• Per Nørgård
  • Nuit des Hommes (1996)
    ("The night of mankind - the night of men")

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • str4tet, perc, electronics
  • Mezzo soprano, Tenor
  • 1 hr

Programme Note

In Nørgård´s first four operas – The Labyrinth (1967), Gilgamesh (1972), Siddharta (1979/83) and The Divine Circus (1983) – different as the works are, we follow isolated men and their struggles with the surroundings: the office worker Eliassen, the ruler Gilgamesh, the Crown Prince Siddharta and the psychiatric patient adolf Wölfli. In effect classic opera plots, although the stage realizations require widely different, often unorthodox solutions (f or example Gilgamesh´s ritual arena theatre, siddharta´s grand opera ballet and the kaleidoscopic cabaret of The Divine Circus).

In Nuit des Hommes both drame and scenario are different: like a yin/yang-figure the leading roles (and obly actors) are a couple, and the drama is their shared and individual inner journey through the phases of the war.

About the opera Per Nørgård wrote the following introduction (in 1996):

Nuit des Hommes – the opera

"The night of mankind - the night of men" (Nuit des Hommes) seems to be an opera, insofar as it is a stagework with sung accompanied by both acoustic and electronic instruments - a stagework in two acts (and approx. 20 pictures). However, if you by the term opera think of a dramatic form with people in one or more conflicts, mutual and with themselves - well, then "Night of mankind" proposes a new genre genetic category, not yet defined.

Although there are two characters (Alice and Vilhelm), "the opera" does not deal with their possible mutual tensions, but instead of their common limitless intensity, which first make them in harmony walk the dangerous paths on which the enthusiasm lead them. Later they are divided into two radically changed figures: the individual woman becomes a war correspondent, in demagogic - ecstatic outburst of feelings, while the man changes from ordinary human existence to the inhuman daily life of the soldier.A crash into the underground - without a return ticket."

Nuit des Hommes has been created in close co-operation with Jacob F. Schokking. The inspiration from his proposed libretto - and not the least from his sceno-video-graphic works has been decisive in the preparation of the score. The strongly technological aspect appeared ideally in harmony with the subject matter. The “technological” ignited the two most painful surprises for the crowds who before the war had been so patriotic and loud: first that the war proved so terrible – and second that it could not (so it seemed) be stopped. Both features were intimately connected to the enormous advances of technology.

My music for the opera was composed for live musicians (two singers, four string players and one percussion-, theremin- and keyboard player), but a number of different “live-electronic” adaptations have been added to the acoustic sound. All of this significant adaptation has taken place in close co-operation with Gert Sørensen, drawing upon his insight into both my music and the multiple complications of the computer.

Synopsis: The Action (The Chain of Actions)

The Prologue is delivered by the Córo, a “chorus”, as we know it from the Greek tragedies, which is both above the action and comments on it. The Córo is composed of the two people who are also the “dramatis personae,” but this makes sense nonetheless according to Niels Bohr’s statement that we are all both actors and spectators on the great stage of life. And to be a spectator to one’s own acting, as Alice’s “representative” the mezzo soprano in Córo might be said to be, is not an unimportant aspect of Bohr’s thesis (just as Wilhelm’s development is observed by the tenor). Furthermore, the two acts of the opera express a similar splitting for each of the protagonists of the two acts, a splitting to be understood as relating to a chronological axis with a “before” and an “after:” A before the absorption into the military totalitarianism, where Alice and Wilhelm certainly play with dangerous spiritual tendencies, even though they remain “Alice” and “Wilhelm” in the end.And an after the mutation, where both of them are first reduced to sub-human conditions of being (the ruthlessly chauvinistic female war correspondent, under the sign “kAli,” and the private soldier, both victim and possible murderer). And thereafter, in the post-traumatic period, where “all hope is abandoned,” they reappear as the original individuals, but now very damaged, only as shadows of the living, experiencing people they were in the beginning of the opera.

The prologue describes the young century, “the generation that stumbled in the beginning,” using the image of the young dawn. A dawn that tries to illuminate, but is bewitched by the black fairies who stood by the cradle of the century, dreaming of a sun of gold – a cold sun. Córo interrupts the story to show the action, with itself as the protagonists in the first scene, The Meal, the simple and indispensable – as well as connecting – ritual between men and women. People in peace where the enjoyment is reinforced by the red wine: an extra something that stimulates Alice’s and Wilhelm’s self-esteem (scene 2: The Beautiful Ruby). They become increasingly presumptuous, and in scene 3, The Arrogants – the proud ones, their intoxicated claims on life grow and they wish to live as gods.

In scene 4, The Man God claims to have been created in the image of God, changed form animal to man. In scne 5, The Man Animal, Alice’s admiration for man’s new macho image in uniform allows Wilhelm to suggest his inner predator with body rhythms that escalate into the martial scene 6, Military Msuic.

Alice and Wilhelm are now enrolled in their patriotic functions and the loss is sensed. For even military music may call to mind a “blushing cheek,”a tenderness that now seems lost. The revolt against the loss expresses itself in the two following interludes, “Oh, If Only They Would Let Me”(scene 7), where Alice dreams about buying up all the captured birds in the world – (only for the joy of seeing them escape from their cages!) –and a burning, erotic nostalgia, where Wilhelm in scene 8 “Oh, Gates of Your Body!” in detail visualises the nine openings of the beloved, once open to him but now closed..

Certainly, the Departure (scene 9) cannot be postponed any longer: the faces of the lovers are pale, their sobs burst as “snow on pure petals” - or the autumn leaves fall “as my hands upon your kisses.” Voyage (scene 10) is a consciousness-expanding entrance into unknown lands, where the grief of departure is now co-ordinated with fantastic visions - as “telegraph-birds” perching every where or the moon night, where “your face” is seen between the stars, or rather “it is your face/ that I no longer see.”

In Mutation (scene 11), individual, strange scenes fasten themselves upon the retina, crying women, passing soldiers, matches that will not light - interrupted by orgiastic, fiery shouts - until it is suddenly revealed that everything has changed, “except my love for you.” But in scene 12, the curtain falls, “Night Falls” - as a fire that has been extinguished - a night without smile.As a bent knee.For the powers of the trenches. (Is there in fact a “lull” in the fighting? And when can you ever be completely sure that you have a break?)

In act 2, scene 1, Interrupted Meditation, the soldier experiences the night fighting as a sea of flames of extraordinary beauty. A whole river of grenades passes over their heads, while merciless kAli, in the role of the jingoist, determines that the most important battle is that of the listening post: every sound is answered by a shower of bullets. Compassion and self-pity are out of place. In Praise of War (scene 2), kAli addresses all young men and invites them to her lap, to the ditch of the trench that already contains so many dead bodies lined up. Plethora (scene 3) lives up to its name, not only by what the victims pour out, but also figuratively: as the whipped up battle hatred to attack everything “hostile”. The soldier does not even refrain from firing at “Goethe”, the trench complex. Nobody is respected anymore - and in this desperate atmosphere, the shower of grenades is experienced as hell approaching. Also for kAli, the pressure on humanity culminates in the accelerating omen, the cry, Attack Tomorrow (scene 4). The pressure of this breaks both of them and leaves them to the traumatic, forced focusing on whatever - not war - for example the rain. In the closing scene 5, With Cotton in the Ears, the way to normality seems cut off by the constant effort to keep the memory-images out of consciousness (“Listen to the Rain falling”). Because otherwise, they will return to the inner eye, “the soldiers, the blinded, the lost,” between and above the infernal barbed wire obstructions, the “cheveaux-de-frise” (or “Spanish horsemen” - compared to which even the instruments of torture of a Kafkaesque penal colony seem merciful).

In the Epilogue, the two singers, who by now have become the Córo again, finish the tale of the unhappy, magic dawn: stillborn under the “terrified sky.”
The gateway to the slaughterhouse of the twentieth century is now wide open.

Per Nørgård (1996)


Norgard: Nuit Des Hommes


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