World premiere of Sarah Nemtsov's OPHELIA

World premiere of Sarah Nemtsov's OPHELIA

Sarah Nemtsov (b. 1980) has long been one of her generation’s leading composers. It has been seven years since her last opera Sacrifice premiered at the Halle Opera. On May 13, her latest opera OPHELIA, based on the original libretto by Mirko Bonné, celebrated its world premiere at Saarländisches Staatstheater Saarbrücken, which commissioned the work with funding from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation. The work, which is complex and challenging in every respect, was scenically and musically realised by director Eva-Maria Höckmayr, set designer Fabian Liszt and costume designer Julia Rösler, as well as conductor Stefan Neubert, soloists, an operatic choir, and state orchestra. A tip for all orchestra directors – be sure to put this one on!


In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the figure of Ophelia is manipulated, abused, passed over, and finally – as she begins to write poetry and to sing – is declared mad. It does not end with the drama, because in the play’s reception, too, she is romanticized, eroticized, made to be an object of desire, and a surface upon which all kinds of fantasy might be projected. The Opera OPHELIA is a story of self-empowerment in which Ophelia gets out. Through several musical images, in encounters with unconciliatory spirits, and a distant shadow choir, Ophelia searches for her voice. She frees herself from the dead, from ghosts, even from the living and – in some way – her own shadows in order to face herself and to shape her own future.

“I want wings, not mere lungs”

Read full composer's note

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Press quotes

"The whole thing is told with monumental music, which partly takes up the chants and orchestral sounds electronically, alters them, adds to them, and then transfers them into the space. Sarah Nemtsov writes music with great moments – even if one wishes for edits here and there. This does not, however, impact the overall impression. Modern and mediaeval sounds interweave and span an arc through space and time seemingly effortlessly."
SR 2 Kulturradio, 14.05.2023

"The orchestra, under the perfect baton of Stefan Neubert, showed itself to be equal to Sara Nemtsov's complex and multi-layered score in all respects and once again demonstrated its versatile perfectionism. Sarah Nemtsov's music is an ideal companion to the stage action with its dark but also horrifically shrill scenes. The composer has succeeded in a great musical throw. She convincingly underscores, amplifies and accentuates the action on stage with contemporary, atonal, non-melodic composition. Matthias Erb’s complex sound design fits perfectly into the musical performance."
OPUS, Kulturmagazin, o. A.

picture of OPHELIA world premiere
World premiere of OPHELIA

"Sarah Nemtsov's sound language is diverse and complex: images of moods and emotions go hand-in-hand with music of the greatest atmospheric density, which also integrates sounds of nature. Different stylistic influences meet without seeming eclectic, forming an unmistakable musical signature full of ebullient energy. Nemtsov juxtaposes surfaces that vibrate with inner movement, while other times wild orchestral waves break through, or flashes and alienated stylistic quotations appear. So the old Queen Gertrude is a cantankerous coloratura soprano, Hamlet is a speaking role, and Horatio, the new man in Ophelia's life, is not a tenor but a baritone. Lyrical moments of pause, however, are barely to be found in the nightmarish sound world from which Ophelia must fight her way back to life."
Die Deutsche Bühne, 14.05.2023

"Nemtsov and her librettist Mirko Bonné bridle Shakespeare's play from behind, suspending the alternative of Hamlet's question of being or non-being within a third form of possibility – between life and death. [...] The production team in Saarbrücken seemed almost inspired by the premiere in general. The State Orchestra, under the direction of Stefan Neubert, confronts the audience with highly demanding music. It develops out of a dark maelstrom that slowly differentiates itself, lashes out in high peaks, sets itself in motion like a march or clenches together martially. Metallic skirmishes alternate with gentle, microtonal bands of sound, and the extended percussion apparatus includes wind machines, rain sticks and whips, accordion, electric guitar, synthesiser and an alienated harpsichord."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16.05.2023

Score of OPHELIA

Photos: Martin Kaufhold