The premiere of “canvas” by Slovenian composer Nina Šenk and librettist Simona Semenič was shown. Šenk was awarded the prize of the Johann-Joseph-Fux Opera Composition Competition after the performance, which she had won with this opera.
It tells the story of four women who – without knowing it – love the same man. The latter flutters, as he pleases, from one to the other and tries to maneuver the women into emotional dependencies and keep them. Ingo Kerkhof – KUG professor of music drama (scenic interpretation) directed, Katharina Zotter provided the set and Gerrit Prießnitz was responsible for the musical direction.
The orchestra was moved to the left wall of the hall, and the conductor stood with his back to the wall, thus having both the instrumental ensemble and the singers in view. A square, white-covered revolving platform, a few centimeters high, marked the area where the music was played and sung. In addition, the singers took turns acting at a desk facing the audience at the right edge of the stage.
The female students slipped into different roles, miming, among others, a part of factory workers. A young girl experienced her tragic death on a hospital stretcher right at the beginning. Her alter-ego sang about this process as if the dying girl was watching herself die. The exact circumstances that led to this death remained unresolved – speculations on this may clearly be individual.
The captivating libretto, consisting of short, terse movements, with repetitions and sometimes rude expressions, offered the composer a great deal of emotional fodder, which had to be sonically realized. Šenk succeeded in leaving the voices in the foreground extraordinarily audible and in using the instrumental part only as a support.
Only at one point, in which a sexual abuse is told, does the orchestra play a much stronger role. In this part, the text is spoken for the most part and the violent event is made clear by the raging in the instruments with crashing and clattering sounds. In this scene, all the women stand motionless on the platform, dressed in black, and persist in that position until one of them whispers, “I have to be quiet when it’s time to be quiet.” This phrase is picked up by the others and turned into a whisper song that gets under your skin.
Well brought out were the various characters – married women fearful for the discovery of their affair, a young girl asking God to deliver her, a factory worker who sees in the man the highest fulfillment, a lady who begins to feel youthful again through the happiness of love. The Womanizer himself – also portrayed by one of the women – comes into play only briefly and is shown neither seductive nor violent. Only one woman stands outside the love spiral. She is announced as a fat Italian woman who comes on stage without singing and leaves again. She is the only one who does not seem to be emotionally dependent, but based on the body description should have a strong sexual attraction.
The composer uses quartets, but also solo arias, and marked the scene changes with loud breathing sounds amplified by microphone. It is the particularly successful balance of speech and music that makes this performance so special. Helpful, but also aesthetically well solved, was the projection of the English text on a large screen behind the singers. In addition, these, students of the Music University Graz, were all perfectly disposed.
Melis Demiray, Lavinia Husmann, Laure-Cathérine Beyers, Marija-Katarina Jukić, Ellen Rose Kelly, Christine Rainer and Ana Vidmar are to be congratulated on their great performance.