Commissioned by Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix en Provence and Muziektheater LOD
The world premiere took place on July 6th, 2013 at Aix en Provence Festival performed by Kitty Whately, Olivier Dunn and Asko| Schoenberg Ensemble, conducted by Etienne Siebens.
"The sheer terror in which nothing is defined, fear in its pure state": this is how Cortazar describes the nightmare that was to become the short story Casa Tomada, in which two siblings keep losing divisions of their old family house to a faceless invader. The initial premise is, therefore, the presence of the unknown in intimate territory: home, by definition a safe terrain, is at the mercy of an invisible threat.
But there's more to Cortazar's story. Something that isn´t in the narrative, but in the narration. It starts off as a feeling of strangeness by the quiet, almost detached way the brother/narrator describes such an extraordinary sequence of events. But it becomes pure astonishment the moment he announces the house invasion to his sister, to which she replies calmly "in that case, we´ll have to live on this side": they will stay. And when we realize they will stay, our attention shifts from the invaders to the invaded: Who are these people? Why don´t they escape? What's outside? A whole series of questions that remain unanswered, which inevitably leads us to suspect the story we´re being told is incomplete: the narrator is hiding something.
And as our gaze lingers on these brothers, looking for evidence of what can they be after all, we begin to glimpse a history of suffering and reclusion; a life at the same time suspended and legitimized by their repetitive daily tasks: cleaning, tidying up, knitting. These two persons, once a part of the world, exist now only through ritual, reducing their existence to a bizarre choreography where every minute gesture matters, where each object has a function and a precise meaning.
It is this bliss of furniture and repetition, this order of portraits, books and inherited silverware, that the invasion truly comes to jeopardize. Only when the lack of space compromises their daily routines, only then they are forced to react, to take decisions. Rescued from alienation by the fear of occupation, Hector and Rosa are ultimately subjected to something more painful than falling at the mercy of the invaders: they are forced to remember.
More than a thriller, I see The House Taken Over as an intimate drama: I´m more moved by the tragic way the siblings exist in their limbo devoid of meaning, than I´m scared of the invisible threat. Without knowing it, and like so many of us, Hector and Rosa became their own executioners. And if the nature and the real danger of the invasion isn´t clear, the violence and suffering they inflict on themselves (and each other), those are deeply real.
The same way the space where the siblings live is progressively shrinking, so is Sam Holcroft's extraordinary text slowly accelerating, as if the piece is shaped as a wedge, or the action is taking place on sloped ground. To this dramaturgical acceleration I wanted to match a sound world with the same characteristics, a kind of dizzying spiral that seems to occasionally slow down, but inevitably resumes its march - until something (or someone) breaks in the mechanism. The language of Hector and Rosa is short, fast and direct - it was important for the drama that their vocal lines were also this way. Only when Rosa recalls a rag of near-happiness, or when Hector rereads his precious books, there seems to be some time. Pure illusion: in fact, these two siblings' time is over.