Diary note 49: Sleepless

18 XII 2021

(Staatsoper/Unter den Linden)

I promised myself to return to Sleepless.

The opera and ballad or music theatre is based on a strong foundation, the text of Jon Fosse, the music of Peter Eötvös and the mise en scène of Kornél Mondruczó.

In a way this last contribution – the stagecraft – is the most ambitious because it tries to integrate the whole. The ballad like sequence of the music or the parlando prose of Fosse take the piece to pieces. But the very ambitious endeavor of Kornel (I met him before as a filmmaker) is to visualize the abstract problems of the play in one image. And he succeeds.

The human predicament is that people are not so much awake as sleepless. They are by the reality in which they have to survive not allowed to rest. They have to survive by being opportunistic, but are not given a place, or group, or philosophy, to sleep with.

This sleep deprivation is wonderfully transformed by Kornel’s invention of a fish out of the water. An enormous salmon lies on the shore, out of its depth. It dominates the stage with its pink and silver presence. Already half cooked but still alive. In and out of its depth.

It reminded me of the different fish in the Bible, in whose belly the prophet Jonah is carried underwater – in an unlivable underwater world of semi-death.

Can the individual survive in a world that is not his? That is the question.

The answer of Fosse, or the librettist, is that there are two solutions: to resist or to adapt. The first solution carries the first part of the show.  

Asle, the begetter of a child which still has to be born, by a girl that is a kind of outcast, is searching for asylum. In his fight to find a place of rest and deliverance, he reminds one of Joseph and  Mary and their quest for a bed in Bethlehem, where the nativity takes place. But this is not Josephs time, and Asle murders. Finally he is killed – for me it matters little whether by a mob or the state.

The second route is taken by his girlfriend Alida, who wants to find a place to deliver, and food and safety, not so much for herself as for her child. After the temporary spell with Asle, the father, she opts to go with a stranger to a place unknown and lives there till her son leaves her and she gets old.

She, rather than submitting to fate, takes her own life, by drowning in the ocean, in which the fishes live, and sometimes jump out of the water.

Like the salmon of Mondruczó.