Audience success and a musical vitamin injection

The composer Johan Kvandal’s opera ‘Mysteries’, opus 75, was premiered in the Norwegian Opera on Saturday. It was a winner with the audience and a musical vitamin injection. Broadly constructed, it has an impact both as a musical work and as a theatrical performance.

The libretto by Barthold Halle was the textual basis for Kvandal, who displays an exceptional musical-dramatic talent and a cunning employment of the orchestra, choir and soloists. The core of the work is in the orchestra movement, but he also let the choir as a commenting unity and the soloists as actors in the play, have opportunities to express themselves on their own terms. Hence the premises were in place for an ensemble input.

Good craftsmanship
Mysteries is characterized by good craftsmanship. The composer knows how he wants to express himself and use the resouces available. He follows the musical-dramatical tradition by placing the necessary energy – the work’s pulse – in the instrumental movement. It is brilliantly orchestrated, with a great sound apparatus, which was exploited in a way that allowed the soloists to move freely and unforced in relation to it. He avoids the pitfalls by letting the orchestral movement cover the soloists and the choir’s material. The dialogue is continuous and always audible. The detailed commenting orchestral substance, with tangible utterances such as laughter and gnashing of theeth, came to the fore together with more general atmosphere and content shifts. This made the musical material become a driving force in the development of the theatrical action.

Barthold Halle’s libretto is most focused on the interaction between the four main characters Nagal, Dagny, Minutten and Martha. This allowed a musical flexibility and the text was excellent for dramatic production. The orchestra, conducted by Kjell Ingebretsen, was somewhat extended, but the impression was most of all formed by the quality of the performance. It was flexible, melodic, subtle sound unfolding and precise. And the choir, with Stefan Skøld as choir conductor, was well-trimmed and contributed to the musical and theatrical result.

The success of ‘Mysteries’ lies in the stable level of the ensemble as a whole. A simple and effective direction and scenography, with choreography and light effects well adjusted to the plot, were building blocks in the performance. The double role of Halle as both librettist and director, made him a key person, and his effective grip created a theatrical hit.

With three hours duration, the opera was long, but not tedious. That was due to the dramatic intensity. Trond Halstein Moe and Anne Bolstad as Nagel and Dagny respectively, were both capable of keeping the tension throughout the opera, even in long sequences where the introverted character was in focus. The yellow-dressed Moe was a convincing actor in the external environment of the tiny southcoast village. He was the despaired individualist seeking a solution to his personal, inner conflicts, without finding any.

Everyone’s merit
Anne Bolstad as Dagny performed well in relation to Moe’s Nagel character. She had the sensitivity, impulsivity, self-consciousness and the distance that made her unreachable for him. Arild Helleland as ‘Minutten’ had a very demanding role as a fool, as the outcast and the omnipresent. His body language, mimic and song were cutting edge. Frøydis Klausberger as Martha performed beautifully and vernal, and she sang well.
That did also the soloists in the bi-roles. The success was the whole ensemble’s merit. The Norwegian Opera has gained a new Norwegian work on it’s repertoir. ‘Mysteries’ demonstrates that the Opera has the resources necessary to tackle new challenges.

In the coming six weeks ‘Norwegian Festival’ is on the programme, with several operal and ballet performances. The occasion is Olympic Games at Lillehammer. Let us remind ourselves that those behind this deserve a far better working environment than they will ever get in Folketeaterbygningen. It is a challenge far beyond the limits of the Olympic Games.

by Idar Karevold, Aftenposten, January 1994