About the text - interview from Elsa Benoit
One of the singers, the french soprano, Elsa Benoit, impersonating Zsuzska's character, wrote her written component for finishing her masters at DNOA about her experience in the process of making SINKING. She interviewed the composer.
1. "Georgi, you wrote the libretto of Sinking yourself. How did you choose the subject of your story, what were your inspiration points.
Why didn't you decide to work with a librettist?"
When I was looking for a topic for my opera I was still very influenced by the cultural shock it was to move to the Netherlands.People are coming from so different backgrounds,cultures,continents.They all have different beliefs,paradigms,lifestyle.Soon I found myself in a society where the connecting point between people is not their common past,history or culture, thus their experience of the life here is also radically different. That is why I decided to not have one librettist with him writing different characters,but really let many people be able to express themselves. I set up an experiment group of five people, with whom I decided to write the libretto together. In order to show the multicultural enviroment,I chose people of different cultures,also keeping in mind their possible relations (Maya is from Israel andKris from Lebanon- a potential topic about war, Georgi and Zsuzska had a personal relation - talking of love). I chose to communicate with them through emails, and as in a RolePlayGame,I would be their game master who describes them their virtual situationand they can react and create their own story in the situations I put them.
2. "At first, the libretto seems incomprehensible. How would you justify your choice of an unbelievable story? What are the reasons for it?"
So I had to design a plot, which can be flexible enough to give them opportunity to show their beliefs their way of thinking and behaving but also communicate a general message. As the year 2012 was to be our last one, I used this myth of my main focus: are we developing in the right direction or humanity is again playing gods and will be punished. Are we onthe right track?- it was an obvious metaphore to use a train, and put my virtual passangers into an imaginary train with unknown destination. The idea of a second layer came a bit later: lets have the same singers play the Gods, who gather to decide our destiny. Lets make the youngsters be the delegation of Human Kind who have to convince the Gods "we deserve more paitence". And as the same singers are the young people and the Gods themselves, it became in a way a game: are we judging ourselves?
During the improvisational phase of the email conversations I always added one more rule when I wanted to give direction to the story. In the plot me being one of the characters seemed handy, as one of the dramatic persons can always "change the subject" and intrigue the others to go in that direction.
After leading them through the storyline, without them knowing in advance, I got honest reactions on their way, and they were excited to write their one last sentence- to convince the Gods. But as I wanted the documentary element of letting real people be my characters, I went a layer deeper: letting the singers of each role write their own "Sentence".
The result of such creative freedom of 5people was a very chaotic and 20 pages long email chat, from which it took me months to edit and shape the libretto. The story had many small sidestories, jokes which were incomprehensible because of the time limit of the opera, but the main skeleton was achieved.
3. " What justified your choice of language? Why choosing to put ancien german textes? Why not choosing your mother tongue for the libretto?"
As each character was from a different culture in an international enviroment,they all were used to communicate with each other in english, except Zsuzska, who was never in Holland before (dramaturgicly that gave her a bit of an outsider role, who can be surprised at things the others mention from their everyday lifes). When I introduced the fifth character my aunt: the situation was different. As she knows a lot about the Atlantis myth, I chatted with her about it, and asked her permittion to use this conversation in my opera only after we talked. I was strongly thinking to leave the conversation in original language (bulgarian) but as Atlantis was of such importance for the plot, I decided to translate it into english.
The german texts are from Angelus Silesius,my favorite poet. I found his dense complexity perfect to represent the communicational level of the Gods.
I thought also that for a today's spoken english of chats and emails the perfect counterpoint is german baroque mysticist poetry.
4. " Can you talk about your characters, who are they? Are they completely fictional or did you get inspired by real people?"
As I already talked about the characters, I would mention here how surprising it was to see my close friends reacting on fictive happenings very honestly, yet still the characters who they wrote became somewhat different then themselves. The surreal plot and the freedom to be able to do anything in this virtual reality caused most people behave more extravagant. Each of themhad different approach. My aunt was just herself, as she was unawarr of becoming a character in my opera, Kris kept his character the closest to his usual behaviour, Maya was extremist (for example describing her character as topless and wearing only two latex noses on her nipples), Zsuzska being a director student used her actions to trigure dramatic situations, and my role was to be busy with reacting on all and smoothly suggesting the change of subjects from one to another. The Gods stay neutral, not really "judging", as I found that too human-like, but just stating the deep and layered messages of the poetry.
5. " Each character has a very definite musical language, different from each other, how did you choose each language? Did you know which singers would sing the role for the first time while composing?"
As the whole libretto was created in order to show the difference between each ones thinking, I wanted to give them also characteristic musical language. an emblametic material which can be quickly recognizable, as many of the chats were very short and fast conversations, in which the audience needs the guidance of personalized motives.Even the orchestration is separating each character giving them a positive and negative instrument expressing their human side, and a heavenly instrument showing the Gods. As this is already so many layers of diverse complexity
I chose a scale containing all 12 tones on which the whole piece is based and gave each character a selection of these pitches according to their personality. As I am the doubting type, my character got the major and minor thirds - sentimental, with strings,often very high falzetto burst outs.Maya is often sarcastic and stubborn,her musical material stays the same:mumbling on a minor second in 5/8 and with jumping 7ths with sforzati. Her being a violaplayer in real life shows up in her related instruments too.
Kris is the coolest,most rational: he got the 4ths with brass, and in his moments of doubts augmented 4ths and 5ths.
The Aunt - as being the messenger of the gods- got trumpet and tuba. her musical material connects to geos: it is two triads on too of each other (Geo's 3rd-s can be also added on top of each other 2x3=3x2)
As for Zsuzska, her character is the most diverse, going through many different situations (as her writer creats on purpose dramatical situations such as going blind, talking to a demon etc.) she got using bigger parts of the scale as arpeggios and jumps, from jazzy melodies to early music ornaments, immitations of the others motives, and many many hights, as I knew in early advance only about her character's singer,and I wanted to use most of her coloratura possibilities.
6. "Did the final result matched your expectations, the idea you had about Sinking, musicaly, scenic(ly)?
Musically the final performances in Amsterdam sounded pretty close to how I imagined the piece and I was very happy with the result, as for the libretto, the composing, and the performance. I did agree though with many of the feedback saying that the piece is too dense and fast
- I think I would be very interested to compose a longer version of the piece without the time limits of the premiere.
Staging such a complex and chaotic piece is a tough task, I found the visuals stunning and most of the dramatic action in favor of understanding the plot. The multilayer happenings though (text, acting, video, screen, other texts, tv, lights) were adding so much information on so many levels that following it all became impossible, and the struggle to hold on to all information which leads to understanding became so big for the audience that many just gave up on putting it all together in their heads, and just let themselves enjoy this colorful carneval of events. I mainly missed the focus on the final choral, where each of the characters convince the rest as gods: in our current staging they were talking to a Godzilla statue, which added to the dadaistic feeling, but made it totally insignificant that the main subject of the piece lies in that moment: can you question yourself if you are on the right direction with your life, and how would you convince yourself about if?
All in all Sinking was an incredible experience for me and seeing it staged so pompously and with such amazing singers was something I will always be grateful for, and which brought me so much experience, knowledge and happiness.
Thank you for it to all of you and thank you for the interview, dear Elsa!
Thank you so much for your precious answers!!