Jan Fosse is a
major figure in the modern literature of Norway. Initially
establishing his reputation as a novelist, he has largely
worked as a dramatist since the mid-1990s and his work has
been extensively performed across Europe and in the U.S.A.
He has been widely described as the most important Norwegian
dramatist since Ibsen. He writes in a very austere fashion,
brief speeches often repetitively patterned. Someone is
Going to Come (Nokon kjem til å komme) was first
performed in 1996. A later Parisian production of the play
prompted Le Monde to describe him as “the Beckett of
the 21st century”.
Knut Vaage (working
in collaboration with Fosse) adapted Fosse’s play as the libretto
for his own one act opera, which was premiered in 2000. The
text has a distinctive poetry, creating through its highly
patterned language a powerful exploration of the tensions
inherent in human relationships; it occupies a theatrical
idiom which, paradoxically, straddles the boundaries between
realism and absurdism. It presents an elemental theatrical
situation in simple language.
A man and a woman
seek - so they say and perhaps so they believe - to be alone
together; they have bought a very isolated old house near
the sea; we know nothing of them, they are called simply ‘He’
and ‘She’. The tensions in their relationship are hinted at;
another character (‘The Man’) appears briefly. The house,
which was formerly occupied by the grandmother of ‘The Man’,
is gradually revealed to contain disturbing reminders of its
previous occupants – from photos on the walls to an unmade
bed, right down to an unemptied chamber pot. ‘The Man’ makes
a pass at ‘She’. The cracks between ‘He’ and ‘She’ widen.
employs an eight-piece ensemble: viola, flute, clarinet, bassoon,
double bass, cello and two percussionists. The instrumental
resources are well used; the instrumental intimacy aptly but
powerfully evokes the jealousies and fears of ‘He’ and ‘She’,
the laughing, disturbed menace of ‘The Man’. Perhaps, though,
one might have hoped for a little more by way of musical evocation
of the surrounding emptiness.
All three singers
give intense, compelling performances, sustaining the tension
throughout. Siri Torjesen, well known for her work in contemporary
repertoire, and Ketil Hugaas, experienced operatic performer,
work particularly well together and are utterly convincing
in their presentation of the central relationship. They disturb
and move the listener in equal measure. Though Nils Harald
Sødal has a less prominent role, he handles it very persuasively,
not least in his long set-piece towards the end of the opera,
which is a minor masterpiece of menace and dramatic pacing.
Going to Come moves to a memorable conclusion, musically
speaking, which I wouldn’t want to give away any more than
I’d want to reveal the ending of a detective story I was urging
someone to read.
This is a chamber
opera of authentic quality, which makes a real virtue of the
limitations of the genre; it is a powerful study in psychological
claustrophobia, in the quasi-Pinteresque threat of the outsider
who seems essentially an externalisation of the dynamics which
govern the relationship between the other characters.
The CD comes very
handsomely packaged, with a full libretto in both Norwegian
and English translation.