David's Review Corner
, June 2011
A harrowing one-act opera relating the story of the Czech woman, Selma Jazkova, who goes to the United States to earn money to pay for an operation to save her son’s eyesight. Completed and premiered last year, it has all the hallmarks of Poul Ruders search for a progressive modernity, though here he relates with the traditions of 19th century opera in having a series of arias and duets. He also moderates his atonality we find elsewhere to produce a vocal line with a melodic input, while the orchestra supply a backdrop that underlines the action. The result is a short opera of around seventy minutes that takes its inspiration from Lars von Trier’s film, Dancer in the Dark. Here Selma garners sympathy by telling everyone she is sending money to help her old father back home, but in fact she is saving it for her son Gene. She too is going blind, a condition not helped by working long hours, but having made a costly blunder at the factory, she is sacked. Latter that evening she is visited by Bill from whom she is renting the trailer where she lives. He wants to borrow money to save his marriage, and when she refuses he pulls a gun and demands whatever she has. In a scuffle the gun is fired, but it is Bill that falls. In the courtroom the District Attorney pours scorn on her, but fails to tell the jury she is so blind she could not have seen Bill at a distance to shoot him. Condemned to hang for his murder, the opera ends, where it began, in the church where Selma’s funeral is taking place. The production does not help the story, life in the factory being sketched by a few people carrying things around, and the trailer is a piece of scaffolding. So it is largely left to Ylva Kihlberg, in the main part, to capture our attention, which she does superbly in both the visual and vocal sense, Palle Knudsen takes the part of Bill, with Gert Henning-Jensen as the ‘over-the-top’ District Attorney. One act operas have been singularly unsuccessful in the history of opera, but this compelling story may prove the exception. Taken from the stage of the Royal Danish Opera, the story encourages close-ups almost throughout.