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Andriessen's De Materie, received its first German staging this summer in a startling new production by Heiner Goebbels and reached the West Coast of the USA in a concert performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Louis Andriessen’s De Materie returned to the stage in August for the first time in 25 years to open the Ruhr Triennale with a remarkable Heiner Goebbels production in the cavernous space of a Duisburg power station. The work's journey through a sequence of non-narrative tableaux, takes us from Dutch shipbuilding, through the structure of the atom, medieval mysticism, and the dancing geometry of De Stijl, to the invisible and deathly dangers of radiation. This was counterpointed by highly imaginative visual imagery encompassing a remote controlled zeppelin, boogie woogie dancers and a flock of sheep. This German premiere – the first staging since the premiere production by Robert Wilson in 1989 in Amsterdam – ran to six performances, with the Ensemble Modern Orchestra conducted by Peter Rundel.

The Berliner Zeitung summed up Andriessen's work as "an encyclopaedic reflection on the relationship of man to the matter surrounding him, and a tour-de-force journey through Western intellectual history from a Netherlands perspective." Opernnetz described it as a work which "questions the genre of opera from first principles and rebuilds the form".

"Musically it is also a journey through eras and styles of music history. Echoes of Renaissance music, of Bach and Stravinsky, the influence of Andriessen's composer father Hendrik, to the jazz of the roaring twenties, right through to American minimal music, provide the work's musical horizon. The sonic character is highly varied. Violent and energetic, in part downright brutal and noisy, eruptions of sound alternate with controlled lyrical passages in the Hadewych section and the slow opening of the final part.... All of this is captured by the Ensemble Modern with breathless force, maximum precision and great delicacy..."
Opernnetz

The work also reached the West Coast of the USA in April with a concert performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Reinbert de Leeuw, providing a highlight of the orchestra's Minimalist Jukebox feature. The Los Angeles Times hailed De Materie as "the Dutch opera that the world at large had long been waiting for. "Materie" is Dutch for "matter." The opera's subjects are Dutch history, Dutch thought, Dutch art, Dutch science, Dutch shipbuilding, Dutch mysticism, Dutch eroticism and Dutch boogie-woogie. What's Madame Curie got to do with it? That's never quite answered, but she matters."

"In the last section, Madame Curie mourned her husband's death and mused on the impossibility yet necessity of going on with her work. Those once-hammered chords had become the basis for a long, deeply affecting pavane, during which the chorus sang: "Dream of beautiful death and eternal desire"... Bells in the orchestra tolled and tolled some more. Time seemed to slow but not stop."
Los Angeles Times

Photos: Wonge Bergmann

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