22 April 2015 at 2.50pm | Comment on this article
This month, leading multimedia designer and director Netia Jones returns to the Linbury Studio Theatre with an imaginative new staging of music by Georg Friedrich Haas. Netia, who staged Kafka Fragments at the Royal Opera House in 2013, is widely regarded as a pioneer for bringing video and projection into classical concerts. Her renowned productions include Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, Britten’s Curlew River, and, most recently, Unsuk Chin’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which had its US premiere earlier this year at the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Her latest production sets music by Georg Friedrich Haas, one of contemporary music's most exciting composers, whose main-stage commission, Morgen und Abend will have its world premiere at Covent Garden during the 2015/16 Season. She has chosen his Second String Quartet and song cycle ATTHIS, which Haas considers to be ‘a modern version of Schubert's Winterreise, with a happy ending.’
The song cycle, described by the New York Times as ‘a shockingly intimate conjuring of emotional intensity’, is based on the ancient love poetry of Sappho. In this production, the poetry is translated by Ruth Padel, who was The Royal Opera's first Writer in Residence in 2014.
Ahead of opening night, we caught up with Netia Jones to ask her about Haas, Sappho and her immersive staging:
What drew you to Haas’s ATTHIS?
ATTHIS is a 40-minute scene for soprano and small ensemble, and is extremely demanding vocally, calling upon the singer to explore a myriad of technical and musical demands. Haas creates as extraordinary soundworld, employing microtones, overtones, and an array of different sounds and relationships. There is something incredibly intense, mesmeric and overwhelmingly beautiful about his music. It is entirely immersive and intensely theatrical. The Viennese musicologist Wolfgang Schaufler encapsulates this perfectly:
'Being prepared to experience the music of Georg Friedrich Haas also means letting go; it means making a journey to an unknown destination. It means taking a risk and entrusting yourself to Haas. There is no other way to find out what lies behind his music. It is a case of all or nothing. And he will reward you richly for this trust.'
You've decided to open performances with Haas’s Second String Quartet as a prelude to ATTHIS. Why did you decide to include this piece as part of the programme?
Haas’s Second String Quartet has an intensity and emotional complexity that makes it a perfect introduction to ATTHIS.
How will you reflect the intensity of Haas's soundscapes visually as part of the production?
Haas uses light and darkness as instrumental tools, and this is very exciting when using projection as an extension of the listening experience. My presentation of the Second Quartet and ATTHIS is designed to be immersive: darkness and light are instruments; and poetry, visual imagery, movement and music come together inseparably to reflect Haas’s extraordinary musical world.
The piece is drawn from fragments of poetry by Sappho. What role does the poetry play in this work?
Sappho as a historical figure is shrouded in mystery, but her poetry is extraordinarily immediate and intense. We are using an English rendition of the poetry, created by poet and scholar Ruth Padel. Interestingly, Sappho is admired by Greek scholars for the musicality of her verse – which was composed to be performed accompanied by the lyre – but her poetry is still eye-opening in translation. Even in fragments, her poetry gets straight to the heart of human emotions – raw, imperfect, intense and passionate. The centuries between us just disappear!
Can you tell us about elements of your staging?
ATTHIS is not a piece that requires a great deal of action as it is intensely emotional, and so I want it to be visually very beautiful: the piece is as much a visual installation as it is a work of theatre. On stage, the soprano will be immersed within the projected imagery, which is extremely difficult for the performer – it is very disorientating to be projected onto while singing an incredibly difficult 40-minute song cycle! I would only be able to ask this of an extraordinary soprano like Claire Booth.
ATTHIS runs from 23-25 April 2015. Tickets are still available.