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Work of the Week – Aribert Reimann: L’Invisible

Aribert Reimann’s new opera, L’Invisible, conjures a mysterious and foreboding atmosphere. On 8 October, the world premiere of this “trilogie lyrique” will be presented at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in a production by Vasily Barkhatov conducted by Donald Runnicles.

Reimann first encountered the plays of Maurice Maeterlinck in the 1980s at the Berliner Schaubühne and was immediately inspired to write an opera, however thirty years passed before the idea became a reality. L’Invisible is based on three short Maeterlinck plays, L’Intruse, Intérieur and La Mort de Tintagiles, woven together through musical language and the recurring character of a young boy. Another Maeterlinck play, Les Aveugles also provided inspiration.

Aribert Reimann – L’Invisible: Living in the shadow of death

In L’Intruse a family waits for a doctor, called to attend to the daughter who has just given birth. However, before he arrives the blind grandfather notices death is amongst them. This opening scene is accompanied only by strings, but the texture is shattered at last by the baby’s first cry: a shrill chord in the woodwinds. At the same moment, the mother takes her last breath. Three countertenors hidden in the wings represent the invisible messenger of death and create an atmosphere of omnipresent foreboding.

In contrast, Intérieur is scored for only woodwinds. The audience peers through a window at the family. Outside, a stranger is telling the Grandfather about the eldest daughter’s suicide after he dragged her body out of the river. As the grandfather prepares to break the news to the family, the two girls in the inside room take up the melody previously sung by the countertenors. Only the young boy, Tintagiles, remains on stage to provide the link to the final scene.

In La Mort de Tintagiles the entire orchestra is used for the first time. An old queen issues the command to have all her potential heirs killed. Afraid that Tintagiles may be on her list, his sisters try unsuccessfully to protect him and the countertenors reappear as the queens’ executioners. Reimann ends the work as it opens, as if the story were to begin again.

From the moment a human is born, they live with death. Maeterlink explores this theme in his three plays. In the third, somebody is being kidnapped and murdered. Every day humans are murdered because of an order. If one drives into a crowd of people, they don’t know who their victims are. They’re invisible, just like here. – Aribert Reimann

Reimann wrote both French and German versions of the libretto, and the premiere will feature the French libretto with German and English surtitles.  L’Invisible will run at the Deutsche Oper Berlin until 31 October.