Richard van Schoor’s opera Der Ring – BabyBabyBallaBalla pemieres in Trier
05.04.2017 South African composer Richard van Schoor’s opera, Der Ring - BabyBabyBallaBalla, will premiere at the Trier Opera House on Friday 7 April.
Directed by Thomas Goerge, the new opera is a fusion of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and according to media statements, Van Schoor locates Wagner in a contemporary context, but also critically confronts Wagner’s historical milieu.
STADTGLANZ magazine interviewed Van Schoor in Munich recently. Herewith excerpts from the original German article.
Dragons, dragon slayers, the calamitous effulgence of gold and the abuse of power are found as tales in cultural myths across the entire human landscape - from Europe across Asia, Africa and to the Australian Aborigines and the American Indians. In Munich, composer Richard van Schoor is involved in his own battle with the dragon. Spread over the working surfaces (there are several) in his apartment in Nymphenburg, the scores of the four Wagner operas (which are full of markers next to piles of compositional sketches, also already completed piano-reduction scores and orchestral parts) are taking on an ordered homogenous shape of devoted labour. “Nevertheless, I managed to get out into the sun for a full 15 minutes today”, he says with a tired smile.
Van Schoor has been working day and night on Wagner’s scores since the beginning of the winter 2016. The deadline is edging closer, the premiere is set for the beginning of April. Asked whether or not one works differently for commissioned works as opposed to autarkic ones, he immediately answers “Definitely!”
“One composes under pressure and this is good. As a contemporary composer one cannot always be sure when – or even if – one’s work will be performed, but a commissioned work is definitely going to be performed, so it has to enjoy priority.”
During the last couple of years Van Schoor has received similar commissions from renowned stages and festivals across Germany, among them Staatstheater im Schillertheater Berlin, Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspielen, The International Büchner Festival – Hessischen Theatertage, and the Kunstfestspielen Herrenhausen – Hannover. His oratorio, “The seven last words … in other words”, went on to several other performances across German after its premiere in Ludwigsburg – a rare honour for contemporary music.
A number of Van Schoor’s works have referenced other classical composers in text or musical content, with the intent of engaging in a critical discourse relating to contemporary social developments and current themes. Sometimes the librettos are predetermined; sometimes he has been given greater freedoms.
“I have actually always had quite a bit of good fortune, being able to fashion the text in a way which suited my needs, and was also able to write my own texts, or choose the required literature. This makes a huge difference because if the libretto isn’t inspiring, it becomes very difficult to write a work for the stage.”
Working with Thomas Goerge, these problems don’t arise because both artists know and value one another’s abilities, based on previous experiences working on various projects together. “The collaborative work with Thomas is unbelievably pleasant because he is very clear, and proceeds distraction . We understand one another immediately and instinctively. He is really doing a remarkable job.” They talk about the ‘Trier Ring’ on almost a daily basis, developing text and staging concepts.
The idea to direct Wagner’s Ring as a nightmare of modern globalised man, inhabited by ancient and modern archetypes, came to him through a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, who ultimately regarded Wagner’s work as “sick”. It is this very “overwrought nature of the nervous machinery” which, according to Goerge, makes Wagner the modern artist par excellence. From this idea the next steps swiftly progressed towards a reflection about post-colonial societies and their mutilated myths.
For Van Schoor, who, as a composer consciously confronts these difficulties and subjects, it is all very thrilling: “It’s about politics, power and greed, horrifyingly exemplified by the atrocities committed by colonial overlords in the former Belgian Congo and throughout Africa in general. The story of The Ring is exactly what we see mirrored in historical events and in the current global political situation.”
When having to build a bridge between Wagner’s music and his own language, and given the enormity of the task, Van Schoor proceeds very methodically: “First of all, there needs to be complete insight and examination of the entire Ring so that it is possible to reduce and extract, without losing anything but, in so doing, also construct a playing field for one’s own creativity.
That is not exactly easy, partly because of Wagner’s notation, and then also his instrumentation – he writes for period instruments and there are instruments we do not have at our disposal in Trier. Decisions have to made about how to replace them, or supplement them.”
When it comes to a stage work, it isn’t always about the ingenuity of the composer’s thoughts or ideas from which a work stems; far more, it can be influenced by pragmatic decisions which often go into the smallest of detail.
“Particularly the transitions between Richard Wagner and Richard van Schoor, which sometimes have to happen in the space of two bars, I need to make choices about how to handle this stylistically: do I continue in Wagner’s style, staying as close to the original as possible, or do I make a conscious antithesis? I have done both, created links which make use of Wagnerian harmonies and gestures, also very stark contrasts which aren’t meant to fit – of course, always with a deliberate intention.
¨The biggest challenge is to weld these various components into a homogeneous aesthetic, which continues throughout the entire staging. In a conversation with Thomas Goerge I once referred to this as “Studentenfutter” (literally translated as student food, which is snack composed of nuts and raisins), so that the work is characterised by equal parts of all the various componenst, as opposed to one block of Wagner, followed by a block of Van Schoor. This has been incredibly difficult to achieve.”
The fact that the composer Richard van Schoor is grappling with the composer Richard Wagner, will probably hardly be found justifiable by most hardcore Wagnerians. Hardly another opus in the history of music is revered as much as Wagner’s, which enjoys its annual honour and celebration in Bayreuth – only in the staging can directors run wild, but the music must remain sacrosanct.
Van Schoor doesn’t consider his adaptation of the Wagner material to be sacrilegious. He has a dialectic approach: “I understand that Wagnerian or Ring fanatics will not appreciate this project. Wagner purists will be wringing their hands. However, I find it gratifying to know that there are indeed precedents for such an undertaking. Loriot’s ‘The Ring in One Evening’ or Anna Russell’s Ring at the piano, where all the clichés are trotted out. We have touched on these elements as well, as if reading the Ring as a comic book, a concept dreamed up by Thomas, and which I love, as well as Daniel Angermayr’s effervescent, fantastical décor. It is also a great chance to potentially expose Wagner and The Ring to an audience unfamiliar with his work, who then perhaps would want to get to know the music more closely.”
Notwithstanding the reduction in performance time, the Trier Ring of the Nibelung will not be an abridged version for the hurried viewer; rather, it is far more a reflective connection with a not-so-untainted musical heritage and one of the greatest stories of our world.
No scene or act has been omitted, the drama of the original is intact. The music of Richard Wagner, as also of Richard van Schoor is, according to Thomas Goerge, “the music of the Gods. This is important to us.”
In Munich, Van Schoor draws the score of Götterdämmerung towards him, and continues to work. Is there a life after The Ring? He considers for a while. “Afterwards there are a couple of other commissions, also two further operas, so I am well occupied until 2020. After that, who knows?… For the moment this “Ring of the Nibelung” remains in every sense: inimitable“.
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