This newest opera by Georg Friedrich Haas can be described as little other than sombre. Embracing the idea of life and death, it tells of a character – Johannes, played by Christoph Pohl – his journey into life and his realisation of his own death.
For the first at least 30 minutes, we experienced a monologue performed by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who plays the father of the tale. Accompanied by a complex soundscape, the overall effect is successfully eerie and foreboding. However, the sheer length of this monologue became a challenge for my senses and seems rather overly indulgent of the writer, who clearly wants to express his views of life and our existence. It is a fresh relief when finally another character enters the stage: a whitewash of bleak grey and white scenery, which comprises little more than a white door, white boat and white bed. A midwife, performed last night by Sarah Wegener, enters to tell this father his child has been born – a son – and yet again we find ourselves watching a moment that takes ten minutes that could potentially have taken two. Johannes has been born, a healthy son whom the story then follows as an old man until the character finally realises, long after the audience has, that he himself is dead.
Admittedly I found the overall plot rather obvious and, dare I say, a little tedious. Haas uses a concept – life and death – includes and intrigues most audiences, perhaps hoping to pull on the sensitive sides of our imaginations. Yet it simply isn’t imaginative enough and the whole thing becomes something of a cliché.
The music composition on the other hand is enchanting. Although little or no change in dynamic happens throughout, the soundscapes are spectacularly eerie, casting quite a mood in the vast hall and filling the space with atmospheric emotion. It is incredible to see such a huge orchestra employed in such a way, each instrument being used in a more creative and unusual way to create these unfamiliar sounds. We are also treated to wonderfully expressive singing from Helena Rasker, Sarah Wegener and Will Hartmann. They lift the words away from the bleak soundscapes elegantly and with beautiful ease.
There is always a feeling that comes over you when you watch something at the Royal Opera House. You feel like you are about to watch something magical, exciting and extraordinary. The stage is set and this spectacular building envelopes you in wonder, almost assisting whatever show is about to be staged simply because of the atmosphere it is to be performed in. For me, I was simply disappointed with the evening’s entertainment. This was not my first visit to the Opera House yet it was the first time I walked away uninspired, deflated and unfulfilled. It is a new and unusual style of opera, but I confess the whole experience made me think of the Emperor’s New Clothes. If this is the new and stylish thing in the world of opera, I think I will stick to the old classics.
Morgen und Abend is playing at the Royal Opera House until 28 November. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo: Clive Barda