Morgen Und Abend review at the Royal Opera House – ‘thought-provoking’
The Royal Opera presents the world premiere of a new work by a noted Austrian composer. Now 62, and with half a dozen operas to his credit, Georg Friedrich Haas sets a libretto by the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse based on his own novel, published in 2000.
Sung in German, but with some spoken sections in English, Morning and Evening largely avoids narrative (significantly no synopsis is printed in the programme). Instead, it offers something much more contemplative, focusing on the characters of the fisherman Olai and his son Johannes, whose lives are viewed through the significant moments of birth and death. As they consider their experiences, those to whom they are close, but who may also be either alive or dead, interact with them: Johannes’ wife Erna, his daughter Signe and his friend Peter.
Thought-provoking though the result is, it isn’t inherently dramatic, and neither – beyond some distinctive atmosphere – is Haas’s score. The music’s pace is consistently slow. The harmony alternates between the very simple and the super-complex. The orchestral writing is limited in coloristic range, though there are some beautiful offstage choral effects. Taken as a whole it is hard to maintain interest in something so static and at the same time so insubstantial.
That said, the performers work hard to create a memorable experience. Graham Vick’s staging is discreet and focused, with Richard Hudson’s minimal, all-white sets turning slowly on a revolve. Distinguished Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer plays the spoken role of Olai with dignity, but very little of his English text comes over. Christoph Pohl throws everything he has at Johannes, and both Helena Rasker as Erna and Sarah Wegener as Signe and the Midwife make an impression, while Will Hartmann suggests Peter’s warmth.
The result – distanced, ruminative, philosophical – rarely grips, but the orchestra plays it with confidence under the baton of Michael Boder.