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the CIVIL warS - Rome

Philip Glass, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Groot Omroepkoor

Philip Glass’ 1983 opera Rome was the last section of Robert Wilson’s famed opera project the CIVIL warS. In his staging Wilson introduced a range of characters, from Abraham Lincoln and his mentally ill widow Mary to the Italian freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Greek hero Heracles. Glass set Wilson’s immensely rich libretto to colourful, yet lucid music full of intricate patterns of melodies and rhythms, creating a bold synthesis of modern minimalism and 400 years of Italian opera traditions. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra presents a concert performance of the opera with a cast of five singers on stage. The musical direction is by Glass expert Dennis Russell Davies. the CIVIL warS will be recorded by the NTR and will be broadcasted on Friday the 20th of June at 8.00 pm in the Avondconcert on Radio 4.


Thu June 19 2014 10:30 PM


  • English, Italian, Latin

  • Duration of performance unknown (inclusief 1 pauze)

The title alone is enough to give you a sense that there's a remarkable story behind this opera. CIVIL warS, part V (Rome) is a mysterious modern classic, created by composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson. Having previously joined forces for their groundbreaking opera Einstein on the beach (1976), Glass and Wilson's renewed collaboration was the most successful and talked about part of Robert Wilson's CIVIL warS project. Nevertheless, the Rome section, the part on which Wilson worked with Glass, is seldom performed.


The full title of the opera reading the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down, Wilson's CIVIL warS was an ambitious project of epic proportions, a monumental work in five acts which Wilson initiated in the early 1980's with the music of various composers, including Philip Glass, David Byrne and Gavin Bryars. The opera has never been performed in its totality. Starting from a text written by Wilson himself, inspired by photographs of the American Civil War, the project steadily expanded to include other peoples and their civil wars. Wilson explained the title's strange capitalisation as originating in a wish to emphasise the civil aspect and the frequency of the phenomenon of war.

The original idea was to stage a music theatre work which would last a whole day and would be performed during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Composers and writers from various countries would write librettos and compose music on the basis of Wilson's text: these six parts would be premiered in their respective countries of origin and subsequently merged into one big performance during the Olympic Games. Although the Olympic Committee offered a financial contribution to meet the costs, there was not enough funding for the project. As it transpired that deadlines for the hugely complex logistics could not be met either, the performance of the complete opera was eventually abandoned. Four of its six parts were premiered though, with Wilson directing; they were staged in Minneapolis, Rome, Rotterdam and Cologne.

The Rome section comprises the fifth and last act of CIVIL warS. Wilson collaborated on the text, which is in Latin, Italian and English, with the writer Maita di Niscemi. Rome premiered in March 1984 at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Glass came to the project at a late stage, when Wilson had already recorded a full version without sound on video. Working in the manner of a film composer, Glass wrote his score on the rhythm of the action. Composing an opera in Rome confronted Glass with 400 years of Italian opera history. As a result, his score for CIVIL warS, although still unmistakably demonstrating his distinctive musical language, is strikingly operatic in comparison to Einstein on the beach.


The Rome section is subdivided into a prologue and three scenes. The prologue, featuring Abraham Lincoln amongst others, opens with turbulent and dramatic music that seems to sum up the story so far – i.e. the four parts preceding it. Scene A presents us with the entrance of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great nationalist military hero who at the time of the American Civil War played a crucial role in the unification of Italy. While Garibaldi sings, his soldiers perform a dance with a group of Hopi Indians on a bridge between two spaceships – testament to Robert Wilson's signature surrealist visual language. Scene B is the centrepiece of the opera and focuses on the American Civil War, featuring monologues by the Confederate general Robert E. Lee floating through space and President Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Scene C introduces, amongst others, the Greek hero Hercules. The music is like an elegiac reverie resembling a romantic Italian requiem.


the CIVIL warS - Rome will be performed on Friday 19 June at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir, conducted by Dennis Russell-Davies. The soloists are soprano Sara Hershkowitz (Snow Owl/Alcmena), alto Cécile van de Sant (Mother/Mrs. Lincoln), tenor Donald Kaasch (Garibaldi), baritone Christian Miedl (Abraham Lincoln) and bass Jaco Huijpen (Hercules).


music Philip Glass libretto Robert Wilson, Maita di Niscemi conductor Dennis Russell Davies vocals Sara Hershkowitz, Donald Kaasch, Cécile van de Sant, Christian Miedl, Jaco Huijpen performance Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Groot Omroepkoor chorus conductor Martin Wright technique Jan Panis production NTR, Holland Festival commissioned by Opera di Roma

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