Birmingham Opera Company brings off a tremendous coup by staging the world premiere production of Mittwoch (or Wednesday) from Licht (Light), Stockhausen’s sequence of seven operas each named after a day of the week, as part of the London 2012 Festival.
Written in 1995-7, Mittwoch is a characteristically idiosyncratic piece of music theatre, involving actors, singers, instrumentalists, dancers, mimes and electronics, and not least - in the piece’s most famous sequence - the four members of a string quartet flying in separate helicopters with their synchronised music-making screened to the spectators beneath; ironically, this turns out to be the least interesting musical segment, and the hardest to place in the overall vision. Yet taken as a whole this is a wildly ambitious project whose staging by Graham Vick and his vast and committed Birmingham forces is a hugely impressive achievement.
Stockhausen, who died in 2007, was one of the most influential creative figures of his time, even if his wackier ideas were derided by some. The archetypal figures of Michael, Lucifer and Eve reappear throughout Light, whose subject-matter is played out on a cosmic level that nevertheless takes in the childishly comic. Vick’s production moves through the vast interiors of the Argyle Warehouse that the company has made its regular performing space. Highlights include the virtuosic choral singing of Ex Cathedra in the World Parliament scene, another small orchestra suspended over the heads of the audience in Orchestra Finalists, and the wildly surreal yet often magically beautiful climax of the Michaelion, where Paul Brown’s designs include a camel that defecates planets.