (2011), The Twelve Merciful (2012), Four Three Two One (2013), Say Something (2013) and the series of IMPRO Concerts. The production of Tick Tick Politics won the award for Original Theatre Form (at the Kontakt festival in Torun, 2009) and the Music theatre now ! international competition award (Berlin, 2008). The project Europeans won the Best Young Director award at the MESS festival in Sarajevo (2012).
// Press //
The authors have included the slogan “A Hushed Opera” in the subtitle of the work. This is clearly because the work does not include proper singing, there are no areas or high Cs. Only the orchestra in the Ostrava version reminds us of normal opera productions – in the Prague version this is no longer present.
However, the actual production of the opera is also “hushed”. In the Prague version in particular, the visual and heard elements mingle in a logical and natural way. This creates a highly imaginative space, open to the imagination of the audience members, who are in fact forced to become co-creators, to complete some thought processes themselves, if they want to truly experience the production. (…) Both versions of the opera, especially the Prague one, do not try to set the text, idea or story to music. The music does not impart anything non-musical. Indeed, it is the other way round – Adámek and Smolka have created a specific musical composition out of words and their meanings. The music itself is thus a goal, not a means of communication. There is no discrepancy here between the text and music, and logically there cannot be one. This reasoning may be extended to the production itself. The music thus created demands and jointly creates its own space, both acoustic and visual.
Josef Herman, Divadelní noviny
It is not an easy production to watch – the words come in torrents, the literary illusions are veiled in such a way that someone without a guide could easily overlook them, and the music in itself employs the senses. It is nevertheless an exceptional experience – in its utter precision of form, which explores the possibilities of abstraction in language, music and theatre, and in its omnifaceted virtuoso execution. On the way from Ostrava to Prague, Adámek and Smolka’s opera has, in my view, improved: it is now more compact, with the individual elements better connected to each other and the chamber environment enabling the individual words to be distinguished better. It is now much easier to perceive the subtle jokes in the margins of the libretto, or the quietly indicated connections between the various lists, from butane to Bhutan and the four Beatles, who follow on from the four evangelists.
Michal Zahálka, Svět a divadlo
In a moment a special sort of magic will start to work. Words will lose their meanings, and in their places will come liberated sound. Suddenly it is not important what is said, but how it is said. The rhythm, melody, intonation and the position of the four perfectly-linked voices draw all of the attention to themselves.
Boris Klepal, Hospodářské noviny
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