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Haas: definitive version of KOMA

Haas: definitive version of KOMA

"It was nerve-racking and tear-jerkingly beautiful. Exactly how one imagined opera should be." (Kleine Zeitung)


March 28 marked the premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas’ new version of KOMA in the Stadttheater Klagenfurt. A collective experience for audience, orchestra and actors alike, the teetering existence of a coma patient is staged in often complete darkness as her family members plead with death. With a libretto by Händl Klaus, the 2018 rendition of the opera differs from the original 2016 version in that it no longer includes roles that are purely spoken by the hospital staff. Here, all characters sing, thus shifting the dynamic between family member and caregiver as both interact with the comatose Michaela. The premiere night of Koma was met with critical acclaim. Haas himself knelt during the bows as a thank you for the ensemble’s impeccable work, an impressive feat given that half of the performance took place in complete darkness — orchestra pit included. A review in Salzburger Nachrichten declared the premiere "one of the most important – and, given the capacity of the house, bravest – evenings in the current season for Austrian music theatre." 

Director Immo Karaman brought Haas’ opera to life, adding László Zsolt Bordos’ striking and surreal video projections to Haas’ already unique lighting requisites — sometimes bright, sometimes silhouetted, and other times pitch black. The desaturated costumes and set design by Nicola Reichert further amplified the bleak atmosphere of the hospital room, juxtaposing the heightened reality of a comatose patient’s precarious existence. 

KOMA (2015-2016 (rev. 2018))

Opera with text by Händl Klaus
Definitive version
2S.Bar/Ct,Bbar.3B.Mute - 2(2 also picc).0.2.(in B).0 - 1.0.2.0 - 2perc - pf(also cel).acc - 3.0.2.4.3
WP: 28.03.2019, Klagenfurt
Duration: 110'

Picture of the world premiere of KOMA by Georg Friedrich Haas in Klagenfurt
WP of KOMA (definitive version), Klagenfurt 2019

Press quotes

Haas is one of the few contemporary composers who succeed in making the earliest intentions of music theatre an essential part of their output. His microtonal music is sensual, physical. It is gripping, offering a spectacle in the best sense. And yet it is also intensely layered and convoluted, as dazzling as it is piercing, as delicately intricate as it is brutal. Haas neither makes use of traditional Romantic clichés nor follows other, ultimately obstructed paths back into music history. Koma is contemporary, never denying modern complexity, a work that recognizes that history with its aesthetic developments and problems...What was so impressive about this evening were the passages played in complete darkness...This Haasean darkness is no mere effect. It provides the foundation that makes it possible to understand and experience the opera.
Kleine Zeitung, 30 March 2019

The Kärntner Symphonieorchester (superbly prepared by Bas Wiegers) achieved something phenomenal. At the end, the composer rightly expressed his thanks by genuflecting. Haas does not write atmospherically commonplace illustrative (background) music, but rather precisely notated, microtonally based, subtly conceived sonic states whose intense sensuality produce an incomparable magnetic effect that only increases over time.
Salzburger Nachrichten, 30 March 2019

After two breathless hours in the school for listening, one is wide awake and Koma an aphrodisiac for many senses.
Kronen Zeitung, 30 March 2019

In the darkness, one is left to one’s own devices, is veritably sucked into the non-life of a coma patient.
kaernten.orf.at, 28 March 2019

Acute listening in the darkness becomes a psychotrip, the opera evening a Gesamtkunstwerk for the senses.
apa, 29 March 2019

It will be clear even to the last layman that Haas in his seriousness is an exceptional artist whose musical language will one day no longer intimidate any audience member.
Der Standard30 March 2019

The vegetative state as a medical term hardly seems like a suitable subject for opera. But Georg Friedrich Haas...has created a moving theatre of emotions... Music for a thinly scored orchestra; as though dissected with a scalpel – perhaps distantly comparable to the linguistic fragmentation of Elfriede Jelinek – the libretto meanders like a minutely detailed log of flashbacks, states, visions and dreams. Tones and sounds lose their valuation as “right” or “wrong” and achieve a mystical quality. Haas can be sensitive and delicate, or he can rage and shout... An impressive success with a premiere audience studded with prominent figures; a remarkable feat that lays down the law for domestic modernity – not only in comparison with the Staatsoper’s wilting Meadows by Johannes Maria Staud.
Die Presse, 1 April 2019

Picture of the world premiere of KOMA by Georg Friedrich Haas in Klagenfurt
WP of KOMA (definitive version), Klagenfurt 2019

Synopsis

Following a swimming accident, Michaela lies in a vegetative state. At her bedside are her husband, her daughter who has not spoken since the accident, her sister and her husband, with whom Michaela had a love affair. They speak with Michaela – encouraged by the doctors, they act out key scenes from her life: the antagonistic mother who beat her; the sale of the family home when the children were still small; the death of the cat; Michaela’s failure as a teacher; but acts of love are also brought back. Three caregivers together move and wash the patient’s immobilized body. This opera, too, is related from the perspective of a single person: the comatose Michaela, who, unseen, in the darkness, behind the audience, sings melismas – without words, only tones. Whether or not she will ever emerge from her coma is left open.

Composer's note

These circumstances are also present in the music, not only because I’ve never before worked so systematically with darkness in an opera but also because it allows such clear nuances. In the darkness, an orchestra can be turned into one large instrument like an organ. In semi-darkness, a tense calm prevails, while light repeatedly controls the musical events. As the music-stand lights slowly dim, they extinguish the sound. At first glance, the orchestra’s task, playing more than half the piece from memory in complete darkness, seems almost intractable. But I have made an effort to compose processes that sound so logical that they can be easily memorized. And there are frequent long pauses for every single instrument, during which the performers can mentally prepare for what is to come. At the end, the musicians transmit the rhythm of their own breathing into the music, almost like multiplying the breath of the comatose Michaela.
—Georg Friedrich Haas


Picture of the world premiere of KOMA by Georg Friedrich Haas in Klagenfurt
WP of KOMA (definitive version), Klagenfurt 2019





Photos: Arnold Pöschl