Alverden god Nat (All the World: Good Night) is based on the story of Jens Munk (1579-1628), who during the reign of King Christian IV sailed off on long, dangerous and challenging voyages to look for the North West Passage. The music of the opera is by Peter Bruun, and the libretto is by Ursula Andkjær Olsen. Both are associated with the FIGURA Ensemble, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. Peter Bruun, Ursula Andkjær Olsen and the FIGURA Ensemble have collaborated earlier on the opera Miki Alone (2008), which was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize in 2008.
In the opera Alverden god Nat we follow Jens Munk, the son of a bankrupt father, who travels out at a very young age, first to the New World and then several times to the cold North. He has to look real death in the eye and loses his whole crew. Week after week on the cold ice, as if hypnotized by the energy of the ice, Jens Munk is drawn time after time into this universe. After repeated unsuccessful attempts he ends up in prison. He has not achieved his goal, but he is not dead either.
The title Alverden god Nat comes from Jens Munk’s diary. It is the last sentence he wrote in his log when he was in Hudson Bay and thought he was about to die. “Imagine sitting up there on the white, white ice with the feeling that you wanted to conquer the world, but now it is over. And you have not won. There is no glory, no honour; it seems you can only sit there and wait for it to be over. That story hits you as a human being, regardless of time and space,” says Peter Bruun.
The opera is the story of a courageous human being who time after time defies all reason, and sets out on a perilous voyage. It happens three times in succession, and it ends badly each time, but he comes through in one piece. That is what makes Jens Munk a hero, but a hero who does not triumph. He is left with a strange feeling of having defied death but at the same time of having failed – and then just with a sense of emptiness. In our own time there are many people who risk life and limb only to win nothing, but we hear nothing about them.
The collaboration of composer and librettist
About her collaboration with Peter Bruun, Ursula Andkjær Olsen says: “Peter is truly very much himself. He has a sound all his own, melodically distinct and at the same time rhythmically shimmering. Peter’s music is quite simply very beautiful and direct. I love hearing my texts transformed in Peter’s universe – they take on a vulnerability that I can’t hear without his music.”
Peter Bruun says: “When I read Ursula’s text for the first time, I could hear it – I could simply hear the sound of it, and it was not a traditional, highly poetic, lyrical singing sound. Her way of formulating it is extremely idiomatic, but not musical in a traditional lyrical way. If I could write texts myself I would write as she does.”