80 min

Music Theatre Diptych 


6 February 2019


Finnish National Opera, Helsinki

“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”

Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”

“How is violence born and where can it lead?” This question, asked by German writer Heinrich Böll as the subtitle of his novel The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1974), is the starting point for this evening of music theatre. A deserter from the Wehrmacht and a committed intellectual in West Germany, Böll was writing at a time when Baader-​Meinhof’s Red Army Faction and its suppression were causing unrest. But the primary violence, Böll postulates, is not in the fist that strikes or at the end of a gun: it resides in the words, images, and structures that constrict our bodies and elicit their violent reaction.

We set out to bring this invisible violence out to the surface, through two juxtaposed stories: those of two fictional women, invented by men, and rewritten by other men over time. Heinrich Böll created Katharina Blum, as Shakespeare Ophelia, to question their own male gaze, inviting us to step out of our vantage points and imagine the perspective of the Other. Katharina Blum soon became a character in Volker Schlöndorff’s film, to which Hans Werner Henze wrote music. Ophelia has known multiple avatars, up to and including Heiner Müller, who turns her into a figure of revolt on the model of Ulrike Meinhof – already an inspiration to Böll in the same years. It’s this very distillation, in successive translations from one form and one language to another, that we wish to highlight, and through which we can hope to give voice to these characters without unduly speaking in their stead.

Music theatre has the unique ability to explore the multiple dimensions of identity, emotion and collective pressure, replacing univocity and consensus with a form of coexistence seemingly similar but in reality much more layered and complex: harmony and counterpoint.

Produced by La Chambre aux échos and the Finnish National Opera. Coproduced by Radio-​France and Secession Orchestra. With support from Mairie du 8e arrondissement de Paris, Fondation Singer-​Polignac, Institut Finlandais de Paris and Cie Sisyphe Heureux.


Concept and Realization

La Chambre aux échos

Musical works

Hans Werner Henze
Juha T. Koskinen

Part 1: Katharina Blum (1975)

after Heinrich Böll

Part 2: Ophelia/​Tiefsee (2017)

libretto by Aleksi Barrière
after William Shakespeare, Jules Laforgue, Heiner Müller, et alii

Stage Direction & Video

Aleksi Barrière 

Musical Direction

Clément Mao-​Takacs

Lighting, Co-​Stage Design

Étienne Exbrayat


Thomas Kellner

Solo Viola

Vladimir Percevic

Excerpts from Ophelia/​Tiefsee at its premiere at the Festival Présences in Paris:


14 February 2017 (WP Ophelia/​Tiefsee)

Festival Présences at Radio-​France
with Secession Orchestra

6 – 9 février 2019 (WP Violences)

Finnish National Opera /​
Musica Nova Festival
with the FNO orchestra


February 2019 (Helsinki)

“For myself, one of the most powerful experiences of the festival was a double bill produced by the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Violences, featuring music theatre company La Chambre aux échos from France. This production combined the music for Katharina Blum by Hans Werner Henze and Ophelia/​Tiefsee by Juha T. Koskinen into a single dramaturgical arc. Directed by Aleksi Barrièrethis intense and compelling combination of music and drama addressed the roles of women in the arts and culture, with specific reference to manifestations of the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare.”

Merja Hottinen, Finnish Music Quarterly

Février 2019 (Helsinki)

“The combination of works gives rise to contemporary, fast-​paced piece of music theatre, in which fragments of text create a multifaceted narration. All the roles are played by the brilliant German actor Thomas Kellner, who switches from one perspective to another in the blink of an eye.”

Samuli Tiikkaja, Helsingin Sanomat

February 2017 (Paris)

“With the qualities of the Secession Orchestra, shaped with extraordinary precision by Clément Mao-​Takacs. (…) The character of Ophelia (…) is played by the prodigious actor Thomas Kellner. The cross-​dressed role unfolds Müller’s demystification of female hysteria. Müller’s Hamlet-​machine is matched by Aleksi Barrière’s own dramatic machine. (…) One leaves this maelstrom (…) vigorously shaken, with one’s brain in ebullition and a furious desire to reread the texts”.

Jérémie Bigorie, ConcertoNet​.com

February 2017 (Paris)

“We will remember in particular actor Thomas Kellner’s (trilingual) performance and Aleksi Barrière’s fun and original staging.”

Alexandre Jamar, ForumOpéra

Aleksi Barrière’s notes about Ophelia/​Tiefsee

OPHELIA/​TIEFSEE by Juha T. Koskinen

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