Notes and Editorial Reviews
I chose Witold Gombrowicz’s novel The Possessed (Opêtani) as the basis of my fourth opera because, besides telling a riveting story, it interrelates figures familiar from our present-day vantage point. The action centers on a young couple consumed by mutual love-hate. They constantly try to prove themselves to each other with borderline behavior. Yet neither has anything else in mind than self-escape, and all the other self-absorbed characters in the piece have only one remaining common denominator of shared experience: a vague realm of primal anxieties with which they define themselves in different yet representative ways. At the center of the plot is a sort of curtain, a towel that attracts attention in
a dark corner of a castle kitchen through its mysterious movements and contortions. In context it symbolizes the collective subconscious – imageless, indiscernible, inexplicable, generating nameless dread in everyone involved. Their anxiety leads inexorably to various stages of self-destruction. All the characters are concerned only with their own (usually commercial) advantage in their dealings with the castle (a repository of tradition and culture), with their own competitive edge in the struggle to increase their possessions. But they no longer have any sense of the inner life of cultural values or any form of empathy arising from the wellsprings of interpersonal solicitude. As a result, they have nothing left to counteract this situation. The disintegration of paradigms creates an alienated stance toward tradition and culture. Egoism and self-identification through extreme forms of experience (killing as an act of identification) appear as bulwarks against the imponderable danger of self-abandonment. The characters are rich, beautiful, and do everything in their power not to be what they actually become: invisible. They act without common ethical or moral norms that might help them to confront their own mirror reflections and evaluate their own actions. Instead, they fall prey to every imaginable deformation of egocentricity and enrichment: they scurry from one thrill to the next, from role to role, without being personally involved, and succumb to an obsessive nomadic attitude in a world out of joint.
The music of The Possessed draws on the relation between the different eras represented by the characters – the periods in which they live and to which they feel they belong – and on the image of the strange phantasm that plunges the figures of the story into confusion. Elements of early music and the commercial media are combined with my own musical idiom to create a tissue of structural relations which, as the piece progresses, congeal formally into a midpoint that engulfs everything around it, like the folding of a piece of cloth or a fan that slowly closes, leaving behind an imageless axis. Driven by unrestrained restlessness but interrupted by a looming emptiness, the music plays with generic clichés that recur in ever-new combinations like motivic germ-cells or little modules, determining the course of the music as elements in a closed system that pretends to evolve while actually spinning in circles.
Translation: J. Bradford Robinson
Works on This Recording
Die Besessenen by Johannes Kalitzke
Hendrickje Van Kerckhove (Soprano),
Noa Frenkel (Alto),
Jochen Kowalski (Countertenor),
Benjamin Hulett (Baritone),
Leigh Melrose (Baritone),
Manfred Hemm (Bass),
Rupert Bergmann (Bass Baritone)
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