Venables: 4.48 Psychose at Semperoper Dresden

Venables: 4.48 Psychose at Semperoper Dresden

After performances at London’s Royal Opera House and NYC’s Prototype Festival, Philip Venables’ award-winning 4.48 Psychosis has finally had its debut in a new German language version at the Semperoper Dresden. An operatic adaptation of Sarah Kane’s play by the same name, the work explores the search for self-identity and love within the experience of clinical depression, as its protagonist harrowingly comes to terms with her own psychosis. Originally premiered in May 2016 at Royal Opera House with the English libretto, the chamber opera now made its debut with a German translation by Dresden poet and essayist Durs Grünbein. Venables also had to revise parts of the music to fit the phonetic characteristics of the new translation, as commissioned by the Semperoper Dresden. With a premiere night on April 26 and running until September 2019, Max Renne leads a project orchestra in a production by Tobias Heyder with accompanying video footage by Benedikt Schulte. German soprano Sarah Maria Sun led the ensemble of 6 female singers in the lead role as Gwen. 

4.48 Psychose (2016/2018) 

a chamber opera in one act
after Sarah Kane (Durs Grünbein, transl.)
3S.3Ms - afl (picc).3ssax (3barsax).pf (synth).acc.tape.2perc.vl (vla).2vla.db
Duration: 90'
WP: 24.05.2016, London / 30.04.2019, Dresden (German version)

Picture of 448 Psychose by Philip Venables

Press reviews

The six singers in 4.48 Psychosis are not given names. Their voices are artfully woven polyphonically, words, fragments or letters at times following one another like the clacking of machine guns. They overlap, singing delicately, poetically and sadly or rearing up with ferocious brutality... Philip Venables’s music translates the moods of the text with incredible sensitivity and imagination. It is, on the whole, more illustrative than contrasted, but not strikingly so. Venables has reinforced the tonal and more freely tonal harmony with noise, electronics and reminiscences of Bach and English lute songs. One is constantly aware of true compassion for the extreme circumstances, making it possible to feel the sufferings of psychotic persons.
Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 29 April 2019

Venables has found convincing complexity for this material. There are no distinct characters in the piece. The speaking individual is split between six female singers, whom Stephan Wedel, responsible for the staging and discreetly modern costumes, has dressed in blue, beige and white. The split personality is made musically clear in polyphonic overlapping that can consolidate itself into unison lines or form itself into madrigalian ensembles... And we find ourselves right in the middle of the drama of someone who resists the loss of her autonomy, fights for her identity and cries out for love!
concerti, 29 April 2019

Max Renne with the Projektorchester performs the full spectrum of Venables’s music, from aggressive hammering to lyrical chiming, from harmonic effusiveness to dissonant eruption. Venables quotes styles, mixes them and makes a montage of them without ever losing sight of his own style or his contact with the stage. 
Sächsische Zeitung, 29 April 2019

Although a chamber opera, it has turned out to be a total artwork of unbelievable intensity.
Klassikfavori, 29 April 2019

Picture of 448 Psychose by Philip Venables

Interview with the composer

What were the practical considerations in composing and structuring the 24 scenes? 
After occupying myself intensively for nine months exclusively with the text, researching plays from the 1990s and their subjects, and having conversations with Simon Kane and female friends of Sarah Kane, I got down to writing. I’d lived with the text for almost a year – without composing anything – and developed a kind of intuition of where I was heading. By the time I began working on the composition, I had already developed almost all of the ideas and the dramaturgical aspects had become clear. Along with questions of atmosphere, I was sometimes dealing with purely practical problems like how to accommodate the incredible amount of text. I could never have managed it with a linear treatment in a composition of 90 minutes, so I worked with different layers of texts which often overlap or complete one another, for example by using recorded spoken and live sung text. And that in turn led to the development of substantive new ideas like the form of the recorded news (to the Self) or portions of memory that are carried through right to the end. I didn’t simply compose in sequence but instead gathered together within one working process scenes having a similar atmosphere or orientation, like the psychological number test. Except for the final scene – it actually was the last to be created. I had the feeling that I could compose it only after everything else had been said.

Read the complete interview

Picture of 448 Psychose by Philip Venables

Score of 4.48 Psychose

Photos: Semperoper Dresden/Ludwig Olah