(The Exterminating Angel)
- Wojtek Blecharz
That is why this history cannot be true, says the history scholar, who set about a rectoscopy of history, or at least decided to set about it, and looked at history from the other end, as it were ... Please come tomorrow, perhaps then! Then you might hear: This is how the world ends This is how the world ends This is how the world ends Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Especially for you, any moment now, history will begin, any moment now, it will start all over again. History only ever tunes its instruments, but rarely plays them. But today is the day when it will play them. We are its instruments. We are now tuned. We attune ourselves to history. Our accounts should play and should be in tune with one another.
Elfriede Jelinek, Rechnitz (The Exterminating Angel)
The scenario of this opera is based on a play by renowned Austrian writer, Nobel Prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek, referring to dramatic events that took place at the castle of Baroness Margit von Batthyány in the Austrian town of Rechnitz towards the end of the World War II. According to witnesses, during a reception given by the baroness in March 1945, her guests—officers of the local SS and Gestapo—took part in the massacre of two hundred Jewish forced labourers transported from Hungary. The mass grave was never found, and the sluggish investigation allowed the main perpetrators to escape.
Jelinek’s text is written for the voices of five Messengers, who present their own versions of events. The opera will never constitute a reconstruction of what happened in Rechnitz seventy years ago; it represents instead an attempt to understand the mechanisms of collective memory. Its principal theme is language as an instrument of manipulation, lies, and violence. It is also a tale about recent European history and European identity, of which the experiences of war and the Holocaust are part.
The operatic character of Rechnitzconsists primarily of a new approach to the recitative: the search for close links between the text and its musicality, bringing out hidden meanings from the text by superimposing upon it sound gestures and assigned motifs, musicalising its prosody, and rhythmising the actor’s text. The actor becomes a musician, a singer, a beatboxer; the way he delivers the text is organically linked to the ensemble of four cellos, which follow the narrative and accompany the actors, but also have a performative dimension. The quartet of cellos symbolises what remains of the palatial orchestra from the times of its former splendour: the last “survivors,” forced to entertain the degenerate aristocracy and their Nazi guests during the bloody events of March 1945.
The collaboration with Katarzyna Kalwat, who displayed a remarkable feel and understanding for music in her previous, award-winning show Holzwege, describing the story of composer Tomasz Sikorski, was a great challenge for me. In my operatic works, I often refer to the beginnings of the genre (Park-Opera and Body-Opera); hence the opportunity to attempt a redefinition of the recitative is particularly close to my heart. In Rechnitz, which will be my h opera, the music is not just a background to the text; it complements the text and, by musicalising it (rhythmisation, assigned motifs), it imparts to it a sort of artificial form. A similar thing occurs with the accounts of the witnesses to the Rechnitz massacre, who try to tell the truth without uttering it, constructing their language in such a way as to render it fluid, to lose it in endless bridges, episodes, ornaments, and counterpoints.Wojciech Blecharz