No Title Performance and Sparkling Water

2001-03; dur: 120'; An opera for SPUNK, POING,
2 perc., folk singer, tenor, mezzo, three actors,
tango dancers and electronics

An opera in two parts, directed by Siw Merethe Mikalsen. Texts in English from the Nag Hammadi Library, edited by Plinio Bachmann. Scenography by Rolf Alme. Video by Kenneth Varpe.

Programme note:

“No Title Performance and Sparkling Water” is an Opera based on Gnostic writings from the 3rd century.

I started making the music without considering opera as either musical form or concept. My original intention was to stage a multilateral musical performance which could go to musical extremes and bring out contrasts. I wanted to employ musicians that I know well from my own work, playing and composing, musicians with a very personal language who will contribute to the expression over a long process involving workshops and improvisation. The next stage was a wish to make an opera objecting to the customary narrative form and the hierarchy of parts, this includes the common separation between orchestra and the singers/dancers/actors on scene. I also make a musical statement on the operatic concept by using classical opera singers to perform sections of the text, but this is just one of several equal essentials. In addition to the wholly abstract, I have attempted to put some wellknown essentials into new connections, thus mirroring the multiple nature and various genres of Gnostic writings. What I try to do is to put some object(ion)s in certain ways and places, as echoes of events heard and seen from the stage of opera, musicals, theatre, performance, improvised concerts, ballrooms…

In The Nag Hammadi Library we can read that vocalising leads to unworldly understanding. Thus the consonants may be expressed as materially significant, but nothing more. In this opera the idea about vocals and consonants are turned into chords/melody lines and noise/percussive sounds. This constitutes the principal structure of the score. The water is connecting ancient history to our time, as well as connecting the music to the visuals in “No Title Performance and Sparkling Water”.

in Norwegian:

Om musikken i “No Title Performance and Sparkling Water”:

Jeg startet arbeidet med musikken uten å forholde meg til opera som hverken form eller begrep. Utgangspunktet var at jeg ville lage en mangesjiktig, musikalsk forestilling som ga rom for bruk av ekstremer og kontraster, noe jeg lenge har vært opptatt av. Jeg ville bruke musikere jeg kjenner godt fra mitt eget virke som utøver og komponist, musikere som med sitt personlige uttrykk er med og former musikken gjennom en lang prosess med workshops og improvisasjoner. I neste omgang kommer ønsket om å lage en opera som tar et oppgjør med den tradisjonelle, narrative formen og rollehierarkiet, innebefattet den vanlige delingen mellom orkester og andre aktører på scenen. Jeg vil også kommentere operabegrepet musikalsk ved å bruke klassiske operasangere til framføring av deler av teksten. Men dette blir kun ett av flere sidestilte elementer. Det meste av musikken har ingen åpenbare referanser, men jeg førsøker også å plassere noen kjente elementer inn i en ny sammenheng, forhåpentligvis ikke som i en postmodernistisk kollasje, heller mer som en objektplassering. Referansene kan også oppfattes som et ekko av noe vi har sett og hørt før fra scenen i opera, musikaler, teater, performance, improvisasjonskonserter, dans på lokalet…

The Nag Hammadi Library inneholder tekster som forklarer at utsigelse av vokaler gir åndelig forståelse. Konsonantene kan dermed betraktes som bundet til materien. I denne operaen blir ideen om vokaler og konsonanter oversatt til akkorder/melodiske linjer og støy/perkussive elementer. Dette utgjør en grunnleggende struktur i musikken. Vannet er det viktigste bindeleddet mellom den gamle historien og vår tid, og mellom det du hører og ser i “No Title Performance and Sparkling Water”.

From the Ultima programme book:

On October 2 Maja Ratkje’s first opera No Title Performance and Sparkling Water receives its world premiere. The work is based on two-thousand year old apochryphal texts, including part of what is thought to be the gospel of Mary Magdalene. » «For me this project has a feminist content, it is feminist history. I’m a bit afraid to say this, because it can easily be misunderstood. The texts give a female version of divinity; the point is not to destroy the male version, but to complement it with a female perspective, something which has been lost in the version of Christianity which laid the foundation of our Western civilisation. It is only the female aspect of God, Sophia, who has a role in the opera.The male part is so well documented, we know the story in the form it has always been told.»

Three years ago Maja and director Siv Merethe Mikalsen met. At the same time, Maja had been given a text by a colleague, who thought it might be of use to her. The text was an English translation of the Nag Hammadi texts, a collection of sacred writings which had been translated into Coptic and buried in a cave. The Swiss writer Plinio Bachmann edited the English version of the texts to create an opera libretto. The starting point for both composer and director was an idea of «total theatre». «Playing an instrument is something very visual, yet often hidden in an orchestra pit. In this performance the musicians are also co-creators. Improvisation is an important element of this project. I con-sider myself responsible for what happens musically, but I do not want to have complete controll.»

Maja is not sure whether it really is an opera. «I wanted it to be different from a conventional contemporary opera. I find it strange to write an opera without trying to do something about the traditional form. Performers solemnly singing –the suuuuun is shiiiiining» « you just cannot do that today without it sounding ironic. There’s a lot of cleverness in contempo-rary opera, so much withheld perfection.That is perhaps why I wanted to use SPUNK to play. I needed the freedom, playfulness and sincerity with which SPUNK relates to im-provising. We don’t consider improvisation to be anything sensational, just a natural way of working.»

Juryens kommentar i anledning TONOs utdeling av Edvard-prisen 2004:

“Det som betraktes som moderne innen all form for kunst går som kjent i bølger. Men ingen bølger er like. Og heldigvis er noen kunstnere så pass til stede i sin egen tid at de kan tilføre dem ny kraft og nye retninger og former. Nettopp det er det denne komponisten har gjort. Ved å kombinere en slags modernisert tradisjonsmusikk med tradisjonell modernisme på en organisk og raffinert måte slik at det har oppstått en naturlig enhet, har det her blitt skapt noe som virker både nytt og friskt og engasjerende. Komposisjonen er en stort anlagt forestilling med skuespillere, musikere, sangere og dansere i et spennende samspill. Musikken er kraftfull og personlig, og helheten oppleves både underholdende og tankevekkende.” Tittelen er “No title performance and Sparkling water”, og komponisten heter Maja Ratkje.”

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