The general director of the Ruhr Triennial 2012-2014, Prof. Heiner Goebbels, commissioned the Samoan-born choreographer and performance artist Lemi Ponifasio to produce Aeschylus’ version of the Prometheus legend. The performance venue was the former power station in the North Duisburg Landscape Park. This enormous industrial landmark is ideally suited for the performance of Orff’s opera. Its monumental size and historic function as an energy generator alludes to the fire which Prometheus stole from Zeus and returned to mankind.

Orff’s composition presents no human conflict or psychological examination, but rather the character of the play as a scene conveying the torment of the Titans. The audience experienced structurally static music, in which pre-harmonic ripples of sound grew in intensity, exploded in dense clusters, falling and rising in glissandi, gathering and ebbing in waves and eddies. Spoken language was transformed into musical material, freed from consonantal brevity, vocal length, words and meter. The musically dynamic language surged with elemental force. The music was performed in constantly changing configurations on instruments from around the world, such as the African wasamba rattle, the Japanese taiko and o-daiko drums, a wooden percussion board, binzasara and hyoshigi clappers, a North American banjo, and South American maracas, congas and guiro. Thanks to this especially diverse percussive complement (16 drummers), the production exhibited a fascinating spectrum of fluctuating tonal qualities.

The conventions of psychological character development are of little use when producing a piece so infrequently performed and unconnected to the body of established European opera. By consciously avoiding an organic dramaturgical development and reverting to the original language, Orff’s adaptation emphasizes foreignness, remoteness and distance. In commissioning Lemi Ponifasio to produce the piece, the festival has chosen a theatre artist who not only confronted viewers with a different rhythm, but also a different concept of time and space. Ponifasio’s unique works are indeed difficult to describe using the parameters of Western theatre. His plays convey a hypnotic feeling of ‘deceleration’. They make use of striking images, movement and dynamic interplay of light and darkness. The differences of dance and performance become blurred, as does the perception of the viewers, who can only guess what they are seeing. The originality of his artistic language, which alludes to the ritual quality of dance and movement, yet avoids folkloric clichés, fads and pop culture, has made him one of the world’s leading contemporary artists of his genre.

Peter Rundel was responsible for the musical execution of the work and conducted the performance at the power station with international soloists and several orchestras from North Rhine-Westphalia, e.g. musikFabrik, Chorwerk Ruhr, the percussion ensemble “SPLASH” of the NRW State Music Council and musicians from the Dortmund Orchesterzentrum.

Director: Lemi Ponifasio
Conductor: Peter Rundel
Artists: musikFabrik, Chorwerk Ruhr, the percussion ensemble “SPLASH” of the NRW State Music Council, musicians from the Dortmund Orchesterzentrum and others.

The premiere was scheduled on 16 September 2012.

Fun­ded theatre and mu­sic theatre pro­jects

The Federal Cultural Foundation promotes a wide range of theatre and music theatre projects. In recent years, the Foundation has funded such spectacular projects as Peter Stein’s production of Wallenstein (2007), the revival of the opera “The Soldiers” by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (2006, directed by David Pountney) and the highly acclaimed production of the opera “Moses and Aaron” by Arnold Schönberg (2009, directed by Willi Decker), the latter of which were shown at the Ruhr Triennial.

Wallenstein

The Soldiers

Moses and Aaron

Ruhr Tri­en­nial

As one of Germany’s most outstanding international festivals, the Ruhr Triennial highlights music theatre works of the 20th century which are never or only infrequently included in the conventional opera repertories because of their cast requirements, aesthetics or structural radicality. These are works which have played a key role in shaping the development of contemporary opera.

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