Opéra-rituel de mort (1978/79)

Music and text by

Claude Vivier

A mystical aura surrounds the French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier, who all but predicted his own murder by a male prostitute in Paris in his final, uncompleted work, »Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele«. The death drive and the pure love of life were the two constants running through Vivier’s life and work. His only musical theatre work is also marked by them. »Kopernikus« portrays the transition from life to death. In a liminal realm, a child called Agni, the name of the Vedic fire god, meets beings who are all part of a rite of preparation for death and the afterlife.

The voices instil hope and courage, and they take a variety of forms: from Mozart to Tristan and Isolde to Lewis Carroll, whose absurd lightness à la »Alice in Wonderland« also defines Vivier’s death ritual. The astronomer of the work’s title is also present; just as he transformed the human understanding of the universe like no other, so too does death alter our understanding of our lives.
Vivier, a student of Stockhausen, sets the ritual at the edge of existence to fascinating, dazzling music for seven singers and seven instrumentalists, which incorporates East Asian sounds, Messiaenesque ecstasies and echoes of early Baroque madrigal operas. Along with passages in French, Vivier also sets the inexpressible to music in a fantasy language in which all semantics dissolve into pure sound. Far beyond the musical horror scenarios that are familiar from numerous requiem scores, Vivier arrives at an unconventional cosmic beauty of music.