Per Nørgård: Der göttliche Tivoli
17 June 2010
The Whole Note
Composer Per Nørgård wrote in February 2007 how his visit to an exhibition with works of Adolf Wölfli marked a turning point in his own compositional sensibilities "...I experienced the encounter of Wölfli's chaotic art as a mental dive into a different, dark world - eerie, unpredictable, but fascinating and above all highly specific". The opera Der gottliche Tivoli
(The Divine Circus
) is best described in this same manner - the operatic rendition of Wölfli's life is mind-boggling in its musicality.
This is not easy listening - there are no clear cut operatic arias where the singers can showcase their virtuosity. In fact, the real operatic diva here is the percussion-heavy orchestration. The opening prelude (performed brilliantly by Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen) is identical to the fourth movement of Nørgård's solo percussion work, "I Ching". Throughout the opera, the six percussionists in the orchestral ensemble are key players. There are atonal melodies to support Nørgård's libretto (which is based on Wölfli's own writings) but the rhythms best describe Wölfli's schizophrenic descent and the calmer artistic periods of his life. Touching is Nørgård's choral arrangement of Wölfli's own folksong melody at the end of opera.
The vocal soloists, under the direction of conductor Dorian Keilhack, are superb in this high quality live 2008 performance from Stadttheater Bern. Der gottliche Tivoli is a difficult yet intriguing adventure in the life of a troubled artist and the curious composer who was moved by his artistry.