Kvandal on his Hamsun opera: – I am looking for the genuine

– I was in Stockholm the other day and saw an opera about a composer who was unable to finish his commissioned opera. I couldn’t get back home to my piano quickly enough, to mye stacks of blank sheet music and Hamsun Books. Says Johan Kvandal in his home at the outskirts of Oslo, adding  note by note to what will hopefully become an opera built on Hamsun novel Mysteries, all while the National Theatre cast all stage lighting on Knut Hamsun.  

By all means, do not write that the opera will be done a specific year. It is certainly moving forward. But one should be careful not to challenge the powers of fate. And certainly, the 68-year-old composer taps the knuckle on the restaurant table plate. Nine times.

– To protect myself, he says smilingly. Half apologetically, half challenging, as if to signal that when all is said and done, he takes the mysterious seriously. So the opera director Bjorn Simensen has obviously selected the right composer. Barthold Halle has supplied the libretto. Johan Kvandal constantly expresses that he does not want to say too much about what he thinks and feels in connection with the Hamsun opera.
All the hollow chitchat I leave to others. (Pause.) What do you want to know?

– If you get a hold of Knut Hamsun and Nagel, this Foreigner of existence, God‘s fixed idea?

Hold on hold on. Hm… They are so impenetrable. And actually all literature researchers have had to capitulate. What could possibly a composer contribute with?


Yes. . . That’s the way I have approached them. It concerns me that Nagel is a bit psychic. And he’s a hero. Such is, strictly speaking, not quite living purely today. Nagel has more imagination and feelings, yes, sinnsliv than any other. This marks the women, who enticed and frightened. Completely ordinary women who Dagny and Martha are extraordinary when they come under his sphere. It is as if he switches on and off the light in others. Now we are moving into a dangerous topic.

– Is Mysteries suitable as raw material for an opera?

– Oh yes! Consider the many significant personalities. The plot is full of interesting scenes. Hamsun has given an opera composer a brilliant theme. It is certaintly not his fault, should the opera be a failure. But I keep thinking about this Martha Gude, the egg woman. “It is not by age she is white, her eye hairs are terriblly black still, horribly dark, so her eyes are smoldering.” I have still not managed to gain real contact with her. The others I have managed to connect to certain musical themes.

– What have you been looking for?

– Gradually, I have discovered that I have been looking for the genuine. In Knut Hamsun. In Johan Nilsen Nagel. In Dagny Kielland. In Martha Gude. In Minutten, and… actually… in myself. Art has something to do with the results of this kind of quest for the genuine. But now I have said too much. It is over. I have to go home. Someone is waiting.

av Ingar Sletten Kolloen, Aftenposten,  12th January 1987