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FULL ALICE – EINE PHANTASTISCHE REVUE (Schwertsik) Vienna 2023 Romana Amerling, Solmaaz Adeli, Armin Gramer

Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO          Qries

Information on the Performance
Information about the Recording
  • Published by: sirene  
  • Date Published: 2024  
  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: yessubs, ensubs, desubs, frsubs, itsubs, essubs, multisubs  
  • Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO

Text: Kristine Tornquist
When I was 10, I understood Alice in Wonderland exactly – as a book that does not underestimate children, but rather allies itself with them at their true intellectual level against the adults who always know better and always want to be right. Because even if all the strange whiz kids in Wonderland can confidently win the verbal battles, common sense and logic remain clearly on the side of the child heroine.

When I read the book again, considering making an opera out of it, I noticed the opaque role of the author. Lewis Carroll is on the side of his heroine, trying to surprise and entertain her. But at the same time he is also her adversary, he drives her defenselessly into unpleasant encounters, he makes her doubt herself, makes her cry, defeats her in discussions using unfair means, confuses and embarrasses her. Of course, it is the usual pleasure of every author to be able to imagine all of his contradictory characters at the same time – the stupid and the clever, the cheerful and the tragic, the mean and the morally superior – but Alice in Wonderland (1865) is a special case in that the heroine and the first reader addressed are identical and thus the fictional attacks on the character Alice also took place in a way personally and in real life by Alice Liddell. Especially since the 20 years older Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, as the author’s real name was, confronted his child heroine with events that she could not understand, such as psychedelic drug experiences and puberty crises.

One cannot help but get the impression that he also enjoyed manipulating and dominating the reader Alice as well as the character Alice, even if he lets her emerge victorious in the end by letting her wake up from the dream or the book. In the second volume, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), which he wrote after his break with the Liddell family, this becomes even more obvious. No wonder that hordes of psychologists and literary scholars have set about interpreting this constellation!

Like every good myth and every well-told fairy tale, the Alice story is thus ambivalent and open to interpretation and has mutated into cultural common property as one of the most quoted and dramatized works of British literature. Characters such as the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Smoking Caterpillar have developed a life of their own and in Hollywood have become far removed from their origins. Younger people today are more familiar with the brutal film adaptation by Tim Burton (2008) than with the sophisticated linguistic fantasies of the original.

I wrote a first German version of the libretto as a basis for discussion in order to win over Max Kaufmann and Kurt Schwertsik. In doing so, I came across the difficulties of translation, to which Douglas Hofstadter devoted an entire chapter in his famous book Gödel Escher Bach. The word games, fantasy words and references to meaning are so intricately linked to the semantic culture of 19th century England that a transfer cannot be achieved by simply translating the language, but must be translated into the respective culture. So it was as logical as it was sensible that Kurt Schwertsik and I agreed at our first meeting to use only the original English text, albeit in our selection and interpretation. And we had already arrived in Wonderland: Working on the libretto was almost like Through the Looking-Glass. The slower you move forward in the kingdom of the Black Queen, the faster you progress, or vice versa. My work consisted mainly of cutting things down, and the more I cut things down, the more the score grew. A wonderful division of labor!

So it ended up not being an opera, but a revue for the different characters, which Lewis Carroll would certainly have liked.

As a teenager, I liked to secretly listen to the radio under the covers at night and came across a charming piece of music by Kurt Schwertsik for the first time – unfortunately, I still don’t know what it could have been. That was the beginning of new music for me, who had been completely devoted to early music (and punk) until then. Here I found the missing link. A balancing act that bridged a lot. Exciting harmonies and lines that took surprising turns and yet seemed completely logical. Music that touches but doesn’t dissolve the mind in the steam bath of emotions. Clever music that seems to say with a smile: Don’t take me too seriously.

Even though Kurt was socialized in Darmstadt and in post-war Vienna he and his friends gave time a boost, both properly and improperly, he was brave enough to doubt the dogmas of modernity early on and to leap decades in a bold act of mutation – as we know today: not backwards, but forwards! What fascinated me then is something I still feel today: his music combines beauty with wit, an extremely rare and all the more captivating and true-to-life symbiosis.

I didn’t get to know the man until much later and he was a perfect match for his music. High standards betray themselves in modesty. Who would have ever achieved the highest goal? So it is that Kurt Schwertsik not only has a great talent for small forms and subtle interventions, but also for the great art of doubt, the best motor of lifelong development. I was able to experience this during the intensive preparation period: nothing is taken for granted, everything has to be thought through and revised from the ground up – not in a subversive, blind act of violence, but in loving immersion. After all, music is not an autocratic system, but the grace of understanding something of the nature of listening. Kurt described it in the same way that I feel myself: a work of art cannot be planned, art is to put yourself in the waking state in which it can be created – and then the music flows directly into the tightly gripped pen, which, like an antenna or lightning rod, attracts the musical weather and lets it flow onto the paper.

And where does the waking state come from? From an inexhaustible curiosity about life and art. During our conversations, my ears were buzzing with the many good tips, the stories, the names, the meanings. I took notes and then sat for a long time after each meeting or phone call reading up on it, in front of a film, a book, a composition. An excellent teacher, then, but not through instruction. And in this respect he is similar to Lewis Carroll!

Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality, Lewis Carroll has his most lovable character, the Cheshire Cat, say. In this way, or the other way round, it is good advice for life!

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