Sveriges Radio, Mitt i Musiken: 5 September 2011

Tranströmers lyrik blir opera för första gången/ Tranströmer’s poetry becomes opera for the first time

Click here for original radio program on 5 September 2011 by Sten Sjöström, Sveriges Radio, Mitt i Musiken.


Tranströmer’s poetry becomes opera for the first time

For the first time, the poet Tomas Tranströmer’s words are being made into an opera, titled drömseminarium/Dream Seminar – it is the composer Ellen Lindquist, of Swedish heritage, who has written the music and the day was in New York.

– There is such passion and inner significance to the poet’s words

But it is still in an unfinished form – the actual premiere will take place in a year or so, in Sweden. Last Thursday, in a small theater in Queens, New York, Dream Seminar was heard for the first time in its entirety, but as an unstaged concert reading, still in rehearsal form. It is an opera on a small scale, with eleven musicians and two singers (soprano Kathleen Flynn and bass Michael Douglas Jones). Michael believes that the poet’s poetry is perfect to make music with…

– …it’s prose that he writes, not so much rhyming… it has so much passion and internal message. I love singing it, says Michael Douglas Jones.

The idea for the opera started with him, in fact. When he appeared in an opera in Sweden a few years ago, he received a book of Tranströmer’s poetry, and was fascinated – he then invited composer Ellen Lindquist to translate the words into music, originally in the small format of a song cycle …

– As we started to choose poems together [for the song cycle], we realized that there were so very many rich and beautiful poems that we wanted to do something more, says Ellen Lindquist. The idea grew…

The work on the Dream Seminar has been going on for several years and is a interplay/interaction between the musicians and the composer. Much of the music is based on improvisations by all the artists which Ellen Lindquist then further developed and expanded. There are many composers who have worked with Tranströmer’s words, but this is the first time that his words form the foundation for an opera.

The music is unmistakably modern, sometimes atonal but almost always warm and lyrical. The eleven musicians have a very active role: they are definitely not in the orchestra pit, in either the literal or figurative sense, but are on stage and with their instruments they embody the various themes of the poet’s poetry. One of the musicians in the orchestra, and one of two Swedes, is flutist Malin Trast….

– It’s really exciting and great fun, but sometimes you have performance anxiety, you think maybe the musicians should stick to what they can do and not begin to act. It can feel very contrived and strange, but I guess that’s the challenge in this: finding the balance, not to do things that feel too contrived, but just to play and do what you can with your instrument.

Dream Seminar will now be further refined in preparation for next year’s fully-staged premiere.

Sten Sjöström in New York
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