About "VITA NOVA" oper by Vladimir Martynov

Global Premiere
February 18, 2009
Great Britain, London, Royal Festival Hall


London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir YUROVSKY Director

Tatyana MONOGAROVA Beatrice
Mark PADMOR Dante
Marianna TARASOVA Amor
Joan RODGERS Donna-shelter


"Vladimir Martynov: To compose operas is not a prestigious job"

From the interview for Novye Izvestia obtained by Olga Romantsova with Vladimir Martynov, August 12, 2004


  • Why do contemporary composers very rarely write operas today?
  • As I see it, nowadays the very idea to compose a conventional opera sounds strangely enough. It is difficult for me to speak about other composers, but both I and those who are congenial to me go about applied music. We try to express and depict nothing in it, excluding any possibility of reality imitation. And an opera unfailingly tells some story: from the life of the Olympians or French seamstresses. The music expresses there all heroes' passions. After all, to compose operas is not a prestigious job at all. Now it is not prestigious to be engaged in academic music. I'll give an ordinary example: there are 115 Grammy categories. Do you know where classical music starts? At the 93rd one. It means that at the solemn Grammy ceremony the first to get the award will be Madonna or some pop-star, and only then the attention will be paid to Mstislav Rostropovich or Claudio Abbado.

    -But as recently as in the 19th century Wagner, Verdi or Mussorgsky were regarded as not just simply composers but as "bearers of national spirit". Such bearers are not in vogue now?

-That is not the point. It is dull to repeat already established patterns again and again even if they are beautiful. One may deal with opera only if they can think up a new principle of interaction between music and onstage actions. Only Wagner, Berg, Stockhausen, and Cage were successful in it. Wagner introduced the system of musical leading-motives characteristic for heroes. Berg associated each of them with a definite musical form: a fugue, a sonata or something else. This was a fundamental discovery. The audience think that in Lulu there is a conflict onstage between Lulu and the doctor, but, in fact, different musical forms fight here. Stockhausen gave up the drama at all. Yet no one could move further than Cage.
-Didn't Michael Nyman in his The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat do anything new?
-Nyman does not offer new rules of the game, he just creates an extravagant situation in his opera: one of the heroes suffers an unusual disease. There is nothing new in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, except this extravagant situation. The narration develops onstage, its plot is supported with the music which expresses the heroes' feelings and inwardness. While Cage in Europera outfaces composers. Instead of the conventional score and word, he creates the table system comprising fragments of 64 great operas which resembles the Chinese I Ching. Before the performance begins, it is determined how these fragments will relate to each other. Stage set, clothing and parts are also chosen by chance: a female singer may get a men's aria, and a basso may get a cabaletta composed for the soprano. Don Juan's aria from Mozart's opera may be rendered by the singer in Tatyana's gown from Eugene Onegin. After Cage it is very difficult to invent something new. He challenged composers and nobody managed to do a counter-move.

-May we call your Vita Nuova and The Children of Rosenthal being written by Leonid Desyatnikov for the Bolshoi Theatre a counter-move?
-We both acknowledge that opera in that classical sense which is familiar to us is practically dead. The only possibility to make something interesting starts with acknowledging this fact. And then a discussion emerges which suggests a direction to us. The project we are engaged in can be called post-modernism reflection on the opera epoch gone. Certain playing is related to this. As for the difference between us, I feel more like a researcher or a restorer than like a musician. I'm interested in an opera with all the elements appealing to the audience. And at the same time I would like all opera amenities to serve ritual and meditative principles. Opera emerged from mystery and divine worship. I would like to put it back to this passage again.

-Why have you chosen Dante for Vita Nuova's plot?

  • It seems to me that Dante created an absolutely post-modernism work. Vita Nova is a text-about-text. Dante falls in love with Beatrice, tells how he created each sonnet, gives the sonnet text, and then analyses it. He explains why he is writing about love. And he depicts Love as one of the characters. This Dante's work suits perfectly my intention. I'm not satisfied with the fact that in an opera of any composer - from Monteverdi to Wagner and Verdi - the music is tied to the text and expresses characters' feelings. I want to break this bond, I try to find a new context of opera being. In Nova Vita they sing in different languages: in Latin, Russian, and Italian. Several music styles are invoked here: Gregorian chants, the opera language typical for the 19th century, and avant-garde music. They interact with each other in a rather complicated manner. That is music playing is running in this opera. And simultaneously space is being made played with. I have a fairly tough action score. In some fragments singers are on stage, in others - they are in the audience hall. In some episodes their spatial arrangement echoes Botticelli's illustrations for Divine Comedy. I made each of the opera lines - the text, music, and acting areas - independent from each other. They develop on themselves. And at the same time there are certain structural parallels between the music, the text, and the action, which gives a chance to change the traditional assumptions about opera. This helps to introduce it into a wider cultural context. There was a historical period when opera served as a uniting basis. The spectator self-identified by means of Verdi's and Wagner's operas, and understood that he is an Italian or a German. This is not about modern opera.

  • This is about what?
  • Most likely, about a fashion show. I believe that a director who will make up a performance combining modern music and high fashion art will be as close to the spirit of our times as possible.