Forget Wagner’s Ring: the largest of operatic cycles is Stockhausen’s Licht (Light), its seven parts each named after a day of the week.
Licht still awaits its first complete performance, but Donnerstag (Thursday), premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1981, was last seen in the UK at the Royal Opera House back in 1985: this international co-production shows us what we have been missing.
The scale and scope of the piece are vast. Stockhausen’s mystical morality tale is partly autobiographical – the little boy Michael, whose mother is removed to a mental hospital and euthanised while his troubled father is lost in the war, is drawn from his own personal experience.
In the second act Michael, now represented by a trumpeter (the virtuosic Henri Deléger) travels the world, the music of the various locations he visits helping to identify them.
In the last act, Michael takes on and appears to see off Lucifer – the cycle’s devil figure. Throughout Eve represents woman as both mother figure and lover. All three characters appear in the triple form of a singer, an instrumentalist and a dancer.
Contributing to the sonic riches are the French amplified orchestra Le Balcon, world-renowned contemporary music specialist ensemble the London Sinfonietta and the equally accomplished New London Chamber Choir, plus the Manson Ensemble from the Royal Academy of Music. Add in complex electronics, and the result under Maxime Pascal’s expert baton is regularly overwhelming.
Dramatically, Stockhausen’s libretto can seem naïve and even childish at times: but ultimately, under Benjamin Lazar’s resourceful direction, the work’s overall impact leads the audience on an unforgettable spiritual journey.