Kein Licht. (2011/2012/2017)

Philippe Manoury, Nicolas Stemann, Elfriede Jelinek, Opéra Comique

A ‘Thinkspiel’ about humans losing their grip on the world

A ghost world after a nuclear disaster, this is the starting point of Kein Licht. Director Nicolas Stemann and composer Philippe Manoury made an angrily pessimistic but at the same time humorously neurotic opera based on a text by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. 

Humans need more energy all the time, but generating it tends to be destructive to the earth. The inept ways in which humans treat it take centre stage in Kein Licht. In her text, Jelinek pokes fun at such human incompetence in a clever way.

As the phrase ‘Thinkspiel’ suggests, the piece is about substantive issues, but without forcing the audience in a particular direction. Two wandering characters, A and B, talk to but don’t understand each other. Who or what they are exactly – elementary particles, or perhaps the deceased first and second violin player – remains unclear.

Both the German Stemann and French Manoury are known for their daring choices. The director and composer routinely explore the boundaries between text, music, theatre and technology in a playful manner. They combine composed fragments with live electronics that respond in real time and unpredictably to the sound of vocalists, instrumentalists and even a Jack Russel. This adventurous combination results in a big roaring lament that dispenses with our faith in our ability to control technology.

dates

Fri June 24 8:30 PM

Sat June 25 8:30 PM

Sun June 26 1:30 PM

Prices

  • default from € 45
  • CJP/student € 15

language & duration

  • German surtitles: English, Dutch

  • 2 hours (zonder pauze)

Please note that stroboscopic effects are used in the performance.

On 24 June it is possible to visit HF x Lofi x CTM after this performance.

Meet the artist

After the performance on 25 June there will be a conversation with Nicolas Stemann and Philippe Manoury, led by Jochem Valkenburg and Annemieke Keurentjes. Location: Foyerdeck 1.

Background

On 11 March 2011, a seaquake with a magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter scale caused a tsunami off the coast of Japan. Nearly twenty thousand people died that day. The Fukushima nuclear reactor was the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. In the months after the catastrophe, the Austrian writer and Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek completed Kein Licht, a theatre text without clearly delineated characters, plot or specific places. Her theme is nevertheless crystal-clear: in a dazzling language game full of references to philosophy, world literature and pop culture, Jelinek develops a piercing critique of blind techno-optimism, our insatiable hunger for energy and the tremendous environmental damage that is the result.

Please note that stroboscopic effects are used in the performance.

On 24 June it is possible to visit HF x Lofi x CTM after this performance.

Meet the artist

After the performance on 25 June there will be a conversation with Nicolas Stemann and Philippe Manoury, led by Jochem Valkenburg and Annemieke Keurentjes. Location: Foyerdeck 1.

Background

On 11 March 2011, a seaquake with a magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter scale caused a tsunami off the coast of Japan. Nearly twenty thousand people died that day. The Fukushima nuclear reactor was the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. In the months after the catastrophe, the Austrian writer and Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek completed Kein Licht, a theatre text without clearly delineated characters, plot or specific places. Her theme is nevertheless crystal-clear: in a dazzling language game full of references to philosophy, world literature and pop culture, Jelinek develops a piercing critique of blind techno-optimism, our insatiable hunger for energy and the tremendous environmental damage that is the result.

Two voices

Two voices are having a conversation. That is, they are unable to hear each other. Surrounded by a demonic rumble, they cannot even hear themselves. Who are these mysterious ‘A’ and ‘B’? References to strings, music stands and bows hint at musicians, a first and second violinist. But then it seems as if two elementary particles are speaking. In the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, the quantum pair wanders through the radioactive exclusion zone. We hear the rattling of Geiger counters and victims screaming in the background.

Ecological engagement also characterises the two texts that would follow. In 2012, Jelinek wrote an Epilogue to Kein Licht, in which she has a mourning surviving relative return to an unspecified disaster site. This was followed in 2017 with Der Einzige, sein Eigentum (Hello darkness, my old friend), an indictment of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2022, this part will be adapted to current times especially for the Holland Festival.

Conflict on edge

The German theatre director Nicolas Stemann, associate artist at the Holland Festival this year, distilled a musical theatre version of Kein Licht from Jelinek’s three-part work. In his staging, he refers to the Fukushima disaster directly. We see vats of cooling water on stage, its fluorescent contents slowly seeping out onto the floor. Meanwhile, video images show a tidal wave destroying everything in its way. Landmasses, buildings, streets, people. Everything and everyone is swept away by the water.

Multimedia, visual projections and a power-consuming lighting plan play an important part in his stage-setting, Stemann acknowledges, aware of the irony. ‘We are turning Jelinek’s text into an art form that is highly reliant on electricity’, he said in an interview with the Ruhrtriennale, where the production had its world premiere in 2017. ‘Why should art stand apart from everything else? It is my strategy to put conflicts on edge, to expressly thematise them, as well as to show how we are caught up in them ourselves. There is no position outside the problem in ecological matters.’

'Thinkspiel'

Electronics also play a crucial role in Philippe Manoury’s music. The French composer has been connected to IRCAM (the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique) since the 1980s. He specialised in mixing instrumental and vocal music with (live) electronica at this research centre for acoustics and music technology, which was founded in Paris by Pierre Boulez.

Manoury composed what he himself calls a ‘Thinkspiel’ for Kein Licht. The term is a nod to the ‘Singspiel’, the eighteenth century opera genre that features both singing and spoken text. Along similar lines, Manoury explores the borderland between singing and speaking. Besides an ensemble (United Instruments of Lucilin from Luxemburg), a small choir and four vocal soloists, his score calls for two actors (Niels Bormann and Katharina Schubert in this production). Dressed in sparkly dresses and Teletubby-esque Martian suits, the two talk about atomic particles, our ever-increasing energy consumption and the approaching catastrophe. Using electronics, Manoury uses the pitch and rhythms of their speech to modulate the music in real-time.

Close collaboration

In close collaboration with Stemann, Manoury gave his music for Kein Licht a flexible form consisting of separate modules that freely adapt to Stemann’s direction. ‘We did not want to just put the stage-setting “on top” of the music,’ says the composer. ‘Instead, music and theatre each permeate each other in Kein Licht, much like human beings and their environment are reciprocally interconnected.’

Read less
  • © Caroline Seidel/Ruhrtriennale 2017

  • Kein Licht (2011 2012 2017) © Vincent Pontet

    © Vincent Pontet

  • Kein Licht (2011 2012 2017) © Vincent Pontet

    © Vincent Pontet

  • Kein Licht (2011 2012 2017) © Vincent Pontet

    © Vincent Pontet

  • Kein Licht (2011 2012 2017) - Philippe Manoury © Tomoko Hidaki

    © Tomoko Hidaki

  • Nicolas Stemann © Gina Folly

    © Gina Folly (Nicolas Stemann)

credits

based on the text of Elfriede Jelinek music Philippe Manoury musical direction Julien Leroy direction Nicolas Stemann scenography Katrin Nottrodt live sound mix Philippe Manoury video Claudia Lehmann costumes Marysol del Castillo lights Rainer Casper computer music design Ircam Thomas Goepfer dramaturgy Benjamin von Blomberg corepetitor Elsa Lambert direction assistance Christèle Ortu scenography assistance Emilie Cognard soprano Mélanie Boisvert, Bethany Sheperd mezzo soprano Olivia Vermeulen contralto Christina Daletska bariton Lionel Peintre, Jasper Schweppe actor Niels Bormann, Katharina Schubert choir Nederlands Kamerkoor alto Dorien Lievers tenor Stefan Kennedy orchestra United Instruments of Lucilin violin André Pons-Valdès, Winnie Cheng viola Danielle Hennicot cello Jean-Philippe Martignoni double bass Louis Siracusa flute Sophie Deshayes oboe Matteo Costanzi clarinet Max Mausen trumpet Clément Saunier French horn Steve Boehm piano Pascal Meyer percussion Guy Frisch commissioned by Opéra Comique in collaboration with Ruhrtriennale, Festival Musica de Strasbourg, Opéra National du Rhin, Croatian National Theater Zagreb with support by Fonds de Création Lyrique, Impuls neue Musik, Fedora Prize 2016 IRCAM electronica Augustin Muller

This performance is made possible by

Meet Nicolas Stemann

Meet Nicolas Stemann

The German theatre director Nicolas Stemann is this year's associate artist, together with singer Angélique Kidjo. During the festival in June, his works Kein Licht (2011/2012/2017), Contre-enquêtes and Der Besuch der alten Dame will be presented.

Read the interview here.