• Per Nørgård
  • The guddommelige tivoli (1982)
    (Divine Circus)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)

The opera DET GUDDOMMELIGE TIVOLI (text: Adolf Wölfli, 1864-1930, libretto by Per Nørgård, translation by Poul Borum) is also available in the(original) German version (DER GÖTTLICHE TIVOLI)and in an translated English (THE DIVINE CIRCUS.

  • amp vc, 6perc, syn
  • 1 Soprano, 1 Contra Alto, 1 Tenor, 2 Baritones, 1 Bass-Baritone, all also dancing
  • 2 hr
  • Adolf Wölfl (and Ted Hughes, Shakespeare, Nietzsche in the prologue)
  • Danish, German

Programme Note

Texts: ADOLF WÖLFLI (lyricist, and A Discarded Accident..)
- texts for the proloques by Ted Hughes, William Shakespeare og Friedrich Nietzsche.
Translated by TIM DAVIES. Performance version by IVAN HANSEN
Composed 1982 for Den jyske opera ("The Jutland Opera, Aarhus")
The opera is dedicated to Marie Lalander.

Bianca Lydia Wildermuth
The Goddess Serena
Santa Maria
The Holy Mother
The Daughter
Queen Catherine (of Spain)
Adolf Wölfli
The Negro
St Adolph II
King Alphons XII (of Spain)
St Adolph
The Doctor

Sung and performed by:
1 Soprano (Bianca, Lydia Wildermuth, The Goddess Serena, Margritt, Santa Maria)
1 Alto (Mother, Mathilde, The Holy Mother, The Daughter, Queen Catherine of Spain)
1 Tenor (Doufi, Orpheus)
1 Tenor Bariton (Adolf Wölfli, The Negro)
1 Tenor Bariton (St Adolph II, King Alphons XII of Spain)
1 Bass Bariton (St Adolph, The Doctor)

- supplied on stage by
6 Vögelis (“Shaggers” or “Screwers”), with family, friends and noble acquaintances, etc.:
6 (sometimes singing) male and female dancers,

- accompanied by 8 Hoptiquaxes:
6 percussionists, electric cello, synthesizer (Roland Jupiter 8-sound programme).

Per Nørgård´s three articles in English on the opera
follows hereby: At the end follows the synopsis in German.

The opera illustrates the two principle periods in Adolf Wölfli´s life: outside and inside the absolute existential limits set by the conflicts of a mental hospital. The first act - in freedom – is introduced by three Prologues in which the words of Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and Nietzsche symbolically represent Wölfli´s unfortunate start in life. His birth, seen as a murder, is followed by his compensatory dream of love - a compensation Wölfli represented as ´Algebra´s source of wisdom´, or the solving of an equation with ´Catastrophe´ and ´Idyll´, on either side of the equals sign.

The Gondolier´s song by Nietzsche (and sung by him ´to a strange melody´ after he had gone mad) forms the third Prologue – whereupon schizophrenia takes over and the opera begins. We see the dreamer Adolf Wölfli standing up in a tower with a view over everything wonderful - and terrifying. He is marveling at the sight of the delightful children Bianca and Doufi, lying in each other’s arms in the four-poster. The idyll is interrupted, however; the exultant mood is shattered, and only a violent, aggressive and rhythmical song is able to restore it.

The atmosphere becomes more and more lewd, helped on the way by the ever-lustful Vögelis (´screwers´ or ´shaggers´), who are quick to nose out and join in the life of the street - especially when it takes a somewhat violent turn. Wölfli himself falls from the tower, and the role of narrator is taken over by Saint Adolf, who delights in Bianca´s and Doufi´s desire for another, exuberantly reporting all further developments. Sister Mathilde entices the children over onto the automatic dance-floor - but the dance comes to an abrupt end when Doufi falls, having drunk himself tipsy. A violent fight breaks out, during which Wölfli steals away from a too tempting vantage point ...

Saint Adolf steps dawn to give us a moral commentary on the events at first hand, while the lookout post is taken over by Saint Adolf II, who has some exciting news to relate: far away in the distance a balloon is on its way over the mountain peak near the Grand Hotel. A violent explosion puts an unfortunate stop to its captain´s heavenward flight, however, and a deeply despairing Mutti (it is not quite clear whether she is the mother of Doufi, who is still falling, or of the captain) beseeches the goddess Sereena to save her poor son.
Sereena retorts, somewhat irritated, that she is not goddess Sereena but a statue of Lidia Wildermuth, whose arrogance is always her downfall, and this she proceeds to demonstrate to her own rage and despair.

But, despite all, she takes pity on the poor mother (and son) and changes into the mighty goddess Sereena, who sends the kindly Family Doctor to the boy´s sickbed. The doctor comforts the unhappy family, advising them as best (and as fully) as he can. Suddenly Doufi seems to recover, perhaps even too much so, for he jumps up and hurls himself into riotous living...

Meanwhile the goddess Sereena has moved ´from one world to the other´ and reached Heaven´s lovely miniature galleries, where seeing, among other things, thousands of Angels, she is quite unsuspicious of an extremely suspicious-looking Negro, who is making highly suggestive remarks. But after a while (new transformed into Wölfli’s childhood love, Margritt) she discovers his unmistakable aims and coquettishly rejects his approaches. The Vögelis are naturally delighted and cheer in their own characteristic elflike manner (´Ritti-tii´).
Saint Adolf II is also delighted though high up in his lookout post he somewhat misunderstands the situation, taking the couple to be participants in a gymnastic club tournament …

The sudden appearance of Mutti (now Margritt´s mother) interrupts the hectic, robot-like action with her ´What are you doing to my child? ´ - ´Wanton foolery´, which puts everyone to shame, including the Vögelis and Wölfli himself, for it is he who has been playing the negro.
He is prepared to pay the penalty - in the form of solitary confinement in the men´s ward of Waldau Mental Hospital, near Berne in Switzerland. For life!

In his chaotic and desperate state of mind. The familiar figures take on strange and threatening forms. Only by means of exhortations in the form of ingenious, rhythmic rituals does he manage to get the figures (Doufi, Mutti, Saint Adolf, Saint Adolf II and some beautiful young woman or girl - often Santa Maria herself) going again, prepared for new adventures.

The following scenes represent the Creation itself.

The restless Spirits are wandering around homeless and only King Alfonso XII is able to find them a home - on a planet. Unfortunately, the idyll is disrupted once more, and after a violent fight with destructive demons Wölfli finds himself in a state of exhaustion after yet another attack of psychosis. Bravely, he pulls himself together and tells of ´one of the worst accidents ha has ever experienced´ (as Doufi): falling dawn from the parapet surrounding Paradise itself! Only the united affairs of the Holy Family, who promptly come to his aid on a feathery cloud of gauze, are able to save him. Santa Maria herself bids Doufi rise from the dead and, fully recovered, he gets up and eagerly embraces her.

Unfortunately, the noise of the surroundings force Adolf Wölfli to speed up his account to such an extent that he goes off his head again (it is characteristic of the entire opera that stress and haste momentarily gain the upper hand, and that the characters interrupt one another with a testy ´Frrrrt´ when they have been speaking long enough).

Adolf Wölfli´s own melody for the song “Hallelujah, Our God Has Gone Mad” closes the circle. Despite the ominous introduction, the song concludes by beseeching the same God to bless and watch over the Fatherland.

Wölfli´s delight in the performance is expressed at the end by an automatized ´monumental apotheosis´. Happy at last, he dances with his beloved Margritt - who unfortunately trips him up

Per Nørgård (1983)

One of the many mysteries surrounding Wölfli’s life, which not even Doctor Morgenthaler´s biography from 1920 throws any light on, is to what extent there were any sure signs of Wölfli´s ´madness´ before 1895, when he was confined to Waldau for life - and thereupon went mad, sometimes so raving mad that he had to be shut up for days in a padded cell carpeted with straw matting.

True enough, before that fateful day, 23 October 1885, he had been arrested twice for making improper advances to minors. And on the second attempt sentenced to ´only´ two years hard labor (altogether three frustrated attempts were registered, the victims´ ages being consecutively halved, i.e. 14, 7 and 3 ½ years). But while his landlady and some others with who he had a nodding acquaintance had noted his ´excitable temperament´, of madness there seems to have been no trace.

Did Wölfli go mad, then, from being shut up for life - as the account of his total breakdown shortly after his admittance to the institution in Waldau might lead us to believe? And did Wölfli´s madness turn up like a guardian angel, to put the remainder of his life (36 years in solitary confinement) literally back on its rails again - at any rate on the lifelong, 20,000-page description of his route from ´cradle to grave´, which he commenced only a few years after his breakdown? This interpretation may sound romantic, though scarcely more so than that of the notorious ´syphilitic geniuses´ Thomas Mann elevated to the level of myth in his Doctor Faustus novel about the genius Adrian Leverkühn, composer and syphilitic, who was modeled on Nietzsche.

Moreover, I believe that Adolf Wölfli himself would have appreciated this interpretation. The nature of its transcendence tallies with Wölfli’s multidimensional conception of himself as displayed in his famous signatures, in which titles like ´Sanct Adolf ´, Algebrator´, ´Farm hand´ or ´Composer´ were juxtaposed with ´Casualty´, ´Written-off Casualty´ and ´Patient in the Men´s Ward in Waldau Mental Hospital´, ending not infrequently with the childish ´Doufi´ - one of the nicknames given him by his dearly beloved (and loving!) imaginary family.

Thus Wölfli was able to live on several levels, which undeniably makes it reasonable to apply the term ´schizophrenia´. But the unique thing about his case is that he managed to incorporate this state as an integral and fascinating stylistic feature of his creative activity. Quite apart from the highly imaginative ´signature egos´ described above, it becomes manifest in his narrative style and pictorial composition by way of the numerous planes constituting a whole - when, for example, he interrupts a high-flown list of symbolic perpetuations of people, fish, nymphs, elves and angels, angels and angels in High German by asking in local switzerdütz: ´G´foglat? ´ (Is anyone screwing?), replying ´Doch, doch, zu jedem Loch, uh´ (Yes! indeed, in every hole!).

What has always struck me, and now strikes me even clearer, about Wölfli´s multilayered conception of himself is that, despite his obvious and indisputable madness, it more closely approximates reality, than that semi-conscious conception of the self as a single, whole person, ´myself´, most of us confidently carry around with us.

For that very reason ´The Divine Circus´ is concerned only secondarily with Wölfli´s ´biographical fate´ in super-realistic operatic form, but primarily with the possibilities such an opera has of throwing light on the multidimensional reality we all trundle around with in our daily life.
Thus, this filmic type of presentation is an attempt to reproduce Wölfli´s enormously distended sentence constructions, line after line, with all their digressions and associations. The sentence always seeming to land on its feet again in a curiously elegant manner, despite the weight of the inflated, parenthetical sentences that are such a common feature of popular novels (´with an agility surprising in someone so fat, Little John …´etc.). Note, for example, the poetic effect of the following absurdly long-drawn-out and detailed description of a dance-hall floor, where Wölfli endeavours to do justice to its exceptionally well-polished surface by way of comparisons: ´The smooth, shiny and sparkling floor was altogether so ravishing and resplendent that we were often deceived into believing that we were on the mirror-like waters of the Indian or the Atlantic Ocean, either on an enormous passenger liner or a cargo boat … on a battleship, or on a pointed, jaggy reef - on a horrible wreck, on a whale - or walrus … or on a lovely island, adorned with southern vegetation, friendly, beckoning and inhabited.´Thus, from the polished floor we are led in our imagination to the shining ocean, not only to ships, reefs, whales, shipwrecks and South Sea islands, but to an inhabited South Sea island - all in passing. That is just one aspect of Wölfli´s original narrative style.

Obviously, there is not much of a ´opera libretto´ to be found in the above lines - except perhaps in the way of a grotesquely exaggeratedly Baroque aria! But take a look at the preceding example of Wölfli´s text - the one about the naughty angels. It is precisely this form of dialogue, more or less indirect in character, that Wölfli´s narrative is so full of.

My own task as a librettist, then, has been to select and assemble passages from different parts of this enormously long narrative to form a typically Wölfli-like sequence, where merriment is abruptly followed by misfortune, and where the sublime and the profane stand side by side.

In casting the libretto, parallel accounts often become juxtaposed ´filmic´ sequences, where the scene is divided up – both imaginatively and to same extent physically - into 2-3 fields of action, brought alternatively into focus by way of lighting, sound and movement. This ´stage-polyphonic´ drama (in which I have tried to give intelligibility and clarity priory) can unfold either by way of contrasts in mood and tempo, or by displaying a more or less absurd parallelism - as when Doufi falls on to the dance-hall floor at the same time as an unfortunate balloon captain speeds to earth, or when we follow an only slightly injured girls luxuriously comfortable convalescence, with kind family doctor and loving family constantly in attendance and all the trimmings, at the same time as we see the unfortunate seducer thrown brutally into jail. Idyll and catastrophe can also be juxtaposed.

The many-layered plot corresponds to the music, whose style may vaguely be described as ´anything to hand´. One can at any rate say that the use of ´detours´ is not typical of the musical idiom, if by this one means devices such as subtly constructed instrumental or formal effects, because the libretto´s demands for immediate, often drastic, changes of mood on one (or perhaps all) levels, is incompatible with indirect effects.

One might also call it a ´drastic´ style, but none of these terms remotely approaches the essence of the music, which is of a purely musical nature and therefore unfitted for verbal translation. But the musical idiom has unquestionably ´something especially to do with rhythm´. And melody! And counterpoint! Together, it all becomes sound. Again rather an inadequate description.

So let me be content with pointing at the score, which apart from the synthesizer (a Roland Jupiter 8) comprises a cello - now and again amplified - and the instrumental equipment of the six percussionists, which includes four original ´gamelan´ instruments from Bali built and tuned especially for the occasion (for practical reasons these gamelans are now used in a ´sampled´ form via keyboard. - Ed.). These Balinese metallophones are designed to be played in pairs, in this case two, where each pair is slightly out of tune with the another (called male and female tuning). The exotic world of sound produced by these acoustic instruments hardly falls short of the synthesizer in ´exoticism´, and to this is added the humanly vibrating (and bowed) sound of the cello - despite its intermittently alienated and electrical nature.

Moreover, before turning to what are undoubtedly the most important sound-producers (the six, sometimes dancing, singers) we can, in stage performances, cast a glance at the six, sometimes singing, and dancers. These too give us same idea of the sound picture: sublime and commonplace, refined and popular. In short: drastic.

The text of the final song with its richly contrasting themes is also drastic. Wölfli´s own melody, which I have added to his own text, is the only composition among the many thousands of (6-lined) note pictures in his production that can at all be deciphered!

Among the many titles preceding his signature, one in particular, that of Composer, is always underlined. Thus the last few minutes of The Divine Circus´ consist of both notes and words by Wölfli. If, in this, you are able to see the merest trace of a realization of that prophesy he declaims in the second (and last) verse of this concluding ´Ha-Hallelujah-Chorus-Finale´, then it will greatly delight your humble and obedient servant

Per Nørgård (Librettist, Composer and Algebrator)

Hallelujah, our God has gone mad!
Hip-swaying girls, they´re so bold and bad!
I´ll certainly not give the Devil my hand.
God bless and guard our dear Fatherland!
God bless and guard our dear Fatherland!

And when your life on this earth´s at an end,
There´s no one here who will scorn you.
My cry, loud and clear, then the heavens will rend:
That I unspeakably did love you!
That I unspeakably did love you… (Adolf Wölfli)

All people must die, I too, perhaps. (Adolf Wölfli, 1864-1930)

A work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament (Emile Zola, 1840-1902)
The synopsis, in German:

They give birth astride of a grave,
the light gleams an instant,
then it´s night ones more.
(Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot)

1. AKT
Die Oper läßt sich als eine Darstellung der beiden Hauptphasen in Wölfli’s Existenz betrachten: außerhalb und innerhalb der absoluten Existenzgrenzen der Irrenanstalt. Der erste Teil, in der Freiheit, wird von drei Prologen introduziert, die symbolisch mit den Worten fremder Dichter

(Ted Hughes, Shakespeare und Nietzsche) Wölfli’s unglücklichen Daseinsbeginn darstellen: der Geburt, als Totschlag besungen, folgt die ideale Kompensation der Traum-Liebe (eben die Kompensation, die Wölfli als ”Weisheitsquelle der Algebrah” verehrte, indem er die eine Seite der Gleichung als Ausgleich gegenüber der anderen stehen ließ die ”Katastrophe” gegenüber dem ”Idyll”).

Der dritte Prolog ist ein Gondellied, das Nietzsche dichtete (und übrigens ”mit einer wunderlichen Melodie sang”, nachdem er den Verstand verloren hatte) - worauf die Spaltung vollendet wird und die Oper beginnt: Wir sehen den Träumer Adolf Wölfli auf der Spitze eines Turms stehen, von wo alles wunderbare, und fürchterliche, sichtbar wird. Eben jetzt beobachtet er begeistert das entzückende Liebespaar, die Kinder Bianka und Doufi, im Himmelbett. DiesesIdyll wird aber unterbrochen, als die Stimmung zerstört wird, und nur ein heftiges, aggressives, rhythmisches Lied hebt sie wieder. Die Geilheit wächst an, dank der immer lüsternen Vögelis, die schnell Lunte riechen, wenn etwas los ist, und gerne teilnehmen - es mag auch gern wild zugehen: Sankt Adolf, der (kurz nachdem Wölfli vom Turm fiel) die Rolle des Berichterstatters übernommen hat, freut sich über Biankas und Doufi’s Lust aufeinander und berichtet überfröhlich die weitere Entwicklung: Schwester Mathilde lockt die beiden zur automatischen Tanzplatte - aber dieser Tanz findet bald sein Ende, als Doufi, von diesem und jenem Glas ordentlich begossen, hinfällt - und es entsteht eine gewaltige Schlägerei. Unterdessen schleicht sich Wölfli weg von einem allzu lockenden Aussichtsposten...

Sankt Adolf muß hinab, um den Ereignissen aus nächster Nähe mit moralischen Kommentaren zu folgen, und der Aussichtspunkt wird nun von Sankt Adolf II eingenommen, der spannende Neuigkeiten berichten kann: In der Ferne bewegt sich nämlich ein Luftballon über den Berggipfel hinter dem Grand Hotel! Ein heftiges Geschehnis beendet nun aber unglücklicherweise den Himmelflug des Luftschiffers, und eine zutiefst verzweifelte Mutter (es wird nicht ganz deutlich, ob es sich um die Mutter des noch immer fallenden Doufi oder die des Luftschiffers handelt) ruft die Göttin Sereena an, ihren armen Sohn zu retten.
Sereena antwortet, leicht irritiert, sie sei bestimmt nicht Sereena, sondern vielmehr eine Statue der Lidia Wildermuth, der es wegen ihres Übermutes immer übel ergeht - was sie sogleich demonstriert,zu ihrer eigenen Wut und Verzweiflung.

Trotz allem erbarmt sie sich über die arme Mutter (und ihren Sohn) und verwandelt sich in die allmächtige Göttin Sereena, die den freundlichen Hausarzt ans Krankenbett des Sohnes entsendet. Der tröstet die unglückliche Familie und rät, so gut er es nun vermag, und das ist viel: plötzlich ist Doufi wieder ganz gesund, vielleicht sogar zu gesund: er springt auf und wirft sich hinaus ins wilde Leben...

Gleichzeitig gelangte die Göttin Sereena (”von einer Wellt zur Andern”) in die wunderbaren Miniatur-Galerien des Himmels und sieht u.a. überall Engel - ist daher vollkommen ohne Mißtrauen gegenüber einem doch eigentlich sehr bedenklichen Neger, der sich unzweideutiger Rede bedient. Erst allmählich entdeckt sie (die inzwischen zu Wölfli’s geliebtem Kind Schatz Margritt geworden ist) die unmissverständliche Absicht und begegnet seinen Zudringlichkeiten kokett abweisend. Die Vögelis sind natürlich begeistert und feuern auf ihre eibenhafte Weise an (”Ritti-tii”). Auch Sankt Adolf II ist begeistert, obwohl er hoch oben auf seinem Ausgucksposten die Situation leicht mißversteht: er glaubt, die beiden seien Teilnehmer eines Turnerwettbewerbs. Erst das Erscheinen der Mutter (nun allerdings Margritt’s Mutter) beendet die hitzige, automatisch verlaufende Aktion (”Was treibt man hier mit meinem Kind! Unsittlichkeit! Und Schande!”), worauf sich alle schämen, selbst die Vögelis - und Wölfli selber, denn er war es ja, der Neger spielte - und nun gewillt ist, den Preis zu zahlen...

Und so geschieht es: in einer Zelle in der Männerabteilung der Irrenanstalt Waldau bei Bern, Schweiz! Auf Lebensdauer! Die bekannten Figuren nehmen vor seinem chaotisch verzweifelten Sinn sonderbare und drohende Formen an. Erst durch Beschwörungen mit sinnreichen rhythmischen Ritualen setzt er seine Figuren wieder in ihre Bahn, zu neuen Abenteuern bereit: Doufi, Mutti, Sankt Adolf und Sankt Adolf II und irgendeine schöne Frau oder ein hübsches Mädchen (gerne Santta Maria selbst).

2. AKT
Die Geschichte, die nun erzählt wird, berichtet von der Erschaffung der Welt: die ruhelosen Geister schweben heimatlos umher, und erst König Alfons der XII vermag ihnen einen Aufenthaltsort zu geben, auf einem Planeten.

Leider bricht die Idylle wieder zusammen, und nach einem heftigen Kampf”. gegen die zerstörenden Dämonen findet sich Wölfli in ermattetem Zustand nach einem weiteren psychotischen Anfall. Tapfer reißt er sich zusammen und berichtet von einem der”gräßlichsten Unglü1sfälle meines höchst eigenen Ich” - als Doufi stürzte er von der”Brunstwehr” des Paradieses selbst ab! Nur der augenblickliche Einsatz der gesamten heiligen und liebevollen Familie rettete ihn, indem diese ihm blitzschnell auf einer flaumenleichen Florwolke zu Hilfe kam. Santta Maria selbst befiehlt Doufi, von den Toten aufzuerstehen, und er erhebt sich, wieder ganz gesund, und liebkost sie eifrig.

Leider wird Adolf Wölfli nun vom Lärm der Umgebung gezwungen, seinen Bericht so sehr zu beschleunigen, daß er aufs neue die Besinnung verliert insgesamt ist es kennzeichnend für die gesamte Oper, daß Stress und Eile augenblicksweise die Oberhand gewinnen, weswegen die Personen einander mit einem unwirschen ”Frrrrt ... ” unterbrechen, wenn sie genug geredet haben).

Adolf Wölfli’s eigene Melodie beschließt den Ring: ”Halleluja der Herr ist verrückt”, ein Lied, das trotz dieser bedrohlichen Einleitung damit endet, eben diesen Gott anzurufen) daß er das Vaterland schütze und segne. Wölfli’s Freude über die Vorstellung drückt sich schließlich in einer automatischen Monument-Apotheose (aus?) und in seinem endlich glücklichen Tanz mit seiner geliebten Margritt aus – die ihm leider ein Bein stellt...

Per Nørgård (1982)


Full score in Danish