• Premier: 15, Nov, 2019 Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • Composition and text: Chaya Czernowin
  • Director: Claus Guth
  • Stage: Kristian Schmidt
  • Dramaturgy: Yvonne Gebauer / Dorothea Hartmann / Christoph Seuferle

  • Performers:

  • Singers: Patrizia Ciofi, soprano / Dietrich Henschel, baritone / Noa Frenkel, contralto / Terry Wey, countertenor / Frauke Aulbert, vocal artist
  • Instrumental soloists: Ensemble Nikel (Patrick Stadler, saxophones / Yaron Deutsch, electric and amplified acoustic guitar / Antoine Françoise, keyboards and piano / Brian Archinal, percussion) plus Uli Fussenegger, double bass
  • Choir: 16 voices
  • Orchestra: Deutsche Oper Berlin
  • Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke
  • Electronic: SWR Experimentalstudio Freiburg with Joachim Haas, Carlo Laurenzi and Lukas Nowok

  • Description:

  • Heart Chamber is an opera which zooms in and follows the beginning of love. It is a grand opera of the smallest moments, the smallest physical and psychic changes which push two strangers towards or away from each other, as they embark on a transformative path, which one cannot envision. In this story about the beginning of a love connection, there is no place for a third person or for an external drama. We experience only the 2 protagonists. The “story” is minute, fleeting and hidden: a gaze, a small word, a strange reaction. In fact these minor actions, reactions, and interactions are almost invisible signals exchanged between the protagonists propelling their internal landscapes towards a tectonic change. At the same time this is an attempt to create a real multisensory experience, an experience of music in its sensual fabric, where music becomes smell, touch, cutting pain, pure joy, or euphoria.

Both of the protagonists, a soprano and baritone — have their internal voices represented by an additional singer as well as recorded voicethat reveal the protagonists’ deep subconscious. The soprano’s internal voice is sung by a contralto and the baritone’s internal voice is sung by a countertenor. The contralto and countertenor are also pre-recorded representing a very deep subconscious level of the protagonists.

The soprano and the baritone might dialogue with each other while their internal voices swirl around creating a subterranean space that lays an internal landscape bare. The whole conversation can take the form of a stream of consciousness, or of a song between the two internal voices, while the external voices are conversing. At times there might be a conflict between the protagonist and their own internal voice. For example, the protagonists might move away from each other in anger, while their internal voices move closer together. Dialogues between the man and the woman are interrupted by dreams in which the choir participates. The dreams project the deep seated ambivalence of conflicts that emerge as the lovers realise the demands and societal conventions of love.

Musically, Heart Chamber is all about the voice, about using the voice, about communicating through the voice. The singers will be amplified and recorded ahead of time so that while a singer sings a phrase we might hear the same phrase with a subtle change coming from a loudspeaker, playing back the voice recorded intermittently with many different microphones, each illuminating the different colors of the same voice and of the same vocal line.

  • Text:
  • There are eight close-ups (Momentaufnahmen) in the opera:
  • 1.) Chance encounter
  • 2.) He: lake / She: underwater trench
  • 3.) Tightrope (she calls)
  • 4.) The fifth talk
  • 5.) The wait (reservations)
  • 6.) Falling in love / underwater
  • 7.) The Hurt: A Misunderstanding.
  • 8.) Falling in love / above water / a scar

While each of these is distinct, they are not like traditional scenes or acts. They are a part of a larger organism, forming the vertebrae of the spine of the opera which emerges to become one organism.

The text, which is written in English, is associative, moving between the concrete and the metaphorical. It is written like a score where often the internal and external voices are talking together. There might be, for example a short exchange between the man and the woman, while their internal voices — much faster or slower, as if on different time tracks — are having a very different conversation which exposes their internal motivations, wishes, or fears, to a far greater extent. In this way, the many morphological layers of their communication are “dancing” together in an unruly choreography. The text is a musical text to its core with a strong feeling of flow, rhythm, and idiosyncratic phrasing. It is not important to understand every word but to get a sense of what is happening.

  • Visual / Electronics:
  • Besides stage design and the use of video, the opera will feature an extensive use of video so that the stage becomes a visualization of an internal landscape — it can change its physicality, shape, and size from one moment to another in quite a radical way. It can appear as the desert face of the moon, or as a crowded and claustrophobic room, or as a jungle of lights. The singers will also walk and inside a jungle of veins or nerves or other landscapes inside the human body. This dynamic staging will be complemented by moving loudspeakers, creating an almost imperceptible moving spotlight of sound above the other layers of regular loudspeakers.
  • Intent:
  • Heart Chamber tries to give a view of love which is stripped of its mystification. On the one hand, love is presented as an almost biological phenomenon, tuning into the physio-psychological processes which the lovers undergo. On the other hand, Heart Chamber sees love and its beginnings as a huge mental transformation with very high stakes, a kind of a bet that an individual takes, with an unknown unfolding. The opera encapsulates the magnitude, excitement, danger, and happiness of this transformation, while also bringing forward the inevitabe friction with the socital "teaching" or dictation of what love is.

Means of construction:

The opera has five different modalities each connected to a different groups of instruments This connection is flexible and can change.

Close ups: the sung text by the 4 soloists, which enact the "plot". They include the internal and external text of the protagonists and their dialogues. The text is from understated to wild and uninhibited.

Sound floods/surges: When the whole hall is flooded and saturated with a strong physical sound which might be moving or still. Usually connected to Ensemble Nikel and the orchestra.

ASMR episodes: Quiet and extremely intimate breathing and small microscopic noises which are very evocative of minute movements of the mouth or body. usually connected to the double bass and high voice, singers and to the electronics.

Dreams: The lovers realize the strong social pressures enacted upon them connected to sexuality, to becoming a family. These are connected to the choir and to the protagonists.

Forests : different forests played by different parts of the orchestra, plus Nikel. Invisible Forest, Forest of Muscles and Veins, A Forest of hair.

Each of these modalities has a few manifestations in the piece (8 close ups about 5 - 6 ASMR Episodes etc) . The modalities seem to be moving independently at first but then at one moment they might lock step together in a kind of an illumination, similar to the manner in which a photographer might find a sliver of a second where a whole street seems to correlate in an new and unpredictable way. After such an "eclat" moment, the modlities change and show unexpected sub modalities, which change the overall cosmology of the piece in extreme ways.

  • Fluid Form (Fluid Identity):
  • The temporal thinking of Heart Chamber is very different from my previous opera Infinite now. This new opera is fast, and it is constantly considering and reconsidering its own future. I would like to dare to state that Heart Chamber marks a new structural or formal paradigm: a Fluid Form (Fluid Identity). The traditional thinking has been that identity (theme, textural characteristics or what we called the DNA of musical material) is a given and its development or growth are built upon its intrinsic characteristics as they unfold (or not) in time. I would like to suggest a different way of thinking. Let us imagine that there are a number of identifiable strands of material, each with its own claim to identity, but as these strands of material interact, these interactions change the materials’ structures and identities forever, gradually emerging into a relationship. As the features of this relationship come into focus, it becomes a new whole which is larger than the sum of its parts, and so it contains elements which were not possible to envision when only the original strands of material were present. We are able to witness the emergence and shaping of this whole, through which malleable heterogeneous entities are interactively changed and self-adjust as they merge into an unpredictable net-like entity. In turn, this entity becomes a strand in a new field where it will interact with other strands of material and will change, as a part of a new unpredictable net-like whole.

This way of thinking puts the onus on an idea of constant transformation that dissolves any idea of fixed identity as one is continuously tracking the “real” identity into the future. We are always in a certain configuration where identities are created and dissolved towards a future clarification which never comes. One can see very clearly the parallel of the Fluid Form (Fluid Identity) with the creation of a love connection. The real shape a relationship will take can never really be envisioned even when one knows the two lovers. This structure echoes the unpredictability and sheer excitement of the synergetic transformation or growth, which we call love.