A Dream of Armageddon
New Production - World Premiere
Music by FUJIKURA Dai
Opera in 9 Scenes
Sung in English with English and Japanese surtitles
Supported by British Council
15 November- 23 November 2020 (4 past Performances)
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I particularly encourage to you to read the visionary H.G. Wells short story on which the libretto is based
Published in 1901, the story foretells future conflagrations in an accessible and highly personal and readable manner ..... examining the strengths and weaknesses of human thought, emotional scope and whimsical moral compass through a metaphorical dream ....
The opera expresses these thoughts profoundly and increasingly relevantly, in real time, to our time
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Reviews of the World Premiere
'Prophetic and Visionary '
opera I was accelerated back to my rather unusual reverse exposure to classical
music. In the 1960s, long before I was at all familiar with the
conventional classical repertoire, I had attended concerts, listened to
recordings and studied the fascinating 'avant-garde' (so-called at that time)
scores of only living composers such as Pierre Boulez,
Henri Pousseur, Iannis Xenakis, Mauricio Kagel, Cornelius
Cardew, Krzysztof Penderecki, Karol Szymanowski, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano
Berio, Luigi Nono and John Cage. In 1968 I spent months in Cologne as a writer,
not a musician, observing the astounding course and development
of the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen.
There is no greater musical and metaphysical
experience than attending a concert of
music performed in the presence of the
living composer himself. This feeling was
particularly strong when say Stockhausen was 'at the controls' of his space
craft in the mind-expanding space flights one takes through the various Regions
of his masterpiece Hymnen, comparable only to
such works as Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. I have
not remained the same being after listening to the version with orchestra
in 1968 in Bruxelles. This work is perhaps the greatest truly contemporary
expression of man's existential isolation, his attempts
to relate across cultures yet at the same time aware of his subconscious
loneliness floating like the atom he is in the vast and ever expanding cosmos.
I felt a
similar sense of isolation and alienation in this opera and its text. Hear the
world of human dreams is pitted against the grim reality of war, the ultimate futility
of hoping that love will conquer bombs and bullets.
One of the
very greatest of all composers, Olivier Messiaen, was alive then (I
remember his long, multi-coloured scarf illuminating a darkened Westminster Cathedral after a
spiritually demolishing performance of Et Expecto
Resurrectionem Mortuorum, a scarf as colorful as his birds
flying below in the abyss of the unfinished cathedral roof).
It had been a similar epiphany listening to The Dream of Armageddon.
I have just
finished watching the opera at last after all these tough years of Covid
determined silence. An excellent day to concentrate on serious thoughts in
freezing Warsaw. Such a gift from Tokyo!
The opera is at once monumental,
disturbing, spiritually uplifting and deeply thought-provoking. No opera
libretto I know is as deeply philosophical, prophetic and visionary as this, based as it is on a far-reaching conception of the future
by H. G. Wells. The music is brilliantly imaginative and presents us with a
kaleidoscope of colors, textures and harmonies ranging across the emotional
stylistic spectrum of many centuries. Being an author I am familiar with the
visionary texts of H. G. Wells of course. I would say that for a full
understanding of the implications, it is imperative to read the story before
watching the opera.
I discussed contemporary music with the
composer when visiting Hiroshima in 2019 on the 'Music for Peace' project. We discussed mainly the music of 'modern' composers, those with
apocalyptic and metaphysical visions. I am familiar with such modern works
which helped me relate to the nature of his musical writing. I felt this opera
to be uniquely reaching out with both a practical and metaphysical musical
message of warning to us all. The pandemic has almost unavoidably strengthened the coercive reduction of freedom
and increased population control.
In short a magnificently relevant
and courageous work, one of the greatest works added to the canon of modern operatic composition.
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A Dream of Armageddon
The Japan Times
Ken Mogi, who wrote the review below and presents the Youtube clip, is an entertaining neuroscientist, best-selling author, music critic and broadcaster based in Tokyo, Japan
Following on from Asters, this is the second in our series of commissioned works by Japanese composers. This is a new opera by prolific composer and music pioneer FUJIKURA Dai, who lives in London and is sought out by opera houses and orchestras around the world. This is the third opera by FUJIKURA, although only a concert version of Solaris has ever been performed in Japan. This performance is bound to draw national and international attention.
The theme chosen by FUJIKURA is A Dream of Armageddon, a short science fiction story written by H. G. WELLS at the beginning of the 20th century. Poet Harry ROSS, a long-time associate of FUJIKURA, worked on the libretto (in English), while FUJIKURA, in his typical bold style, transformed it into an opera that freely transcends space and time with a thrilling portrayal of the threats around us who live in the present age. Adapted from the original work, which evinces anxiety about science and technology leading to world war and mass murder.
American director Lydia STEIER will direct this new work, noted for her work on Die Zauberflöte at the 2018 Salzburg Festival. Conducting will be our Artistic Director of Opera, ONO Kazushi. Following on from Asters, universally acclaimed by Japanese and international media, the NNTT, is proud to present the world with this opera by a Japanese composer.
Interview with the composer Dai Fujikura
A stimulating, literate and highly intelligent interview with the Director
Message from Composer
This opera is out of this world as it is a dream, but it is also incredibly relevant to today. It's like a mirror.
When ONO Kazushi emailed me out of the blue, asking to commission my 3rd opera for full chorus and symphony orchestra, he asked for a story with contemporary relevance.
I thought that H.G. Wells's short story was a perfect grist for the work.
The story, written well before the first and second world wars, is about a totalitarian world at war which is described through a conversation between strangers on a train.
I was immediately hooked by this story, as for 20 years, my librettist collaborator and I have wanted to make an opera starting from a scene on a commuter train!
We never made that opera, not only because we were 20-year old's who had no possibility of a commission, but also because we couldn't fully decide what would happen after the initial train-conversation.
Now I have an offer, AND the short story starts from a train conversation which turns into the story of a dream which is oddly prescient.
With this project, I collaborated with Librettist Harry Ross who I have worked with for over 20 years for so many of my vocal works, and director Lydia Steier. We have all been trying to find a project to collaborate on for several years, as I feel her vision will give my music wings.
In this work the chorus changes from a train of commuters into a bloodthirsty army. The chorus predicts a possible future for us all...
All of the dramatic scenes move in and out of a dreamscape. You're never sure what is fact and what is imagined. There's a futuristic moving corridor, and future music in a dance hall which is, according to HG Wells, indescribable. Dynamic characters inhabit this future dream world, and their emotional, political views are sung out over a lyrical story line.
It had to be an opera It had to be a dream, one from which I hope we wake up.
Message from the Librettist
As a British school boy I grew up with H.G. Wells. He is a quintessentially English author, and although visionary, he is a also product of his time. When writing Armageddon in 1901 the British Empire and English exceptionalism were at their zenith. Universal suffrage was almost three decades in the future.
Society can move backwards as well as forwards. Britain has embraced an authoritarian populism which looks recidivistically to the exceptionalism of a violent empire. How did this happen? We are all to blame.
I based this Armageddon on my own thoughts of how we, as "liberal elite" may be directly responsible for an impending Armageddon, thanks to our own inaction and bubble living. We live in froth.
Bella and Cooper are well-off people who have agency, they might be politicians, they might not. The point is that we might see something of ourselves there. In Dai and my version Bella is the daughter of an elite politician. In HG Wells's original Cooper is a politician who has given everything up for love. The fact is that their lives are so out of step with the majority of other people that something has to give, regardless of how well intentioned they are and how much they love each other.
Bella is based on a real person I once knew in the early thousands, who was a squatting anarchist activist. She was also the daughter of a wealthy and influential businessman. She's no longer an activist...
When the populace is whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue, it is like being in a bad dream. Reality bends and chaos supersedes logic. All are harmed. I spent three years as a part-time soldier. People get persuaded to behave in shocking ways. My father was a full-time soldier, and was witness to the awful events in the Balkans, and in Ireland. Both happened in my adult lifetime, and having seemingly slipped from our collective memories, seem possible once again. As I write this the UK government seems prepared to break both the Good Friday Agreement and the EU Withdrawal Agreement, in order to drive its authoritarian nationalist agenda forward.
Dai and I made political parallels to several different schools of thought, aiming for a surreal timelessness in these parts. However, these demagogic threnodies are still rooted in the exact language of today. We live in a world of decontextualized soundbites. Take Back Control, In This Together, For the Many not the Few - the UK's current descent into nationalist exceptionalism has been moulded to some extent by the phatic language of modern politics. We are all to blame.
I was writing this work in the aftermath of the Grenfell Fire, the tower-block which burned down as a result of the greed and negligence of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who are being investigated for the manslaughter of 72 citizens. I didn't experience this in the abstract. I was there. I lost colleagues and friends in the ongoing fall-out from such a devastating and avoidable incident, which continues to scar the consciousness of all who were touched by it. In fact, I was employed by the Borough's arts service at the time. Having heard for years the pleas of residents for equality and agency, the incident left me feeling like the community arts wing of the Death Star. The point is that no matter how good our individual actions might be we have to zoom out of ourselves and consider what whole we are a part of.
It felt like a war zone. A war started by froth and negligence.
Have I run from this, like Cooper and Bella?
I wrote this libretto on a boat in Rotterdam, in self-imposed exile from a country I no longer recognized. I now split my time between the Scottish Highlands, the Netherlands and London, torn in my responsibilities and fearful that the apocalypse will follow me wherever I go. This too is privilege. There are other poets whom the apocalypse has followed more closely. Rest in power Abdel Wahab Yousif aka Latinos, who drowned in the North Sea, stuck between The EU's burning migrant camps and the UK's Hostile Environment.
For me, A Dream of Armageddon is our ever possible future, a future accelerated by populism, weak politicians and inactive bubble-living urbanites. Cooper's dream gives him pause to consider this. And in seven decades, when we're all dead, these conditions will probably come around again, and we will dream anew.
Feijenoord, Rotterdam,The Netherland
Revised, Lossiemouth, Morayshire, Scotland
Message from the Director
What is our obligation to act in the face of great injustice? Is it really ever possible to remain neutral in a time of political upheaval? Do we have the right to hide in our private spheres when the temperature of public discourse swings toward the totalitarian? These are questions we could easily ask ourselves now in our world of fake news, volatile political alliances and a seemingly inexorable descent into chaos.
These are also precisely the questions at the heart of our opera A Dream of Armageddon, based on H.G. Well's short story of the same name originally published in 1901. The parallels to our time are alarmingly thought-provoking.
Wells's short story traces the experiences of a man, ravaged by dreams in which he serves as the proverbial frog in the pot of water: in a dystopian dream-world where a military dictatorship threatens to take absolute power the protagonist, formerly a powerful politician in this dream, chooses to do nothing. The narrator's dream-avatar ends up losing all he loves and even his own life over the course of the story.
Dai Fujikura's sweeping new interpretation of this story strengthens this work's mandate that we, as a society, examine our own inertia and complicity in the political sphere. Using quotes from our own era of societal dysfunction, librettist Harry Ross makes it clear that this Dream of Armageddon is not far away from our reality at all.
This production is created by the team behind Opernwelt's 2016 Production of the Year--Karlheinz Stockhausen's Donnerstag aus Licht at the Theater Basel. Using advanced video technologies combined with bold set design, the production creates a universe where realities can shift back and forth, and reflections of both ourselves and of our dark potentialities live in constant dramatic tension.
My visit to Japan concerning the 'Music for Peace' Project masterminded by Martha Argerich and Shoji Sato. A spiritually uplifting and marvelous musical visit to Hiroshima in February 2019
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