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Photo: Peter Manninger
Graz Opera 2003

Neuwirth, Olga

Lost Highway (2002/03)

Duration: 95 minutes
Music theatre

Libretto by Elfriede Jelinek and Olga Neuwirth, based on the film 'Lost Highway' by David Lynch and Barry Gifford (E)

5 singers, 6 actors; 6 instrumental soloists: sax(S,T,Bar)-cl(=bcl,dbcl)-trbn(A,T,B)-elec.git(=Hawaii git)-accordion-kbd(synth,elec.pft); 2(I,II=picc).1.2(I=Ebcl).1(=dbn)-1.2(I=picctpt).1.1-perc(2):I=glsp/SD/crot(set)/steel string/2gongs/2cowbells/sand bl(lg)/1timp/wooden bl(med)/BD/tom-t(med)/tgl(med)/wdbl/thunder sheet(thin)/wine glass/beer bottle/tam-t(lg)/1cym(med)/drum pad/stereo hand microphone; II=vib/SD/crot(set)/steel string/2gongs/2cowbells/sand bl(med)/1timp/wooden bl/chimes/BD/tom-t(lg)/tgl(sm)/wdbl/thunder sheet(thin)/tam-t(med)/cym(sm)/t.bells/stereo hand microphone-strings( electronics-tape/CD player; fl2,ob,cl2,bn also mouth org.
Abbreviations (PDF).

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Helmut-List-Halle, Graz
Joachim Schlömer, director
Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke
Company: Klangforum Wien


PETEHigh Baritone
FREDActor (native laguage English)
Mr EDDY/DICK LAURENTSinger/Actor/Improvising musician (native language English; ideally David Moss)
MYSTERY MANCounter Tenor
ANDYCounter Tenor
Pete's motherActress, also singing
Pete's fatherActor, also singing
Guard, Detective LOU (small and corpulent)Actor, also singing
Doctor, the Man, Detective HANK (tall and slim)Actor, also singing
Director of prison, ARNIEActor, also singing


Lost Highway is based on David Lynch's famous film and tells the story of Fred Madison who becomes increasingly alienated from his own existence. Doubts about his wife's fidelity, about himself, and ultimately about their own true identity lead increasingly to obsessions and to a continuous loss of reality. Ominous videotapes and sinister figures appear and evoke the growing feeling of a horror scenario. Video and reality also intermingle when, finally, Fred, to his own surprise and fright, finds himself with bloody hands in front of his wife's dead body. He is arrested and sentenced for murder. In the death cell a mysterious transformation takes place: the saxophone player Fred Madison changes into a completely different person, the car mechanic Pete Dayton. The second part of this nightmare starts, with augmented speed, but is no less terrifying: like a perpetual whirl, from which no one can escape...

Press Quotes
"The score is enigmatic and labyrinthine, constantly morphing from one thing to the next. Ms. Neuwirth... knows how to bend and twist sound like no other." (Robert Hilferty, New York Times, 02 Nov 2003)

"A maddeningly complex source is distilled and clarified, and, in the process, something entirely new emerges. Neuwirth’s innovation comes with the psychological layers added by her wildly original sonic landscape… I am overwhelmed by its merits. Lost Highway entertains, challenges our perceptions of opera, and demands to be experienced." (Larry L Lash, Financial Times, 12 Nov 2003)

"A comparison with the original is unavoidable and legitimate. The result is not a free fantasy of elements and motives from the film, yet instead, a direct and astoundingly exact adaptation… Olga Neuwirth proves again that she can create congenial as well as complex emotional music using both computerised techniques and traditional orchestral sonorities."
(Michael Eidenbenz, Tagesanzeiger Zürich, 03 Nov 2003)

"When [the main character] Fred, plagued with furious headaches, embarks on a mutation in his prison cell and transforms into Pete, bodily language and electronically estranged language reach an intense symbiosis that allows music theatre to find its justification and identity… The musical narrative develops incredibly rich colours around a disconcerting basic mood, a low drone, that furthermore reminds us of the film… an ambiguous world into which jazz elements and even sparkling disco-riffs are fused in stylised fashion. Neuwirth puts here trust in overlaid material, multiple strata, nervous agitations – reinforced through tape recordings and computer-aided distortions of sound and voice."
(Ljubisa Tosic, Der Standard, 03 Nov 2003)

"Olga Neuwirth is one of the beacons of the avant-garde, continuing to take a stand against the current stultification of music… Her telling of Lynch’s story is richer in nuances and decidely more optimistic… a score worked through in masterly fashion." (Reinhard J. Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 03 Nov 2003)

"Neuwirth has done more than adapt a movie: She has created an ode to an artwork... A jittery musician; a sadistic gangster; his platinum-wigged moll; a Mephistophelian lurker; an honest, blue-collar kid... Neuwirth leads you through a landscape of musical explosions and violent images... Her instrumental music creates a disorienting world of distantly familiar scraps that flit by like a city seen from a hurtling car." (Justin Davidson, New York Newsday, 26 Feb 2007)

"A deep, disturbing film has met its operatic match… One of the leading young-generation composers in Europe and one of the most fearless, Neuwirth finds what is really going on with these people. She adds texture and emotional activity... She has a way with electronics, and the score for Lost Highway is full of extraordinary acoustical effects.... Live instruments are used straight but also have their sounds manipulated in real time... The result is a rich mix and an invitation to many listenings." (Mark Sweg, Los Angeles Times, 10 Feb 2007)

"Lost Highway is based on the 1997 David Lynch film and endeavours to recreate the surreal, lurid, raunchy world of that psychological thriller. Fusing video, dialogue and music, both live (a 27-piece ensemble ably conducted by Baldur Brönnimann) and pre-recorded electronics, Neuwirth captures the menace lurking round every corner. The plot, weaving reality and fantasy, sometimes confuses the characters as much as the audience. The condition they are suffering from is described by Lynch as a “psychogenic fugue”: a state so traumatic that they assume another identity to escape. Diane Paulus’s production, designed by Riccardo Hernandez, locates the action either on a highway running right across the stage or in a glass-fronted apartment, its floors linked by a spiral staircase. Complementing this is the nightmarish video work of Philip Bussmann, its shapes and characters constantly morphing, projected on four screens above the audience seated in the round." (Barry Millington, Evening Standard. 07 Apr 2008)


Magic/Mystery, Society, Music/Arts

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