Newski: world premiere of Secondhand-Zeit

Newski: world premiere of Secondhand-Zeit

February 2020 marks the world premiere of Sergej Newski’s opera Secondhand-Zeit. Based on the novel "Second-Hand Time" by Nobel-Prizewinner Svetlana Alexievich, the work is performed together with Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, creating an entirely new opera experience called BORIS. Although Newski’s Secondhand-Zeit can also be performed separately from Mussorgsky's masterpiece, the opera was conceived as an alternative universe where Pushkin, Mussorgsky, and Alexievich’s characters would be given another chance to speak their truth.

As part of this year’s focus on Sergej Newski, Stuttgart’s ECLAT festival presents one of the BORIS performances on 7 February. In addition, the festival features several chamber works by the composer, among them Track #3 as performed by Gareth Davis and the vocal ensemble Neue Vocalsolisten and his Klavierquartett, presented by Yukiko Sugawara and the Arditti Quartett. 

Secondhand-Zeit (2018-2019)

libretto by Sergej Newski
based on the texts from the novel of the same name by Svetlana Alexievich
2S.2Ms.T.Bar.Child's voice - Chr - - - 4perc - pf -
WP: 02.02.2020, Stuttgart
Duration: ca. 60'


07, 16. & 23 February 2020
02 March 2020
10 & 13 April 2020
Staatsoper Stuttgart

Picture of Secondhand-Zeit
WP of BORIS at Staatsoper Stuttgart

Composer's note

Secondhand-Zeit (Second-Hand Time) can also be performed independently of the Mussorgsky work, however the two scores interacting creates a unique visual effect, helping us put distance between the two subjects yet enabling both to be experienced more intensely. The singers of Mussorgsky’s roles also sing in my opera, thus giving his minor characters a second life in my piece. The heroes of Boris Godunov’s episodes become the main protagonists of my story.

[...] Mussorgsky’s story is told almost exclusively by men, Alexievich’s "Second-Hand Time" – and thus my opera – primarily by women’s voices.

[...] The formal idea of Svetlana Alexievich’s book can be viewed as a continuation and expansion of Pushkin’s and Mussorgsky’s idea of giving the people a voice, one which at the end of Pushkin’s drama is left “speechless with horror".

[...] The “little man” in classical Russian literature here becomes the judge of his times and the circumstances in which he must live. In working with the text, however, I have tried to rein in the pathos and politics a bit while emphasizing the paradox, the irrational motives that drive the book’s heroes.

[...] The two scores’ relationship represents an attempt to dismantle the hierarchies just as Pushkin did with the dramatis personae in his Boris Godunov, where there are no primary and secondary characters. In our Stuttgart BORIS, there will also be no primary or secondary score but rather a coexistence of both pieces which may perhaps afford us a complex and detailed vision of history. — Sergej Newski

Excerpts from the program book.
Published with kind permission by the author and ECLAT Festival Neue Musik Stuttgart.

Watch the trailer of BORIS

Press quotes

"Newski – with borrowings from Mussorgsky’s harmonies but also bringing in tango style and even a kind of final fugue – masterfully contrives transitions between the music from 1869 and the music from 2020. The best moments even provoke brief hesitation: is this still Newski or Mussorgsky again?"
Stuttgarter Zeitung, 3 February 2020

"Newski writes long melodies – though he likes breaking them up – to which the orchestra chips off moments of accompaniment. The text is always present and more important than the music – at first arias, soon becoming duets, trios and a sextet.“

"The director Paul-Georg Dittrich, lately sought after and celebrated in opera, isn’t satisfied with political statements, realism and new interpretations, however. He and his staging team celebrate the poetry of downfall and doom in a fantastic storm of images."

"Because [in BORIS] the music and the language, unlike in a pamphlet, succeed in engrossing the operagoer and, wherever possible, eliciting compassionate involvement in the psychic distress of a murderer and despot. The audience is rendered almost helpless by the Second-hand Time characters because Sergej Newski’s music isn’t as shamelessly arty as Mussorgsky’s..“
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 4 February 2020

“Newski interpolates into Mussorgsky’s testosterone-charged “men’s opera” islands of reflection dominated, as in Alexievich, by loving, suffering women, representing the “people” but also extending into the present day one of Mussorgsky’s secondary character’s life situation.... The German sung text is paramount in Newski’s score, with its prominent highlights of noise, piano and percussion. It occupies roughly a third of the three-hour playing time but leaves its stamp on the whole performance."
FAZ, 6 Februar 2020

“As an experienced adventurer, conductor Titus Engel had no problem maintaining an overview although there was singing from all across the auditorium and navigating the shifts from Modest Mussorgsky’s score to the constantly interspersed bits of Sergej Newski’s wasn’t exactly uncomplicated. Newski deserves credit for composing with such textual intelligibility and skillful interfacing with Mussorgsky."
BR-Klassik, 3 February 2020

“This is a complex dual work with musically convincing transitions and effects. Newski’s multifarious modernity with its varied sound associations and properties, from two-dimensional flow to razor-sharp dissection, enters into a relationship with the often brutal directness of Mussorgsky’s modern Romanticism. Titus Engel conducting the Staatsorchester managed it all brilliantly. The listener at times had trouble distinguishing – is that already Mussorgsky or still Newski? Exciting.“
Heidenheimer Zeitung, 4 February 2020

Picture of Secondhand-Zeit
WP of BORIS at Staatsoper Stuttgart

"It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such strong images and such a multi-layered interlocking of material in an opera."
Südkurier, 4 February 2020

"And how precisely and beautifully he (Titus Engel) manages the transitions to Newski’s openings of sonic space, to his finely chiselled language that fans out into multiple voices, bustling, exuberant and eloquent.“
Reutlinger General-Anzeiger, 4 February 2020

“Under Titus Engel’s electrifying direction, the Stuttgart Staatsorchester plays outstandingly, especially in Sergej Newski’s score. The Baroque treatment of voices and lengthening of the text come across with such piercing clarity.“
Online Merker, 3 February 2020

“...musically the interruptions and connections function brilliantly: Newski finds seamless transitions to the individual scenes of the opera, and at the end he even inserts an intermezzo in the Death Scene in which Boris sees and hears the Jewish partisan as adult and child while both sing from the boxes.“
Die Deutsche Bühne, 3 February 2020

“Similarly, Newski’s music fits into the rough woodcut of the original version of Boris, amalgamating with it, transmuting it and incorporating it. His setting of selected scenes from Svetlana Alexievich is seamlessly interpolated between the Mussorgsky tableaux.“
Der Klassikkritiker, 3 February 2020

“Titus Engel’s conducting of Boris is completely transparent and free of Russian heaviness, which allows for elegant transitions between the two works.“

“Sergej Newski’s hour-long opera Second-hand Time could surely also stand alone as a through-composed, significant music-theatre piece without Boris Godunov... Yet individual fragments are deeply moving, especially when Svetlana Alexievich’s texts, in which great poetry resides alongside hard truths, are skillfully taken up and transported.“
Deutsche Welle, 4 February 2020

“The way in which Sergej Newski has juxtaposed his own music with Mussorgsky’s is absolutely extraordinary. There are no apparent seams. Although the operas are completely dissimilar, the transitions between them are not at all disruptive.”
Snob, 3 February 2020

Score of Secondhand-Zeit

Photos: Matthias Baus/Staatsopernchor Stuttgart