Marta has opened, and we await its reception with some interest. Musicians are quite often asked if they read their own reviews (usually just after they've been asked their opinion about applause between movements), and the consensus generally seems to be that it tends not to be a good idea to do so. But in the case of a project such as this, in which every element is new and unconventional, and a position on stage gives little indication of the aural effect of the whole, it's hard not to be curious about how it comes across the footlights. Even the libretto poses potential challenges to the audience, not least because it transports us to an unfamiliar, post-apocalyptic landscape, and is concerned with questions of collective amnesia. There are many elements of the dramaturgy that feel like moments from a classical tragedy – recognition scenes, acknowledgements of (or the refusal to acknowledge) parentage, the recovery of traumatic memories, and our presence as a kind of Greek chorus – but in a dramatic world where everyone seems unable or unwilling to remember the past, these moments are largely abstracted from a clearly defined narrative. What gives this 90-minute-long piece its sense of momentum and shape is the music, fragmentary and disrupted but ingeniously woven into the texture of Mitterer's electronic sound design. I can probably best describe the music by saying that we could choose to perform it, if we so wished, in posthumous tribute to either Pierre Boulez or David Bowie, since it seems to owe something to both: Mitterer's electro-acoustic compositional technique is an approach associated with IRCAM in Paris, but the music that emerges sometimes more closely resembles something from one of Bowie's Berlin-period albums. Musical memories abound in the electronic samples, with tantalising fragments from familiar classical works being overlaid, sometimes just beyond the point of recognition, with other industrial or post-industrial sounds, while the live music being played and sung from the score seems to incorporate elements of everything from renaissance polyphony to Pink Floyd and late-period Scott Walker. Every listener will surely bring his or her own memories and reference points to this eclectic piece, but there can be little doubt that the result is something really distinctive.
Marta continues at the Opéra de Lille until March 21st, with a further performance at the Opéra de Reims on April 19th.
Update! - the first of the reviews is in.