Climate performance opera NeoArctic could not be more urgent. Following critically acclaimed tours to New York, London and Copenhagen, Hotel Pro Forma’s and the Latvian Radio Choir’s performance is coming to the Baltic Sea Festival.
The impact is powerful: An ocean of plastic billows on a large screen in the background. Twelve singers emerge, dressed in costumes associated with everything from the Inuit to tourists in black sunglasses – as if straight from a dystopian futuristic film.
The wall of sound is compelling. Vibrating and trembling with disquiet under the skin of the audience, with the choir like a unison siren.
The next image: Church bells and black-and-white images of an abandoned, ruined city.
The acclaimed opera NeoArctic sucks us into an emotional centrifuge. We travel through post-apocalyptic landscapes – tsunamis, floods, melting glaciers – in order to, in the final scene, still enjoy a kind of forgiving, sacred music.
If there was a genre called “activist performance”, then that is exactly what the audience will be witnessing in this poetic and alarming performance of the time we are living in right now: Anthropocene, the Age of Man. It is the proposed new geological epoch on earth that began, approximately, during industrialization in the 18th century, and which is characterized by the fact that we humans are responsible for the greatest changes to the climate – not nature itself.
In terms of dramaturgy, the opera is made up of twelve songs, twelve soundscapes, twelve landscapes and a planet, with song titles such as Plastic, Dust and Infinity. British techno producer Andy Stott and the New York-based composer Kristus Auznieks, currently one of Latvia’s brightest stars, are responsible for the electronic accompaniment. The text was written by the Icelandic poet Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, more commonly known as Sjón, a contraction of his first name and also the word “sight” in Icelandic.
The work, which won the prestigious Danish Reumert Prize in 2017, emerged from a concept created by the Danish performance group Hotel Pro Forma, in collaboration with the Latvian Radio Choir. The première took place at The Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen in May 2016. Earlier this year, it was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Hotel Pro Forma is one of Europe’s foremost performance groups. They have previously performed in Stockholm, with works including Calling Clavigo, at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern in 2003.
NeoArctic is the result of long-term research and exploratory work carried out by artists, scientists and others from various fields, with inspiration from the Anthropocene Project, a number of installations and research projects at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Since 2013, the Haus der Kulturen in Berlin has been exploring the new, revolutionary era we are currently living in through a mixture of modern art and pioneering research.
Text: Ylva Lagercrantz Spindler
Sigvards Kļava has been Artistic Director of the Latvian Radio Choir since 1992. He has worked with the leading choirs in Latvia as well as with RIAS Kammerchor in Berlin, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the Radio Choir at MDR Leipzig, and many others. He has made over 20 recordings with the Latvian Radio Choir, and has had productive collaborations with Latvia’s major contemporary composers: Maija Einfelde, Erik Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Pēteris Vasks, to mention but a few. Since 2000, Klava has been professor of conducting at the Latvian Musical Academy in Riga. As conductor, he has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Berliner Philharmoniker, among others. He regularly acts as a judge on jury panels at international choral competitions.
The Latvian Radio Choir has purposefully taken on both the earliest music and the most innovative and newly written music equal impetus and artistic acuity. With their two conductors, Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš, the choir has participated in opera performances and cross-over artistic projects, theatrical shows and much more over the past twenty years, in addition to their regular concerts. The choir has performed at a number of the world’s major festivals, including in Salzburg and Lucerne, at the BBC Proms, the White Light Festival, Soundstreams in Canada, and many more. Recordings of the choir are available on Ondine, Hyperion, Deutsche Grammophon and BIS.
Concert length: 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
NeoArctic is performed at Orionteatern at Södermalm, Stockholm. Address: Katarina Bangata 77.