The world premiere of Boris Yukhananov's production of Octavia. Trepanation took place June 15 within the framework of the main program of the Holland Festival. This is a major event in the life of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, which we proudly share with you. A world tour of the play is scheduled, the final destination of which will be the premiere Russian performances at the Stanislavsky Electrotheater. Boris Yukhananov and Dmitri Kourliandski’s opera, Octavia. Trepanation marks the first co-production of the Holland Festival, one of the largest theater festivals in the world, with a Russian theater. Premiere performances were performed at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam.
The festival was the initiator and commissioner of the project, which is dedicated to the centenary of the 1917 revolution, and is based on two texts: Lev Trotsky's essay about Lenin, and fragments of a play attributed to Seneca about the Roman emperor Nero.
Such elements as a giant head of Lenin standing on stage; the inside of its skull being “decorated” by videos during the "trepanation" operation; a terracotta army of headless soldiers and Nero’s chariot turned into a bath in which Seneca commits suicide are all objects of interest on a par with the soloists. The opera’s music, written by Dmitri Kourliandski, uses fragments of socialist hymns and speeches of Lenin stretched out over time. Stepan Lukyanov created the set design. The costumes were created by the chief designer of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, Golden Mask award-winner Anastasia Nefyodova.
“In the case of Octavia , we are not talking about exporting a finished product, but about working together on a new show from scratch. This says a great deal about the fundamentally different level of confidence in its creators, and about each season’s growing interest in the West in contemporary Russian theater,” writes critic Dmitry Renansky in Vedomosti newspaper.
In addition to Octavia. Trepanation the Holland Festival program features performances by numerous world-class directors, including Peter Sellars, Robert Lepage, Ivo van Hove, Dimitris Papaioannou, Alain Platel and Alexei Ratmansky.
Old blood in a new Moscow operaA strong choreographic presence is integrated into the best Russian traditions in “Octavia. Trepanation”
By Roger Salas
Holland’s most important festival of theatre arts celebrates its 70th anniversary, and its central theme, as defined by the festival’s artistic director Ruth Mackenzie (UK, 1957), is the concept of democracy. Ms. McKenzie's choice is unquestionably true, and is in line with her values and other creative tasks (among Ms. McKenzie’s many merits are her leadership of the Scottish Opera, and the cultural program for the London Olympics in 2012).
After Amsterdam the festival will transfer to Paris and the Chatelet music theatre. A world premiere from Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, "Octavia. Trepanation," was one of the festival’s many spectacular productions. This deep, complex work was created by the union of the theatre’s artistic director Boris Yukhananov (b. Moscow, 1957), music director Dmitri Kourliandski (b. Moscow, 1976), as well as the Electrotheatre’s choreographer Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov (b. Leningrad, 1948).
The theatre’s designer Stepan Lukyanov, as well as costume designer Anastasia Nefyodova, help the viewer to understand the ambiguous scenario, the central theme of which is the communist movement of the 20th century.
The action of the tragedy "Octavia" - of the central theme of the production - occurs in 62 AD. in the palace of the ancient Roman emperor Nero. It lasts three days, during which time the emperor divorces his wife Claudia Octavia and marries Poppaea Sabina. The tragedy was written in Latin and the authorship is traditionally attributed to Seneca. Bloodshed, terrible omens, a mythical fire in Rome - all this is embodied in the theme of self-sacrifice and the inevitability of tragedy.
The libretto skillfully combines the classical Roman work and an essay by Lev Trotsky about Lenin. This connection is embodied in the metaphor of "another escape from a tyrant and tyranny in general." Nero, Seneca, Octavia, the ghost of Agrippina (the murdered mother of Emperor Nero), Trotsky, the caryatids of marble, the chorus of Chinese soldiers, the mechanically dancing ballerinas of Trotsky’s Red Guard all stand as symbols of Moscow's late Futurism.
Choral singing and choreographic performance combine in a powerful funeral hymn, metaphorically illuminating the word "democracy" and warning against attempts to manipulate it. One sees in the costume design references to the work of the legendary Bolshoi Theatre designer Simon Virsaladze, who so influenced the costume designer’s education and creative career. The choreography in the production demonstrates previously suppressed tendencies of the Socialist Realist era. The excellent performers and the electro-acoustic orchestra masterfully handle the exceptional tuning to very compromising registers.
Lenin’s head literally stands at the center of the performance. It opens up and inside the skull itself we see the Agrippa pantheon of Rome, the assembly place for power machinations and political tensions. How was it possible to unite two such disparate subjects, not only in the musical, but also in the theatrical plane? The answer lies in the art of creating a modern opera that is focused on reflection and aesthetic pleasure. It should also be noted that Mr. Kuznetsov-Vecheslov, the choreographer of the Electrotheatre, hails from a family of great ballet dancers. He is the son of famous dancers Tatyana Vecheslova and Svyatoslav Kuznetsov, and was friendly with the Soviet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who, in 1974, defected in Canada. This brought down persecution on Kuznetsov-Vecheslov, who was forced into military service.
The world premiere of "Octavia. Trepanation” introduces the notion of political compromise in the New Russia as a residual phenomenon of the past, which directly and indirectly became one of the most painful aspects of the 20th century, originating at the time of the Great October Revolution of 1917 and culminating in the collapse of the USSR. A year before that latter event, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited. It was precisely in 1989 that Boris Yukhananov first staged a dramatic production of “Octavia.” Composer Dmitri Kourliandski at that time was only 13 years old (he was born in Moscow in 1976).
The new version of the opera will be presented this summer at the Olimpico Theatre in Vicenza in the north of Italy. The opera will be adapted to the features of the stage, which was designed by Andrea Palladio.
Sangre antigua en una nueva ópera moscovitaLa fuerte presencia coreográfica se inserta en la mejor tradición rusa en 'Octavia Trepanation' ROGER SALAS Ámsterdam 19 JUN 2017
El Holland Festival de Artes Performativas cumple este año su 70 edición y la directora artística, Ruth Mackenzie (Reino Unido, 1957) escogió el tema siempre vigente de la democracia. La solvencia de Mackenzie está fuera de toda duda, se confía en lo que hace y programa (ella dirigió la Ópera de Escocia y diseñó la Olimpiada Cultural de 2012 en Londres, entre otros trabajos ejemplares); tras esta edición en Ámsterdam se irá al teatro de Chatelet de París, pero entre otros montajes de impacto deja su huella el estreno mundial de la ópera Octavia Trepanation, del Electrotheatre Stanislavski de Moscú, una obra monumental y compleja ideada por el director Boris Kukhananov (Moscú, 1957), el compositor Dimitri Kourliandski (Moscú, 1976) y el coreógrafo Andrei Koeznetsov-Vetsjeslov (Leningrado, 1948).
Resulta difícil describir su escenario, impactante y desarrollado en la herencia plástica de las muy sacrificadas vanguardias rusas del siglo XX, por el escenógrafo Stepan Loekjanov y la inspirada vestuarista Anastasia Nefedova. La base es Octavia, ese drama trágico que damos (cada vez con más discrepancias entre los latinistas) por hecho es salido de la pluma de Séneca, ocurre en tres días del año 62 dC, momento en que Nerón se divorcia y exilia a su mujer, Claudia Octavia y se casa con Popea Sabina, corren la sangre y los presagios del horror, llega el falso y mitificado incendio de Roma, que se adiciona a esta ópera como un símbolo de inmolación colectiva e inevitable. El libreto mezcla con gran habilidad esa pieza romana clásica con el ensayo de Leon Trotski sobre Lenin. Sigue corriendo la sangre y el ritual plástico está marcado por una sola metáfora: huir una vez más del tirano y toda tiranía. Nerón, Séneca, Octavia, el fantasma de Agripina (madre del emperador y mandada antes a matar por él mismo), Trotski, las cariátides marmóreas, el coro representado por los guerreros chinos de terracota, los bailarines de la guardia roja personal de Trotski con sus movimientos mecanicistas que tienen su base estética en el tardofuturismo moscovita. Es un todo coral y coréutico que gira hacia un canto fúnebre y poderoso, hacia su metáfora esencial que ilumina la palabra democracia, alertando sobre su manipulación. El vestuario evoca la furiosa pincelada del mítico diseñador del Bolshói Simón Virsaladze (que participó en la formación de la diseñadora), y la coreografía rebusca en unas huellas lejanas, muy disueltas, que fueron largamente reprimidas en los tiempos del realismo socialista. Cantantes excelentes, un empaste acústico sobre una complicada banda electroacústica que les exige a todas las voces desde una afinación excepcional a unos registros muy comprometedores.
La gran cabeza de Lenin se abre y dentro aparece, en el vacío de ese cráneo, la cúpula romana del panteón de Agripa, un ágora de las manipulaciones del poder y el medrado que a veces reclama la subsistencia desesperada y otras la escalada política. ¿Cómo dos argumentos tan lejanos pueden encontrar un solo y unificador resultado teatral y musical? Es el arte de la ópera contemporánea, con su extraña mala salud de hierro, que a veces alumbra piezas como esta, que invitan a la vez al disfrute y a la reflexión. Como un detalle lleno de simbolismo puede agregarse, entre otros datos, que el coreógrafo dee Octavia Trepanation Koeznetsov-Vetscheslov, bailarín de carrera con inquietudes coreográficas, hijo de dos grandes artistas del Ballet Kirov de Leningrado (hoy de nuevo San Petersburgo): Tatiana Mikjailova Vetscheslova y Sviatovslav Koeznetsov, fue castigado cuando Mijail Barishnikov huyó en Canadá en 1974, era el amigo del alma del astro disidente, y eso lo condenó al servicio militar primero y al ostracismo después.
El estreno mundial de Octavia trepanation trae a la palestra que muchos de los artistas rusos (exsoviéticos) de hoy no eluden aún ahora, en la nueva Rusia, el residual (y crítico) compromiso político con sus pasados mediato e inmediato, esa larga herida del siglo XX que arranca antes de la revolución de octubre de 1917 y que culmina de manera simbólica en 1990 con la disolución de la Unión Soviética; un año antes, había caído el Muro de Berlín y contemporáneamente a la reunificación alemana, en 1989, Boris Yukhananov había estrenado en Moscú una primera versión de su Octavia. La ópera de no soñaba con nacer, pues su compositor, Dimitri Kourliandski, apenas tenía 13 años (nació en Moscú en 1976). La ópera tendrá una nueva versión este verano en el festival del Teatro Olímpico de Vicenza, adaptada a las singularidades del espacio monumental de Palladio.
This conversation was conducted English and Russian. The text below has been edited for clarity and continuity.
RENE VAN PEER: Considering the theme, why this opera at this specific period in time?
BORIS YUKHANANOV: Ours is a time when tyranny has lifted its head in all its forms. We now stand before a world tree that bears just one fruit. This tree can grow no further until the fruit explodes. With our opera, our “opera operation,” with all of Dmitri Kourliandski’s genius and elaborate music, and relying on the magic that theatre has at its disposal, we are trying to speed up that process.
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: If I’m right, your question was why do we speak about this specific era? I would say that there is no time in this opera. We don’t speak about time at all. We don’t speak about concrete moments in time because tyranny, or love, or power, or death, etc., all exist forever, always, at the same time, in parallel. And in our lives we switch back and forth between these concepts. It’s very important always to remember that we are all tyrants actually. And at the same time we are all survivors of tyranny. It is up to us to question ourselves: who are we, and when do we apply these various concepts to ourselves.
BORIS YUKHANANOV: I would put it this way: The final tyranny is that of the brain.
RENE VAN PEER: Then what part of the opera is most important?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: The question of what is most important is the most difficult for a composer. The most banal answer to that is: the whole opera is important.
RENE VAN PEER: And how about you, Dmitri?
BORIS YUKHANANOV: I thought you would say the finale. If we speak about climax, for instance, one of those terms from the lexicon of theatre poetics that is losing importance, then in some paradoxical manner we bring about a climax in Agrippina’s fifteen-minute aria. This is the slow, tender, terrible whisper of a mother who has returned from hell. This is the climax.
RENE VAN PEER: How does this current work follow from the earlier work that you did?
BORIS YUKHANANOV: There is an arc that connects this work with the end of the 1980s. Russia has survived three revolutions. The first was in 1917. The second was Perestroika, an era of regime change. The idea of connecting these two texts, Seneca and Trotsky, first came to me in the eighties. It was my desperate futurologistic cry. It was a declaration about what was going to happen to our country in the 1990s. It was a prophetic sense I had in my mind. Because we anticipated the coming spilling of blood and the coming fall of an empire, as well as all the horrible events in each individual life that were going to accompany this. And then all of it did occur. The revolution that is unfolding even now is akin to emptiness slowly doing vicious violence to itself. Here and now is when we need to speak about tyranny. This is the tyranny that emptiness wields over the human being. I recently came up with a formula. In regards to the individual, our era, as it were, markets emptiness. It puts forth special individuals whose function is to manaage and deal in emptiness. Their revolution is the third revolution.
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: I will answer this question concretely, because it falls outside my previous line of works. It really is a work apart. And that is very important for me, because it is, in a way, my own inner revolution. The material is dear to me, but for me it is definitely a new kind of work. This is surely the result of my collaboration with Boris, which has now lasted for eight years or so. I would say this is the starting point of a new cycle which I hope we will continue to develop in the future.
RENE VAN PEER: How does the music relate to the theme of the opera?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: Directly, I would say. Even in the way it is structured, for example, in the way it is constructed. Because there are three layers in the music. I call the first layer totalitarian. This layer is notated in a normal, classical, very strict, fixed way. So, this is the layer of the solos. They represent the totalitarian idea. The next level, as I call it, is the climate. It is more or less unpredictable. You never know how it will turn, when it will be loud and when it will be very soft. It is unpredictable and is a more or less uncontrolled layer. The third layer is that of the chorus. The chorus is the people. The people create the true atmosphere of the opera. They sing nonstop for over an hour. But they rely exclusively on their own ears. There is no direct, no concrete score for them - just basic instructions. Since the chorus members are following their own ears, the audience is led by their intuition. These three layers represent my approach to the stage, which is the basis for this opera.
RENE VAN PEER: How did you construct the electronic layer?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: The electronic layer is drawn from the early measures of the famous revolutionary song “Varshavianka.” This is the song of the Russian revolution. Although it originated in Warsaw, it was Lenin’s favorite song. So I took the beginning measures of this song and stretched it out one hundred times. It has been one hundred years since the revolution so we stretched it out one hundred times. As such, from less than one minute of music, I came up with nineteen minutes of material. I called it the “trepanation of sound,” because by stretching out the sound, you actually enter the territory in between the individual growls of sound. You open, you trepanize, the material, so all that you heard tonight is more or less made up of this strange melodic, harmonic material that emerges from this process of trepanation.
RENE VAN PEER: Is that something that you discussed with Boris?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: Yes, of course. Because it comes out of the basic idea of the text of the project. In the very beginning I looked for a starting point that would open a door for me into this theme. This song was that starting point. It was the symbol of the revolution.
RENE VAN PEER: There was one point where I was wondering about a speech I could hear. I think it was during the aria by Agrippina. What was that?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: That is Lenin speaking, several of Lenin’s speeches, documentary recordings, which were also stretched out a little bit. Not a hundred times, but a little. So it’s kind of direct speech from the ghost of communism. I call it a duet. Because it is a real duet for Agrippina and the ghost of Lenin. The ghost of Agrippina and the ghost of Lenin.
BORIS YUKHANANOV: What amazed me most in Dmitri’s music was the tenderness and soulfulness that Dmitri extracted from the depth of text. Naturally I’m referring to the text of “Octavia.” Therein lies a paradoxical situation. Nero loves. He is a loving soul. He is full of feelings. And Seneca, who loves Nero as a student, tells him: “Your love is impossible. The people will not accept it.” And Nero replies: “I am the emperor. Am I not allowed to love?” And with all the love and tenderness that exists between them Seneca replies: “No, you are not.” So the paradox arises from this confrontation. This is the seed of tyranny. It blossoms unexpectedly. Nero kills his mother, burns Rome, kills Octavia and sends for Seneca to be killed. That is the situation that is buried deep inside this text. And Dmitri took this love and brought it to bear, at least for a time, on the present. In some sense it was important for us not to shout like we did in the eighties. Our goal was to achieve a feeling that corresponded to the present time. This feeling of tenderness in a horrible time. This is what fills Dmitri’s music. I thought that was very important inside this tyrannical form.
RENE VAN PEER: I have a question about the design. It’s impressively huge. It is blown up to mythical proportions which makes me think of gigantomania as it has appeared throughout history. Is that tradition part of what you have done?
BORIS YUKHANANOV: Gigantomania is part of that sickness we are all experiencing. It has many names. Tyranny is just one of them. Stepan Lukyanov, the designer, embodied this in the central object – that three-story building that is a head - in an amazing and very precise way.
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: Just a few words about gigantomania. My sense is that we all must spend about an hour inside that enormous head, musically and visually. So, yes that’s gigantomania. It is very much connected to Stepan’s idea, to turn something quite small into something much bigger.
RENE VAN PEER: Well, I have to say that… I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I thought it was wonderful. It was really fascinating. I want to see much more of you work. Are there now any questions from the audience?
SPECTATOR’S QUESTION: What does the score look like?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: The score looks… well… it is quite complex. As I told you, it consists of three layers. For the soloists - simple melodic material, very strict. They have no opportunity to waver from the written score. For the chorus the score is a set of instructions. They actually read what to do, how to behave, how to react. This is the score for them. And for the third part the score is… there is no score, there is just basic material and there is the program that I developed with Oleg Makarov, who is the sound artist on this project. So, there is a strict score, there is a free score, and there is no score.
SPECTATOR’S QUESTION: Where is the conductor?
DMITRI KOURLIANDSKI: The conductor? There is no conductor. The conductor is dead.
BORIS YUKHANANOV: In theory and in practice there are two scores. One is the composer’s score. The director creates another. But for such a production, which is, in fact, a “blockbuster,” a style I have worked in for some time, I make a director’s score. It is very precise and it is connected to the music, the lighting, the movement on stage, and the work of the entire technical staff. It is all connected in one score and is measured down to the second. It was like those toy soldier games emperors used to play; we, the technical and other departments, played it all out beforehand in model form. It was all in our heads from the very beginning. And we put in details only in the last moment. There could be no mistakes. It was done very quickly, but all the parts came together. It is like a fresco. It is a complicated system of layers. Two scores. One show.
The world premiere held as part of the Holland Festival on Thursday, June 15, would perfectly fit into the Opera Forward Festival, organized by the Dutch national opera at the beginning of the year. A new Russian opera bearing the double name "Octavia. Trepanation" was offered up to the judgment of spectators. The main characters were Nero and Lenin.
The stage of the Muziekgebouw concert hall was arranged in such a way that the giant head of the first leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, fit in easily. The famous Chinese terracotta army consisting of 77 soldiers was arranged around it. The eerie central part of the huge stage was dominated by a chariot drawn by the skeletons of centaurs. Nero sat in the chariot. The set design is the creation of designer Stepan Lukyanov, who, with director Boris Yukhananov and composer Dmitri Kourliandski, make up the creative core of the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow, a center for new forms in the fields of cinema, theatre and opera.
The director and author of the libretto, Yukhananov conceived an opera about tyranny. And the opera "Octavia. Trepanation" refers to two historical figures who tyrannically controlled their empires. Emperor Nero sowed fear and death in order to retain power over Rome. One of his victims was his wife Octavia. He divorced her and sent her into exile and death. In his production, Yukhananov used fragments from the play “Octavia” that are attributed to the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s tutor. Nero and Seneca engage in a dialogue about whether it is proper and right to destroy, aside from Octavia, Nero’s numerous opponents.
What connects Nero to Lenin? The leader of the Russian workers did not shun any means in order to build communism. Despite the fact that Nero was a lone tyrant, and Lenin enjoyed broad support of the party, both, according to Yukhananov, were driven by their thirst for power.
Yukhananov did not use Lenin’s texts in his libretto, but placed Lenin’s head, enlarged many times over as a symbol of power, in the center of the production. In this head, on which a trepanation is performed, scenes are played out involving Nero and Seneca, and later Octavia. Immediately following Lenin's death his skull was trepanated, and so Yukhananov opened Lenin's head up to show what was happening in the brain of the tyrant. (The word "trepanation" means an operation to open the skull bone.) A fire burns and barbed wire is visible in the dome-shaped, open part of the head. In this production Nero and Lenin merge into a single image.
The terracotta army personified the power of the first Chinese emperor, who dreamed of burying the whole army in his grave after his death, although eventually statues of soldiers were buried with him. In this production, they are a faceless mass that follows commands and moves where it is told. It is an impressive sight. Composer Dmitri Kourliandski drew musical material from a revolutionary song of the 19th century. He used the first bars of this song, stretching them out several times, resulting in long, rotating electronic sounds twirling around each other in a kind of sound cloud. He wrote a lyrical recitative for the parts of Nero and Seneca.
Through his singing and posture, baritone Alexei Kochanov expressed perfectly the calmly rational Seneca, who wisely and patiently tries to reason with Nero. A sharper sound (mainly by switching to falsetto while in the middle of singing long parts of words) tenor Sergei Malinin stood as a contrast to Seneca, creating the image of an impatient and aloof Nero. Octavia must die and she does die. Her response, a reproachful aria, is sung by an octet of high female voices standing in Lenin's head. It is an effective visual and sonic spectacle.
Despite the fact that we do not see or hear Lenin himself throughout the opera, his close associate Lev Trotsky does appear on stage. Speaking with the skill of an orator, Trotsky (Yury Duvanov, made up to look just like Trotsky) recites texts that glorify the great leader Lenin.
"Rome revels in killing its own," the chorus of the terracotta army sings. It is a powerful apotheosis of tyranny that exists at all times and in all cultures. It is a pity that the performance was not shown on a larger site, and it's a pity that there were only two performances (June 15 and 16).
De wereldpremière die het Holland Festival op donderdag 15 juni bracht, zou ook heel goed gepast hebben in het Opera Forward Festival van De Nationale Opera eerder dit jaar. Getoond werd een nieuwe Russische opera met de dubbele titel Octavia. Trepanation. In de hoofdrollen Nero en Lenin.
Het podium van de concertzaal van het Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ was ver uitgebouwd om plaats te bieden aan een enorm hoofd van de eerste leider van de Sovjet-Unie, Vladimir Lenin. Bovendien stonden er 77 figuranten opgesteld, uniform gekleed als soldaten uit het beroemde Chinese Terracottaleger.
Het griezelige middenstuk van dit grootse toneelbeeld werd gevormd door een span van driepaardmensen als skeletten, die een zegekar voorttrokken met daarop keizer Nero. Een schepping van ontwerper Stepan Loekjanov, met regisseur Boris Joechananov en componist Dmitri Koerljandski het artistieke hart van het Moskouse Stanislavski Electrotheatre, een centrum voor nieuwe uitingen op gebied van film, theater en opera.
Regisseur en tekstsamensteller Joechananov wilde een opera maken over het thema tirannie. Achter de titel Octavia. Trepanation gaan twee personen schuil die op tirannieke wijze hun rijk bestuurden. Keizer Nero zaaide angst en verderf om zijn macht over Rome in stand te houden. Eén van zijn slachtoffers was zijn vrouw Octavia. Hij liet zich van haar scheiden en stuurde haar in ballingschap om haar daar te laten doden. Om die situatie uit te beelden, koos Joechananov fragmenten uit een toneelstuk, Octavia getiteld, toegeschreven aan de filosoof Seneca, de leermeester van Nero. In een dialoog discussiëren Nero en Seneca over de juistheid dan wel onrechtvaardigheid om behalve Octavia ook vele tegenstanders te elimineren.
Wat verbindt Nero aan Lenin? De leider van de Russische arbeiders schuwde geen middel om de wil van het communisme aan het Russische volk op te leggen. Weliswaar was Nero een eenling-tiran en werd Lenin in zijn wrede beleid gesteund door het partijcollectief, toch is volgens Joechananov bij beiden machtshonger de drijfveer.
Hij verwerkte echter geen teksten van Lenin in zijn Russische libretto, maar hij stelde het hoofd van Lenin, enorm vergroot, centraal als teken van macht. In dat hoofd, waartoe de schedel werd opengeklapt, speelden de scènes met Nero en Seneca, en later met Octavia, zich af. Zoals na Lenins dood diens schedel werd geopend om zijn hersens te onderzoeken, zo liet Joechananov de schedel lichten om te tonen wat er in de hersens van een tiran omging. Trepanatie betekent schedellichting. In de klassiek vormgegeven koepel laaide onder meer vuur, en er was prikkeldraad zichtbaar. In de voorstelling smolten Lenin en Nero samen.
Het Terracottaleger verbeeldde de macht van de eerste keizer van China. Het liefst had hij bij zijn dood een heel leger mee willen nemen in zijn grafmonument, maar het werden terracottareplica van echte soldaten, paarden en wagens. In de voorstelling werden zij als gezichtsloze massa gecommandeerd en naar willekeur verplaatst. Een indrukwekkend schouwspel leverde dat op.
Componist Dmitri Koerljandski vond zijn muzikale materiaal in een negentiende-eeuws revolutionair lied, waarvan hij de eerste maten uitrekte tot lange, door elkaar wentelende elektronische klanken, een soort geluidswolk. Voor de partijen van Nero en Seneca schreef hij lyrisch spreekgezang.
Bariton Alexej Kochanov drukte in zijn zingen en in zijn postuur op perfecte wijze de rustig redenerende Seneca uit, die met wijsheid en geduld Nero op andere gedachten probeerde te brengen. Tenor Sergej Malinin zette daar met een fellere klank (vooral veel falsetliggingen op lang aangehouden woorddelen) een ongeduldige en ongenaakbare Nero tegenover. Octavia zal en moet dood. Haar verwijtende weerwoord werd, overeenkomstig haar naam, door acht hoge sopranen gezongen vanuit de schedel van Lenin. Spectaculair in beeld en geluid.
Weliswaar zagen noch hoorden we Lenin, maar diens naaste medewerker Leon Trotski kwam wel voor. Met teksten uit een lofrede op Lenin bij diens dood verheerlijkte Trotski (de acteur Joeri Doevanov in goed gelijkende vermomming) de grote leider met redenaarsstem en dito armgebaren.
“Rome zwelgt in moord op eigen burgers”, zo zong het Terracottaleger. Een krachtige apotheose over tirannie in alle tijden en culturen. Jammer dat deze productie niet in een grotere zaal werd gebracht en met meer voorstellingen dan op 15 en 16 juni.
door Franz Straatman
One has the impression that Russians and dictators are created for one another. It was to dictatorship that composer Dmitri Kourliandski and Stanislavsky Electrotheatre director Boris Yukhananov dedicated their new opera "Octavia. Trepanation," the world premiere of which took place at Muzieckgebouw in the framework of the international Holland Festival.
Yukhananov already turned to this topic once in 1989. As a basis for that production and the current opera, he used the classic tragedy "Octavia," which is attributed to the philosopher Seneca and tells of the divorce of Emperor Nero with his wife Octavia. He also employed an essay by the Russian revolutionary Trotsky that glorifies Lenin. A third dictator appears in the opera - Qin Shi Huang. This emperor, China’s first, is known for having buried an entire army of terracotta statues of Chinese soldiers with him. Initially, he wanted to bury the real warriors, but fortunately, the emperor's advisers prevented the implementation of his plans.
Composer Dmitri Kourliandski, winner of the Gaudeamus competition in 2003, does not pose an easy task for his listeners. First, there is very little action in this 90-minute opera. We hear a long dialogue between Nero and Seneca, as well as a series of monologues by Agrippina (Nero's mother), Octavia and Trotsky. However, plot as such is lacking in this opera. It does have music, based on the Soviet-era revolutionary song “Varshavianka.” Kourliandski took the first few bars of the song and stretched them out for an hour and a half! What he came up with was a sound infinitely stretched out in a microtonal system of tones, which was produced with the help of electronics and the addition of excerpts from other revolutionary melodies, voices and the sounds of clocks. Additionally, we hear a dreary drone performed by a colossal chorus, the terracotta army. The headless warriors of this army symbolize a mass that submissively submits to its dictator. The musical color is provided by singers who partially perform their arias by chanting, with the exception of the first and sometimes the last word, which coincides with the sparse sounds of the chorus and electronics. Trotsky conducts his own, special part - a text pronounced in high spirited and enthusiastic manner, in the spirit of revolution. Thanks to the use of electronics, the atmosphere of microtones and, at times, very unusual manners of singing, this opera acquires a surreal, illusory character. This character corresponds to Lenin's enormous head on the stage. At the beginning of the opera, the head opens, and the trepanation begins. (Lenin really was trepanated after his death in an attempt to find out why he died.) In the opera, the trepanation of the skull allows one to look into the dictator's brain and see his thoughts and illusions, symbolically represented by, among other things, volcanic eruptions and a sea of fire. At the end of the opera, the head closes, and the chorus members appear on stage without their terracotta costumes. They are now free individuals. An optimistic ending.
Dmitri Koerljandski / Boris Joechananov – Octavia. Trepanation (Concert Recensie)Geplaatst op 16 juni 2017 door Ben Taffijn Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam (Holland Festival) – 15 juni 2017
De Russen en dictators, het lijkt wel of ze voor elkaar bestemd zijn. Na eeuwenlang zuchten onder tirannie leek er begin jaren ’90 met de val van het communisme eindelijk verandering op komst. Tot Vladimir Poetin het toneel beklom en we inmiddels weer terug bij af zijn. Componist Dmitri Koerljandski en regisseur Boris Joechananov, beide Russen en actief binnen het Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, kozen dan ook niet zo maar voor het thema dictatuur voor hun nieuwe opera ‘Octavia. Trepanation’ die als onderdeel van het Holland Festival in het Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ zijn wereldpremière beleeft.
Joechananov toog reeds in 1989 met het thema aan het werk, toen in de vorm van een toneelstuk. Als basis gebruikte hij het klassieke Romeinse drama ‘Octavia’, dat toegeschreven wordt aan de filosoof Seneca en dat handelt over keizer Nero’s scheiding van zijn vrouw Octavia, en een essay dat de Russische revolutionair Leon Trotsky schreef in verering voor Lenin. Voor de opera kozen de beide heren nog een derde dictator, namelijk Qin Shi Huangdi. Deze eerste Chinese keizer kennen we door het enorme leger aan soldaten gemaakt van Terracotta dat hij meenam in zijn graf. Eigenlijk wilde hij echte soldaten laten begraven maar die plannen konden zijn adviseurs gelukkig bijtijds verijdelen.
De componist Dmitri Koerljandski, die in 2003 nog de Gaudeamus Award won, maakt het ons als luisteraars met deze opera allesbehalve gemakkelijk. Om te beginnen zit er opvallend weinig handeling in deze opera van anderhalf uur. We horen een uitgebreide dialoog tussen Nero en Seneca en een serie monologen, van de geest van Agrippina (Nero’s moeder), Octavia en Trotski. Maar een echt verhaal zit er niet in. Maar het aparte en voor sommigen wellicht ontoegankelijke, zit hem in de muziek. Als basis hiervoor diende een revolutionair lied uit de Sovjet tijd, ‘Varsjavjanka’, waarvan Koerljandski louter de eerst paar maten gebruikte die hij uitrekte tot die anderhalf uur! Wat je dan overhoudt is klank, eindeloos uitgerekte klank in een microtonaal toonstelsel. Voortgebracht middels elektronica, aangevuld met allerhande geluiden van revolutionaire liederen, stemmen, klokken, in flarden. Daarnaast horen we een reusachtig koor, het terracotta leger, een soort van donkere drone voortbrengen. Zij, deze beelden zonder hoofd, symboliseren de massa die zich laat gebruiken door de dictator. Muzikale kleuring komt er van de zangers die en dat is heel bijzonder, hun teksten voor een deel in een vorm van spreektaal zingen, behalve het laatste woord, of soms het eerste, dat samenvalt met de ijle klanken van het koor en de elektronica. Trotski gaat daar op geheel eigen wijze dwars doorheen. Zijn partij is een gesproken tekst die met veel bombarie en verering wordt gebracht, volledig in stijl met de revolutie. Door het gebruik van elektronica, veldgeluiden, de microtonale stemming en de soms zeer afwijkende wijze van zingen heeft deze opera iets surrealistisch en onwezenlijk.
Het past goed bij de enorme kop van Lenin op het podium. Helemaal aan het begin gaat zijn schedel open, wat we een trepanatie noemen. Lenin overkwam dit zelf na zijn dood omdat men wilde weten waaraan hij gestorven was. In deze opera krijgen we door het lichten van de schedel een beeld van de gedachten en waandenkbeelden van de dictator, onder andere gesymboliseerd door vulkaanuitbarstingen en vlammenzeeën. Aan het eind van de opera gaat het dak er weer op en zien we de koor leden zonder hun terracottaverpakking. Ze zijn weer vrije individuen geworden. Een hoopvol einde.
The electronic opera "Octavia. Trepanation" shows fantastic scenes in a world premiere at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam: from insights into Lenin's head accompanied by Russian anthems, to socialism and excursions into Roman history. The work poses the question: Can art explain tyranny?
Anyone entering the auditorium hears gently fading sounds mixed with electronic crackling. A huge skull stands on stage at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw. Headless figures gently move back and forth in front of it. These are soldiers of the terracotta army. They express their suffering in fine, textless canticles. Suddenly, the head turns, and Lenin himself stares at us with threatening eyes.
As four dancing policemen prompt the Terracotta Chorus into motion with roughly barked cries, Lenin's skull opens up. In it stands the stubborn, Stoic philosopher Seneca seeking to counteract his fate. Alexei Kochanov sings this part in a beautiful baritone, his counterpart Emperor Nero is performed by Sergei Malinin, whose brilliant, bright tenor occasionally wanders into the falsetto. Nero wears an extravagant Russian overcoat that conceals a Roman garment beneath it.
Tyranny in the course of time.
Another participant in the discussions and philosophical disputes is a military man in the guise of a mad Asian. In “Octavia” director Boris Yukhananov of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre creates a fantastic meeting of various temporal layers, at the center of which is the question of power, its failure and its tyranny. In this case Lenin’s head undergoes a trepanation, his skull is thrown open. And it turns out to be a true treasure trove.
Dmitri Kourliandski’s score expands the complex construction of the performance, adding its own eccentric world. The text is sung in Russian. As a permanent foundation Kourliandski reworks an elongated and slowed-down revolutionary song beyond recognition, adding to it a chorus, solo recitations with short arias, interjections and extensive live electronics.
A volcanic eruption in the dictator's head.
Video projections alternate inside Lenin's skull – sometimes an arched dome, sometimes a volcano eruption or occasionally just peaceful clouds. A few floors below, right in front of the public, the ghost of Agrippina appears on a wagon drawn by the skeletons of horses/centaurs, while a female choir making beautiful sounds performs the part of Octavia, after whom the production is named, and who is the central figure of the play attributed (probably incorrectly) to Seneca himself. Lev Trotsky, praising Lenin, appears again.
Trotsky is played by a dramatic actor, and with his appearance we suddenly find ourselves in a kind of live radio theater with bells ringing, the sounds of horse hoofs and the atmosphere of a city bazaar. It is not necessary to listen to every detail of this brilliant mixture, you may simply surrender to the elements of the performance, which address all human feelings including lightness, pathos, and pointed message.
And the message does sound as Trotsky, leaning over the grave of Lenin, demands that the living now accept responsibility. Shortly before this, the gray mass of terracotta chorus soldiers shed their shapeless uniforms and the chorus appeared on stage in T-shirts. They now are individuals, not merely a mass. This is a beautiful gesture of hope in the finale of this clever postmodern work that works perfectly without trivial directorial frills.
Oper "Octavia.Trepanation" in AmsterdamLenins Schädel als Fundgrube Die Elektronik-Oper "Octavia.Trepanation" zeigt bei ihrer Weltpremiere beim Holland Festival in Amsterdam bizarre Szenen: von Einblicken in Lenins Schädel über russische Hymnen auf den Sozialismus bis hin zu Exkursen in die römische Geschichte. Das Werk wirft die Frage auf: Kann Kunst Tyrannei erklären? Von Jörn Florian Fuchs
Wer in den Zuschauerraum kommt, der hört sanft an- und abschwellende Klänge, vermischt mit elektronischem Knistern. Auf der Bühne des Muziekgebouw am Amsterdamer Ij-Fluss steht ein riesiger Schädel. Davor bewegen sich kopflose Figuren sanft hin und her. Es sind Soldaten der Terrakotta-Armee, sie klagen ihr Leid in feinen, textlosen Kantilenen. Plötzlich dreht sich der Kopf und der leibhaftige Lenin sieht uns mit drohend leuchtenden Augen an.Während vier tanzende Polizeischläger den Terrakotta-Chor mit grob gebellten Stoßlauten in Bewegung bringen, öffnet sich Lenins Schädel, darin hadert der störrische, stoische Philosoph Seneca mit seinem Schicksal. Alexey Kochanov singt das mit schönem Bariton, sein Gegenpart Kaiser Nero wird von Sergey Malinin interpretiert, Malinins hell glänzender Tenor wandert auch gern mal ins Falsett. Nero trägt dazu passend überkandideltes, russisches Ornat, darunter ein römisches Gewand. Tyrannei im Wandel der Zeit Ein in die Diskussionen und philosophischen Streitereien involvierter Präfekt kommt als durchgeknallter Asiate daher. Regisseur Boris Yukhananov vom Moskauer Stanislawsky-Elektrotheater kreiert und inszeniert mit "Octavia" ein wundersames Aufeinandertreffen verschiedener Zeitebenen, im Zentrum steht die Frage nach Macht, Machtverlust, Tyrannei. Dazu wird Lenins Kopf einer Trepanation unterzogen, also aufgebohrt. Und sein Schädel erweist sich als wahre Fundgrube. Dmitri Kourliandskys Partitur erweitert die komplexe Anlage des Stücks mit einer sehr eigenen, schrägen Welt. Es wird Russisch gesungen. Als ostinate Grundlage dehnt Kourliandsky die Aufnahme eines Revolutionslieds bis zur Unkenntlichkeit, dazu kommen Einwürfe des Chors, bei den Solisten oft rezitativische Momente mit kleineren ariosen Stellen sowie umfangreiche Live-Elektronik. Vulkanausbruch im Kopf des Diktators Während in Lenins Schädel mal eine Kuppel, mal ein Vulkanausbruch oder – nur für kurze Zeit – freundliche Wolken projiziert werden, fährt mehrere Etagen tiefer, direkt vor dem Publikum, eine Kutsche mit skelettierten Pferden vorbei, erscheint Agrippina als Geist, wird die titelgebende Octavia aus dem wohl fälschlicherweise Seneca zugeschriebenen Drama von einem ganzen Frauenchor sehr klangschön verkörpert. Und dann taucht auch noch Leo Trotzki auf und huldigt Lenin. Trotzki ist hier ein Schauspieler und auf einmal sind wir mitten in einem Live-Hörspiel mit Kirchenglocken, Pferdegetrappel, Marktatmosphäre. Man braucht nicht allen Einzelheiten dieses brillanten Mashups folgen, sondern sollte sich einlassen auf das sämtliche Sinne erregende Spiel aus Leichtigkeit, Pathos und Botschaft. Eine Botschaft gibt es tatsächlich, wenn Trotzki am Grabe Lenins die Überlebenden auffordert, nun selbst Verantwortung zu übernehmen. Kurz zuvor hat die graue Menge der Terrakotta-Sänger-Soldaten ihre unförmigen Uniformen abgelegt, der Chor erscheint nun in T-Shirts, Individuen statt Masse. Ein schönes Hoffnungszeichen am Ende dieser klugen postmodernen Arbeit, die ganz ohne die einschlägigen Regiemätzchen auskommt.
The opera “Octavia. Trepanation” was performed at the Holland Festival This production of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre is played out inside Lenin’s head Amsterdam Dmitry Renansky
From the conference room of a Moscow housing office to the stage of the futuristic Muziekgebouw, the primary stage in Holland for new academic music; from the late-Soviet underground to mainstream Western theatre. Working with composer Dmitri Kourliandski on a commission from the legendary Holland Festival, Boris Yukhananov returned to an idea that united Seneca's tragedy “Octavia” with fragments of Lev Trotsky's essay about Lenin, which he first staged in a dramatic performance in 1989. Today the Stanislavsky Electrotheater’s production corresponds well to the international calendar of events dedicated to the centenary of the 1917 revolution, thus becoming one of the most meaningful entries in the Amsterdam forum, which is devoted this summer to the theme of democracy. Rubbing shoulders with premieres by Romeo Castellucci, Boris Charmatz, Dimitris Papaioannou and other leaders of the new European theater, "Octavia. Trepanation" fit in well in Amsterdam. It is an inter-disciplinary project bordering on new music, installation and theatre and it communicated in an intelligible artistic language with the Holland Festival public.
At center stage stands a gigantic head of Lenin, spinning noiselessly on its axis and hypnotically staring at us with slanted, unblinking eyes, and an electric gaze. When cut by a laser, the skull opens up into a terrace where, against the backdrop of apocalyptic video, Nero (Sergei Malinin) and Seneca (Alexei Kokhanov) leisurely sing meaningless duets that reference a long operatic tradition of such duets: all power is faceless. The tyrants of the USSR and Ancient Rome are guarded by a terracotta army of decapitated giants - you do not immediately notice that there are Dutch choristers hiding inside the statue-like costumes of Anastasia Nefyodova as they, seemingly reincarnated as helpless zombies, stumble blindly at every step and are bullied by the guttural cries of Red Army soldiers dressed in acid-bloody latex. In the finale of the "opera-operation," as "Octavia" is identified by the authors of the production, the figure of a Buddha arises in the head of Lenin - the place of tyranny is occupied by Nirvana. The spectators never succeed in entering that state, however, as a sequence of strong theatrical gestures carefully organized by the director creates such suspense that you watch the Trepanation literally without breathing.
Dmitri Kourliandski’s delicate, ephemeral-fragile soundscape emerges from behind Boris Yukhananov’s grand, imperial facade in “Octavia” - the intonational concept of his new opera is by no means as radical as one might have expected from this, the most uncompromising Russian composer of our day. The production’s musical drama is formed by three contrasting layers: the conventional traditionalism of the vocal parts of Seneca and Nero; the choral part and live electronics woven from whispers and sighs; all of which are manipulated in manual mode by sound designer Oleg Makarov. In the ever-changing shape of the shaky sonic haze, the echoes of the vocalists’ voices blend with recordings of Lenin's speeches and the "Varshavianka" - the first measures of the revolutionary anthem which the composer slowed down by almost 100 times. “Octavia’s” lyrical culmination is a combination of the aria-spasm of Agrippina (the phenomenal Arina Zvereva) and the cathartic finale in which eight soprano members of the Questa Musica ensemble, observing the birth and thawing of sound, are woven into a single choral body. The Moscow premiere of the project is scheduled for next year. Earlier yet, in October, "Octavia" will be shown at the Palladian Olimpico theatre in Vicenza.
Question: What is Tyranny?
In Boris Yukhananov and Dmitri Kourliandski's opera "Octavia. Trepanation" the skull of Lenin is trepanated. "The world will not be hurt by a little magical surgery."
Director Boris Yukhananov (b. 1957) and composer Dmitri Kourliandski (b. 1976), both Muscovites, staged an opera, the main theme of which is tyranny. Yukhananov is not yet known in Holland. Dmitri Kourliandski won the Gaudeamus music competition in 2003 and his music is performed all over the world.
The opera is called "Octavia. Trepanation," based on “Octavia,” a play about the emperor Nero, and attributed to the Roman writer and philosopher Seneca. The complex word "trepanation" means a surgical operation of cutting through the skull bone tissue.
This is the second time Yukhananov has staged this play. He staged the first in 1989 as a young underground director.
Yukhananov: "We staged this play with no budget. 1989 was a special year for Russia. It was the time of Perestroika, a time of euphoria for newfound freedom. However, this euphoria quickly faded in my heart. I had a premonition of impending terrible events, because the collapse of an empire is always accompanied by much spilled blood. So I turned to Seneca's text, in which Nero sets fire to Rome and kills his wife and teacher. We conjoined this topic to Lenin and the Russian revolution. The 2017 production turned out to be a completely different work, however. Dmitri and I approached this topic differently. If in 1989 we talked about the premonition of bloody events, now we now talk about tyranny."
Kourliandski: "In the performance we ask ourselves: what is tyranny? The only thing left from the previous performance is the link between Lenin and Nero."
Yukhananov: "We are reflecting on the concept of empire. In our performance we consider three empires: Roman, Soviet and Chinese."
Is it possible to show this performance in Russia?
Yukhananov: "I'm sure it's possible. And we will. The premiere will take place in Amsterdam, then we will go on a world tour, the final destination of which will be the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre in Moscow."
Is this topic not too sensitive for Russia?
“Undoubtedly. But this topic is as relevant for Russia as it is for America and Europe."
In the course of the performance of the opera "Octavia. Trepanation" a nine-meter head of Lenin arises, surrounded by a terracotta army of headless warriors. This head is trepanated, or, put differently, an operation is conducted on the skull.
Yukhananov: "Lenin’s skull was, in fact, trepanated. Twice even. When we open up his skull during the performance, other scenes appear in it, and various events take place in it. We consider three worlds in the play: the real world, the underground and the heavenly. At the end of the performance, a Buddha arises in Lenin’s brain as a symbol of purification and Nirvana. Everything in our production has double meanings, as the story is filled with paradoxes.
The Western viewer will immediately think about Putin.
Yukhananov: "Yes. Or about Trump. We do not specifically mean anyone. We do not wish to draw any conclusions. Today, as never before, art is a cure for our world. Therefore, we call our performance an operation. The world will not be hurt by a little magical surgery. "
What kind of music is heard in the play?
Kourliandski: "I tried to translate the notion of trepanation into music. Figuratively speaking, I trepanate the socialist hymn. I took the first measures of this famous revolutionary song, and, since we are celebrating the centenary of the revolution this year, I stretched and increased these measures one hundred times. The process of stretching, the transformation of a small event into a large one by changing the scale, is a musical parallel of Lenin's enlarged head on the stage. A small sound becomes big. By stretching the musical bars you can hear sounds that were previously imperceptible. Thus, even the distances between molecules of sound become audible."
Are the three worlds heard in the music?
Kourliandski: "A chorus of eighty warriors sings on stage. Besides them, there are also soloists and electronics. Three aesthetic fields are heard in the opera: quasi-classical singing, abstract melodies and the colorful sound of the chorus, as well as quasi-noise, noise and electronics. But listeners must determine themselves what relates to the underworld, and what to heaven. "
Is there hope in this play?
Yukhananov: "This is a very optimistic performance. I believe that in modern art we must speak exclusively in such an optimistic language. Provocation, doom and hopelessness are a thing of the past."
Kourliandski: "However, the very process of achieving such a state can be painful. As with any operation."
Is there anesthesia in music? After all, surgery is usually done under anesthesia.
Kourliandski: “Beauty is our anesthesia.”
Yukhananov: “Beauty arises when all the elements – action, choreography, music, direction and design – find harmony among themselves.”
Why does a Buddah arise in Lenin’s head? Why not God or Allah?
Yukhananov: "Buddhism is a kind of liberation. Buddha is not a god. That is important. Buddha allows you to reference a variety of religious rituals.
“Kourliandski’s music can be compared to what the French call musique concrète, mysterious, mostly quiet sounds on the cusp of noise and silence. Although this description does no justice to the fascinating impression this music makes on listeners."
What place does Kourliandski’s music occupy in Russian contemporary music?
Kourliandski: "There are two trends in Russia today. On one hand, there is the neo-romantic movement of the composers who continue Shostakovich's tradition. That is, a conservative direction, actively supported by conservatories. We have, on the other hand, an independent movement of young composers who resist the conservative tradition. There are more and more of them. Young composers in Russia write very radical, complex music, which evokes great interest in the non-philharmonic society, for example, in theaters. Our Stanislavsky Electrotheatre regularly provides a platform for this musical trend."
Yukhananov: “We commission and perform this music. We already have eleven contemporary operas in our repertoire.”
Modernism is returning to the West. What’s the situation in Russia?
Kourliandski: "For a long time we lagged behind the West. Eight years ago, young composers still drew inspiration from the music of Western composers. Antoine Beuger and the Wandelweiser group of composers played an important role in this sense. Today, however, they find an aesthetic basis among themselves.
“I consider this a very progressive situation, when one need not look back to others. In Russia there is no official institution of modern music or official support. Therefore, we do not feel pressure from festivals, impresarios, the public and their expectations. It is a time for individual journeys. In this sense, we no longer lag behind the West. In general, thinking based on geographical boundaries is obsolete. I spend fifty percent of my time abroad. I lecture and conduct master classes around the world. Last year I had seventy concerts, of which forty were outside of Russia. I live in Moscow, but my world is a map of the world of my friends on Facebook. Each has its own borders."
Boris Yukhananov and Dmitri Kourliandski’s opera “Octavia. Trepanation.” will play June 15 and 16 at the Muziekgebouw.
The world premiere of Octavia. Trepanation will take place on June 15 as part of the Holland Festival. It is composed by Dmitri Kourliandski and directed by Boris Yukhananov, the artistic director of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre. Constant Meijers, the author of this article, stunned by Yukhananov’s production of The Tale of an Upright Man 12 years ago, already knew the director. Recently he met with him again in Moscow.
I made the acquaintance of Boris Yukhananov after seeing his The Tale of an Upright Man, a production based, in part, on a text by Oksana Velikolug, a young, paralyzed woman who was a student of Yukhananov’s workshop, and who, under the influence of Artaud, herself wrote a play. Thanks to Yukhananov, this woman in a wheelchair found herself on stage in the middle of her own performance. Yukhananov, who was a well-known figure in the theatrical underground of the time, was famed for such acts. For example, he once planned to perform his own productions on various other theatres’ stages by having his actors rush stages and take them over shortly before planned performances were to begin.
Jewish Roots Today, 12 years later, Yukhananov says this conception of “art-terrorism” was characteristic of the 1990s. “I was then fascinated by the connection between action and reaction. This connection was a starting point for my work. My first experiment of this kind took place in 1991, the year of the Yeltsin revolution. I experimented in theater with other realities. My research was mainly an artistic, not a political, vector. I don’t support political aggression. To say nothing of artistic aggression by one artist against another. A few years later, I lost interest in this approach and, after the production you saw, The Tale of an Upright Man, I decided to quit theatre. Before resolving to found the New Jewish Theater (NET in Russian), I immersed myself in Judaism for seven years in order to discover my Jewish roots. I communicated with rabbis, I read the Torah and other sacred texts. Then I tried to turn everything I had seen and heard into performance, working with people who were not only Jews, but Buddhists, Christians and Catholics. We set out in search of the origins of Judaism. At the same time, I conducted a series of seminars entitled ‘Why do Jews need theater if they have the Torah?’ The lives of Jews are completely regulated, from sunrise to sunset; no reality show could possibly compete with this. After awhile, I left the study of the sacred texts and seminars and turned to the Kabbalah. To better experience this teaching, I decided to write a play based on the myth of the Golem. I started with the poem by H. Leivick in eight scenes, I introduced the Maharal from Prague, who, according to legend, knew the secrets of the Kabbalah and created the Golem, which was capable of protecting Jews from pogroms. When a group of actors began rehearsing my text, I got completely mixed up in my own comments and began to curse myself. Even when I invited audiences to view performances at various stages of the work, I constantly scolded everyone. I raged at the public like a rock musician. One of the actors took on my insane behavior and introduced him as a character in the play. When I saw this, I exploded at him: ‘What are you doing? This is complete shit!’ But for three years the performance developed almost under its own power. There were a variety of reviews, positive and negative. In the framework of our publishing project ‘Theater and its Diary,’ wherein we publish diaries of major directors, I present an eight-volume edition that includes the textual records of the play Golem, photographs and video recordings that recorded the process of its creation. The presentation of this project will be held May 28. It’s essentially dedicated to the New Jewish Theatre.”
Director’s Theatre After Golem, Yukhananov chose to return to the theatre. He mounted a Faust project then staged The Constant Principle, which collated Calderon's story of the Portuguese holy Prince Fernando, The Constant Prince, and Pushkin’s Feast in a Time of Plague. This production is about the war between Islam and Christianity. "Then I started working with my Studio for Individual Directing (MIR-4) on several major projects, including The Golden Ass project. I was inspired by Lewis Hyde's book Trickster Makes This World. Trickster is the hero of our time, and the oldest book on this subject is Apuleius' book The Golden Ass. In this way, I managed to connect the Greeks, the Kabbalah and Judaism."
When the Moscow city government announced a competition for the post of head of the Stanislavsky Drama Theater, Yukhananov resolved to participate. “I wrote a long letter, in which I described in detail how I imagined a new theatre should look: a director’s theatre, a theatre that is open to the whole world. I won the competition, established a fund with the help of a friend, a successful businessman, and we embarked on the complete reconstruction of the theatre. Many Russian theatres use funds, because government subsidies alone are not sufficient to do the work. We created a multifunctional main stage, in which any form of theater is possible. Then we added a small stage. My plan is to invite European directors representing different generations to the theater. We have already collaborated with Theodoros Terzopoulos, Romeo Castelluci and Heiner Goebbels. When I crossed the threshold of the old theater I had a feeling I had entered a cage of wild animals. Then a great communicative process began - I called it ‘communicative homeopathy.’ I talked to everyone separately, with every one of the 250 people working in the theatre, to tell them about my plans and listen to their wishes. All of them were devoted enthusiastically to the work of the theatre. In the course of three years, I have been able to implement several large projects and turn the theater into one of the most advanced in the country.”
Three Empires The idea of a new opera Octavia. Trepanation dates back to 1989, when Yukhananov inhabited the world of the Russian underground, living and working in the cellars of Moscow apartment buildings.“I came across a text about Octavia, which is attributed to Seneca and in which Nero kills his mother, abandons his wife and sets fire to Rome. Then I took Trotsky's long essay on Lenin and I combined both texts. Trotsky described Lenin as a genius, but a genius with a monstrous mission that gave rise to tyranny. Trotsky had an ambivalent attitude toward Lenin, which did not prevent him from paying tribute to the genius of Lenin. Intuitively, I linked the story of Nero to the future collapse of the Soviet empire, which occurred between 1990 and 1992. This is exactly what this show was about. Now, thirty years later, it is a completely different work. I wrote a libretto with the composer Dmitri Kourliandski, and Dmitri wrote the music. “The new production speaks of revolution as a form of tyranny. In it we unite three empires: the Roman empire of Nero, the Soviet Union of Lenin, and the Chinese empire of the times of the terracotta armies. The giant head of Lenin, in a laurel wreath like a Roman emperor, looms large on stage. Trepanation refers to the fact that in 1922 Lenin was subjected to a trepanation of the skull during the autopsy to find out what he died of. There were suspicions that he died from the effects of syphilis. It turned out not so - he died of a stroke. We show this by opening his skull. The head of Lenin is designed in the form of a three-story house, with various technical tricks inside. To the right and left of the head stand soldiers of the terracotta army, each measuring 2 meters 30 cm in height. The singers of the opera chorus are located inside the headless soldiers. “We call this work an ‘opera operation,’ because we open the skull of a revolutionary, eliminate his illusions and replace them with a statue of Buddha symbolizing a new consciousness. We can say that in this way we will celebrate the centenary of the Russian revolution in Holland. This opera is not about Putin or Trump, however. It is about the state of our world today, a situation that we hope to improve with one intervention, with the aid of one opera. We must initiate a new era that will begin in Amsterdam.”
[Information about the production]Octavia. Trepanation. Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, composer: Dmitri Kourliandski, director: Boris Yukhananov June 15 and 16, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam www.hollandfestival.nl
Trotsky Doesn’t Sing Boris Nelepo
The premiere of Boris Yukhananov and Dmitri Kourliandski’s opera “Octavia. Trepanation” played at the Holland Festival in honor of the centenary of the October Revolution
A seven-meter head of Lenin, a chariot drawn by centaur skeletons, a headless army occupying the entire stage, the ghost of the mother killed by a tyrant, Red Army soldiers in an ominous dance, wandering shadows... Such is the universe of Boris Yukhananov's and Dmitri Kourliandski’s new opera “Octavia: Trepanation,” which premiered in Amsterdam at the 70th Holland Festival. Boris Yukhananov, artistic director of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, belongs to the rarest kind of directors who create finished, independent universes in theatre. Thus, in the “Drillalians” opera series he imagined a parallel reality with its own laws, heroes and mythology. But the nature of "Octavia" is different; this performance is similar either to a dream or a deathbed vision, where a tragedy named “Octavia,” ascribed to Seneca, meets the texts of Lev Trotsky.
"Octavia Trepanation" is a major event for contemporary Russian theatre. Tours of Russian troupes at international festivals in recent years are not uncommon. But in this case the venerable Holland Festival in the Netherlands was co-producer and initiator of this production. After the world premiere, a large tour is planned (the next stop is Vicenza in Italy), the final point of which will be the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, whose team created “Octavia.” In the hall of the modern Muziekgebouw (House of Music), even before the action begins, the spectator finds himself facing a frozen, headless mass of individuals in huge brown suits. This is a terracotta army – which is the name given to statues of soldiers buried in China with the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. Red Army soldiers lead the terracotta warriors far upstage with powerful cries, [while they take up position] on either side of a sculptured head of Lenin that is the size of a house. Soon comes the trepanation, the head opens, and inside it Seneca and Nero engage in dispute.
At the outset, a projected text provides a brief summary of the tragedy: "Caesar Nero divorces Octavia, whom he hates, and marries Poppaea Sabina. Nero suppresses the confusion and rebellion of the people caused by this divorce with numerous executions, destroys Rome by fire, and sends Octavia to Pandataria, ordering her to be killed." The libretto by Yukhananov and Kourliandski faithfully follows Seneca’s "Octavia" - with small cuts. Among the characters, the authors excised the nurses of Octavia and Poppaea, as well as Poppaea herself, leaving only one monologue of Octavia, and depriving the chorus of Roman citizens of words (but not music). Their final words were given to the actor playing Seneca. The biggest change is the addition of Trotsky, whose dialogue is drawn from his articles and autobiography. Yukhananov already once combined Seneca’s play with an essay by Trotsky in a production of “Octavia” done in 1989. According to his own words, he anticipated the imminent collapse of an empire and ensuing bloodshed. Documentation of the play became the eleventh chapter in his monumental video film "The Crazy Prince," which as yet has not been edited.
Another element of the set design is the troika of centaur skeletons. Three is a key number in “Octavia.” There are three empires - Ancient Rome, the Soviet Union and China, of which not only the chorus reminds us, but also Nero’s Prefect dressed in an Oriental costume. There are three scenic spaces - Lenin's towering head, with its built-in balcony and video projection which seem to float in the sky; the stage itself with an underground kingdom, standing in it though separate, which is controlled by the messenger-Red Army soldiers with their slingshot-like rifles. It is they who lead away the ghost of Agrippina, the mother of Nero.
Finally, there are three levels of music. Dmitri Kourliandski took the first measures of the revolutionary song "Varshavianka" as performed by the Alexandrov Ensemble which perished in a plane crash, and slowed down the first phrase, stretching it out to 90 minutes. That is, he conducted his own musical trepanation. After the performance, he explained his method of work to me: "When you stretch out the musical material so much, it reveals itself from an entirely different angle. As if you were looking inside the sound; you find yourself among the molecules, the granules of sound, where there are amazing worlds, both harmonic and melodic. They are worlds discovered. They were there all along, but no one has seen nor heard them." Kourliandski wrote the arias and duets employing this resulting material.
In this opera there are no musical instruments and, accordingly, no conductor. The second level is comprised of the live electronics performed by Oleg Makarov, the host of the performance. They are based on the same slowed-down "Varshavianka," no longer recognized by the human ear, which Makarov puts through filters during the performance. You one time hear indistinct excerpts of Lenin's speeches. And finally, there is the terracotta army chorus, which is a "kind of live acoustic resonator." It does not have a precise score, but there is a set of instructions on how to react to what is occurring on the outside. This chorus comprises 78 people hidden in heavy costumes. In contemporary academic music, the question of immediate emotional experience is often left out of the equation. This makes “Octavia” all the more fascinating: despite the complexity of the concept, both musical and conceptual, this is probably one of Yukhananov’s most accessible works, as he works here primarily with sensuous perception.
Nero burned Rome, executed his mother, and sent Octavia to her death. He appears with bloody hands (Sergei Malinin, the Drillalian Prince from "Drillalians"). Yet at the same time this is a confused, frightened Nero. Most often he repeats the word "fear." "So, can I not do what everyone can?" he asks Seneca, who urges him to give up forbidden love. Seneca (Alexei Kokhanov), who appeals to Destiny, is the mentor, whom the pupil refuses. This pair parallels Lenin/Trotsky. After the death of his teacher, Trotsky is lost. In "Octavia" he does not sing: The form of language may change, but tyranny remains. Yury Duvanov, who plays Trotsky, speaks four monologues: a memoir of his first acquaintance with Lenin, who was still a common man; the story of the transformation of Lenin into a symbol of the revolution, about which others learn from newspapers; Illness and, finally, death ("Lenin is gone. Lenin is no more”).
The priority of individuality over a system or politics has always been a fundamental value for Yukhananov. So it is in “Octavia.” Not in a simplistic, naive sense, as in, "the tyrant also knows how to love," but in the specifically constructed framework of the spectacle, where, ultimately, only the individual matters. That is why the finale amazes so, when the former faceless army, several dozens of people, appear on stage without costumes – every one of them wears a T-shirt with his or her real name on it. Every one of them looks right at us. It is only at first glance that the antitheses of the production seem to be arranged simply. It seems: we have a tyrant's head and a faceless terracotta mass. But it is precisely the army that resists the will of Nero and is not ready to forgive the betrayal of Octavia. Lenin emerges as a figure similar to Octavia for those individuals who are hungry for the First World War to end. Perhaps the tyrant is one head for all ("the primary head," as Trotsky puts it), but the body revolts, as Nero unexpectedly protests when he seems to have dreams of love.
And in this tripartite space that arises again - leaders and masses ("Rome revels in killing its own”) - Yukhananov and Kourliandski single out those by whom - like demiurges of this world – they stand unconditionally. Two victims are sent to death. The aria of the ghost Agrippina ("mother, wife and stepmother") and the deathbed monologue of Octavia are bone chilling and exhaustingly long - like the speech of any victim. Agrippina appears from the underworld and, having finished singing, removes her wig as if stripping off her scalp. Octavia’s part is the most poignant; it is divided among eight performers singing against the background of the starry sky. "Where is the nightingale that my moans will answer with a song?" Her only consolation is the music Kourliandski bestowed on her.
The configuration of tyrants and victims is interchangeable, for Agrippina, too, shed much blood. But for Yukhananov there is no past. He is ready to stand by those who are doomed to suffer right now. This may be Nero - in my favorite scene he and Trotsky stare each other in the eye for a very long time. Is it possible to interpret this moment, can it be expressed in words? I think not, but therein is the beauty of this director's project.
In the finale, an inflatable statue of Buddha appears in Lenin's head. I immediately recalled the post-exotic novel "Bardo or not Bardo" by Antoine Volodine, who inventively juxtaposed the memory of an unsuccessful revolution and posthumous Buddhist practices. Perhaps, these fascinating one and a half hours on stage are the visions of Lenin wandering in the dark after death? In the music of the revolutionary song slowed down a hundred times (a nod to the hundred years that have passed since the October Revolution) Kourliandski and Yukhananov created a world of shadows where different eras and different kinds of theater can meet, where even the ghost of a production called “Octavia,” made thirty years ago, can meet itself, now reborn in the opera “Octavia. Trepanation." And so may the soul of tyranny continue to wander in this intermediate state and never be reborn again.
Gesamtkunstwerk Lenin BORIS YUKHANANOV’S “OCTAVIA.TREPANATION.” AT THE HOLLAND FESTIVAL Sofya Dymova
The focus of the Holland Festival on its 70th anniversary is the theme of democracy, interpreted by curator Ruth Mackenzie as widely as possible: as a form of social order, as a principle of equality of aesthetics and styles, and, finally, as an attempt to destroy the hierarchy between the public and artists. "Octavia. Trepanation" by Boris Yukhananov and Dmitri Kourliandski, a co-production of the legendary festival and Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheater, stands in the program alongside a documentary about Brexit from London, a contemporary dance piece to the music of “Sacred Spring” from Chile, new productions by Robert Lepage and Romeo Castellucci, and a traditional theatre from Indonesia. In 1947, when the first Holland Festival was held in Amsterdam, Indonesia was in the process of liberating itself from the Dutch colonial regime. "Octavia. Trepanation" sings Hosanna! to individual freedom as well.
This opera installation - with a giant head of Lenin at center stage, a chariot drawn by a troika of decayed centaurs (stage designer - Stepan Lukyanov), and with eight dozen local choristers hidden in the garments of terracotta army soldiers - looks like the apotheosis of everything frightening that is associated with the images of the Roman Empire, Soviet Russia and ancient China, all special instances of tyranny. “The Russians are coming” is probably what the Amsterdam spectators thought as they watched the performance of four Red Army soldiers dressed by costume designer Anastasia Nefyodova in blood-soaked skin at the beginning of the play. But the operation that Yukhananov conducts on Lenin's brain in “Octavia” is carried out in the viewer's mind at the same time. It removes phantom pains and reduces fear. In the coming season the performance will reach Moscow while the next “Trepanation” sessions will be held in October in Vicenza – at Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico.
The prestigious Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad called the music of Dmitri Kourliandski "intoxicating." Liberating oneself from the intoxication of power is the uber-plot of this 90 minute performance that is arranged as a healing session for the brain of a tyrant. At the very beginning of “Octavia,” a laser controlled by an invisible surgeon conducting the trepanation operation runs across the monstrous statue’s forehead. The chorus of headless warriors, divided into two detachments, measuredly and almost invisibly swaying, issues sounds that sound like groans. Each soldier of the terracotta army will be plucked out of the crowd one by one by vigorous Red Army soldiers with rifles, and led, helpless and blind, to the place history has prepared for them. The stumbling giants, led like sheep by the armed soldiers, will remove their costumes during the curtain calls, revealing to the audience a multitude of smiling Dutch performers wearing T-shirts printed with their own names. This affirms the freedom of the individual. This final gesture ultimately transforms “Octavia” into a truly open, international, festival project in the best sense of the word.
Two sources form the basis of the opera’s libretto – Lev Trotsky's essay on Lenin, and a play attributed to Seneca about Nero, whose divorce from the unloved Octavia marked the beginning of the Roman massacres. Two tyrants, separated by centuries, meet on a theatre stage to show how and whence arise the strategy and tactics of violence charged with incredible personal energy and passion. Kourliandski’s electronic score is based on a fragment of the revolutionary song "Varshavianka," stretched out in time, mixed with splotches of phonograms of Lenin's speeches, the ticking of clocks, and the clattering of horse hooves – as in the episode when Trotsky arrives in London. Yury Duvanov, an actor of the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, wears slightly grotesque make-up, carries a traditional traveling bag in hand, and lives his life in quite a traditional manner. He talks about how he came to London in 1902, how he hired a cab and knocked on the door of Lenin who had just woken up. In the finale, after the story of Nero and Octavia - and his destruction of her - ends as a bonfire burns in Lenin’s skull, Duvanov’s Trotsky will discuss a loss that medicine could not prevent.
But therapy conducted in the territory of art is capable of healing history. In the head of Lenin, which has been cured of its sick cells, the rubber figure of a Buddha is inflated just before the curtain falls. The hall laughs with relief, recognizing both utopianism and the irony of this final coup de théâtre. Conducting a symbolic trepanation before these European spectators, the director leads us beyond aesthetics. The paradox, as they say, is obvious: the “Octavia” of Yukhananov and Kourliandski is an ideally constructed spectacle that functions with the perfection of clock works. But the creators of the production deliberately enter the territory of life - whether it is Western or Russian is not so important: the themes of tyranny, revolution and freedom are equally significant today here and there.
Trepanation of Lenin: Amsterdam’s Holland Festival will unveil a co-production with the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre.
The festival will offer the world premiere of "Octavia. Trepanation,” a production by director Boris Yuhananova and composer Dmitri Kourliandski.
Announced as a co-production of the Holland Festival and Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, this Moscocw project made history before it even opened: the European Class A festival for the first time in many years was not merely a co-producer, but was also the initiator and commissioner of a new theatre production from Russia. Tours by Moscow and St. Petersburg collectives to elite world festivals such as Avignon or Vienna have become common in recent years, but in the case of “Octavia,” we are not talking about exporting a finished product, but about working together on a new show from scratch. This says a great deal about the fundamentally different level of confidence in its creators, and about each season’s growing interest in the West in contemporary Russian theater. The premiere of the production, based on the tragedy by Seneca and Lev Trotsky's essay about Lenin, and whose genre is defined as an "opera operation," will be held June 15-16 in the Muziekgebouw hall.
Romeo Castellucci and his Society Raphael Santi will show "Democracy in America" - a performance based on French politician Alexis de Tocqueville’s eponymous treatise on the XIX century, and still considered the canonical exposition of the ideology of liberal democracy. Robert Lepage and the Quebec company Ex Machina will bring the hit of the current festival season "887," and the lead and only role in this autobiographical drama will be performed by the director himself. Chances are the most popular hit of Amsterdam-2017 will be "Obsession," Ivo van Hove’s dramatization of the script of Luchino Visconti’s debut film. Jointly produced by the Dutch Toneelgroep and the London Barbican Theater, Jude Law stars in the production.
The Holland Festival program is traditionally built on the principle of interdisciplinarity, combining theater, music and the visual arts. Projects aimed at professional audiences coexist well with open-air events designed for mass spectators. The Netherlands opera will show the premiere of two directors who have headed the Holland Festival in previous years: Pierre Odier is preparing a stage version of "Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary" by Claudio Monteverdi, under the baton of French conductor Raphael Pichon, while Ivo van Hove takes on "Salome" by Richard Strauss with the Royal Concertgebouw and conductor Daniel Gatti. The dance program is headed by Alexei Ratmansky who brings to Amsterdam the "Shostakovich Trilogy," created in 2013 for the New York American Ballet Theater. Frenchman Boris Charmatz and his "Dance Museum" will present his latest work called "Dance of the Night," while Belgian choreographer Alain Platel offers a production called "Do not Sleep!" which is set to the music of Gustav Mahler.
The event of the dance program will be a new project by Dimitris Papaioannou, about which nothing is known at present except the premiere date. The production does not even a name yet although the newly-minted tickets are being sold at breakneck speed. The Greek choreographer’s name now speaks for itself.
Amsterdam, June 3-25