Gaze for Gaze - Niels Rønsholdt

Gaze for Gaze is about the relationships between people. It is a story about a man and a woman, perhaps about our own relationships—from the past or the future—and it is about choosing certain paths in life while leaving others unlived. 

But Gaze for Gaze is also about opera as a genre, as a way of expression. I am deeply fascinated by opera, something that goes back to my early childhood. Even so, it makes no sense to just adapt the language of another time in order to describe life as it is today. Writing an opera today must somehow answer, or at least address, the many questions posed by the genre itself. The language of opera must be reinstalled in a contemporary context. 

In Gaze for Gaze, I have tried to do that quite literally. Some of the basic musical types of behaviour in the opera—recitative and singing—have been rebuilt in this piece as a kind of personalised reconstruction of elements of the early opera (which again were an attempt to emulate ancient Greek theatrical language). In the early 1600s monody arose as a response to the polyphonic style of, for example, madrigals, which were not suited to individualised narratives and expressions. I have tried to place myself inside this notion of a very simple vocal line that conveys a sung text in a clear way. 

Similarly the speech-like singing of the traditional recitative is here radically reconstructed into a version where the audiences themselves actually perform the text. It is spoken and not sung, but the diversity of sound qualities, expression, and timbres of the constantly changing individual voices within this very strict structure is something deeply musical to me. The unpredictability of the nature of each voice reinforces the precise focus on that element: namely, that of colour and verbal expression. To me, this makes it into a kind of singing, and a very beautiful one at that. Also the simple and constantly modulating harmonic structure is constructed on the basis of a certain characteristic behaviour of Baroque recitative harmony, and the only instruments to be heard are the organ and the cello: the continuo of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century opera. 

The text in Gaze for Gaze is built out of phrases and sentences that we might have spoken or heard at one point, or that we will say or hear at some point in the future. They are simple and direct and could derive from a pop song, a trivia book or a television soap opera. Essential to the text is the relation between individuals, and the libretto is built upon a series of dialogues that are interwoven into a patchwork where connections and threads of narrative gradually appear. Finally, in the second act, they are collected into the story of a man and a woman who find themselves in darkness among the souls of beings that could have been, but never came into being.

As much as I love opera, also traditional opera, I often feel somewhat distanced from the action and the music. In Gaze for Gaze I have attempted to establish a different kind of intimacy and the sensation of being in medias res; a kind of inversion of the traditional opera setup in which we mostly watch from afar. On the other hand, most operas deal with universal subjects, thus they always seem to be about ourselves. In Gaze for Gaze this is even more literally the case. 

Niels Rønsholdt 

See The libretto