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Work of the Week – Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World

The devastating effect mankind has on the planet is the subject of Thierry Pécou’s new chamber opera Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World, which will be premiered on 23 April at the Opéra de Rouen in Normandy. The opera explores its themes through texts written by Navajo poet Laura Tohe about the Navajo creation story and its connection to the present.

Nahasdzáán is characteristic of Pécou’s musical approach to incorporate non-Western ideas, music, and traditions into his compositions, informed by the composer’s own experiences gained while travelling. Native American cultures in particular have influenced a number of Pécou’s works including Symphonie du Jaguer and the cantata Passeurs d’eau.

Through our interpretation of the sacred stories and healing ceremonies of the Navajo people, I would like to draw attention to the dramatic wounds that human beings have inflicted on ‘Nahasdzáán’ (=Mother Earth), at the same time displaying the force of the Navajo concept of ‘Hozho’, uniting harmony, health and beauty in a single entity. At the end of the ritual which evokes mythological figures of the Navajo, the animals remain apprehensive: what new worlds will human beings create to save the earth and avoid catastrophe? – Thierry Pécou

Thierry Pécou – Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World: chamber opera inspired by Native American traditions

The Navajo creation story tells of four worlds, which are mirrored in the four parts of Nahasdzáán. The first, ‘black world’ is a kind of underworld, in which different deities and ghosts live. The ‘blue’ and the ‘yellow’ worlds are similarly only populated by supernatural forces, while the fourth, the ‘white’ world, is occupied by humans. The common factor shared by each world is the importance placed on animals, which similarly play an important role in the finale of Pécou’s opera, acting as commentators on the situation currently faced by the earth and expressing hope that it can be improved.

Pécou’s setting of the vocal parts closely matches natural rhythms and melodic contours of speech. This is in contrast to long sustained notes and expressive figures that characterise the instrumental parts of the chamber ensemble.

Following the work’s premiere, Nahasdzáán will be performed in Rouen on 25 April, and in Caen on 2 May. On 12 May, the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern will perform another Pécou’s works, the piano concerto L’Oiseau innumerable, with Jonathan Stockhammer conducting and Pécou at the piano.