For Wojtek Blecharz, the further opera travels from its typical representation as a group of people singing onstage, the closer it remains to its roots. ‘We get attached to virtual reality, objects, technologies, but we forget the sound of our own heartbeat, or how to take a deep breath.’ ‘Originally, if we look back to the 17th and 18th centuries, opera was regarded as the most sophisticated art form, because it combined text with music, shifting expressivity to a completely new level’.
Having begun his career as an oboist specialising early music before switching to contemporary composition, Blecharz’s 2013 opera – or, in his words, his first ‘opera-installation’ – Transcryptum certainly meets these ambitions. An exploration of the non-linear way in which buried trauma can manifest itself, its performance at the Grand Theatre Opera House in Warsaw saw the audience wandering in small groups backstage, encountering instrumentalists, sculptures and dancers in its corridors and rooms. When mezzosoprano Anna Radziejewska appeared, it was in a lift, uttering strangled, wordless vocalisations; the libretto itself was a printed text to be read by the audience. ‘Today, singing has gained a completely new status in pop culture, and has been used, abused and is overdosed on daily basis,’ Blecharz notes, ‘So I don’t think that singing text in contemporary opera is a convincing way to reflect upon the world and our current condition.’
Continuing hcmf//’s commitment to bold new productions, Blecharz’s Body-opera, which receives its UK premiere at hcmf// 2016, is another such opera-installation. Instead of navigating the unconscious mind, the audience at The Calder will explore a space filled with a ‘living’ organism, its ‘cells’ consisting of music, video, sculpture and performance, with the libretto expressed through the movements of a dancer.
According to Blecharz, the work invites the audience to consider their own physical realities. ‘Our own body is one of the most natural and primal instruments, filled with constant sounds,’ he says. ‘It is important to see the body from different perspectives, in this case through sounds, because we tend to forget who we are in the context of our own physicality. We get attached to virtual reality, objects, technologies, but we forget the sound of our own heartbeat, or how to take a deep breath.’
After hcmf//, he hopes that this mutant child of an old form and new ideas will flourish as an ongoing, lifetime project, ‘that every performance can become a new ‘hybrid’, made of different cells.’ He muses, ‘It would be also interesting if Body-opera could be passed to another composer as some sort of formal ‘cyborg’ and be continued throughout generations.’