Stockhausen’s ‘Mittwoch’: Sounds Like a Really Raging Concert
by Melissa Wimbish
Reading Mark Swed’s giddy review of Mittwoch reminded me so much of my attempt to explain the experience I had at my very first Radiohead concert this past summer at Verizon Center. Epic. Opera is evolving — and it’s goddamn exciting. Check out the Operagasm review rundown!
“Look! Up in the sky — it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no…it’s actually a real helicopter and it’s part of the opera!”: “Who would be crazy enough to write an opera called “Wednesday” and require for one scene that four noisy helicopters — real choppers like the ones that drive us to distraction at the Hollywood Bowl — fly over the theater with microphones on their rotors so that the chop, chop, chop can be mixed into the sound of the score?”
Wagner’s got nothing on Stockhausen’s stamina: “The composer was the German visionary Karlheinz Stockhausen (I know “visionary” is overused, but Stockhausen was a visionary), and his Mittwoch (its German title) is the midweek opera from his seven-day, 29-hour Licht (Light) cycle. Although completed in 1995 (Stockhausen died five years ago), Mittwoch had never been staged in its entirety until the noted British director Graham Vick mounted it last week with Birmingham Opera Company, which he founded 25 years ago to present exceptional special annual projects…Tickets sold out instantly for the four performances, and people from dozens of countries headed to an abandoned chemical factory in a dicey part of Birmingham on a stormy night, only to sit on the floor or sometimes awful little stools for an opera that lasted more than six hours.”
Quoting The Beatles always rocks: “It is hard not to make Mittwoch sound silly. In the second scene, 12 groups of world parliamentarians sing, in unknown languages, that all you need is love (the composer spent part of the ’60s in Northern California). A small chorus surrounded the audience in a large circle, their faces painted like flags. At the bit where love was likened to “cosmic gluten,” the singers smeared the paint on their faces and writhed on their high chairs. The extremely strange vocal writing is like nothing you’ve ever heard, unless, that is, you come from a different solar system, as Stockhausen was convinced he did.”
Sounds like a really raging concert: “…the event was astonishing for the soul and simply beyond belief. If opera is meant to change your perception of what is possible and worthwhile, to dream the impossible dream and all that, then this is clearly the spiritually uplifting way to do it. And it was funny too.”