8 Sopranos, Mezzo Soprano, 2 Altos, 4 Tenors, 2 Baritones, 2 Basses
”Gilgamesh” was first performed by the Jutland Opera in Århus on May 4th, 1973. It was written on the commission of the Musikdramatiska Skolan of Stockholm with the support of Nordisk Musikfond (The Nordic Music Foundation, NOMUS). The work was finished in the beginning of 1972, a period in Nørgård’s development as a composer when new ways of musical cognition began to assert themselves in his works. In 1974 Nørgård was awarded the music prize of the Nordic Council for this work.
‘Opera in Six Days and Seven Nights’ is the subtitle of the work, underlining that this is not an opera in the traditional sense of the word. The work is not an opera in the traditional sense of the word. The work is not divided into acts, and unlike a traditional opera the action is not played on a stage accompanied by an orchestra, with the spectators ranged in an auditorium. Instead, the setting is a rectangular room, the audience seated along the two long sides, and some of the performers – musicians and singers alike – placed at certain permanent positions in the room, while other performers are acting in various parts of the floor. All the musicians are costumed so that the barrier between dramatic action on one hand and music accompaniment on the other hand is eliminated. Thus all those present in the room form part of the opera’s synthesis of musical motion and artistic stylization. In this connection it is a crucial point in the whole dramatic concept of the work that even the conductor, who in a traditional opera must necessarily have a stationary positition from where everything can be surveyed, is moving around in Gilgamesh. The conductor is identical with the Sun God travelling his cyclic orbit in space once a day. He works from a ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ desk alternately, and in order to conduct the total motion of the work he himself must be in motion between the two desks.
The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic is one of the earliest connected texts of some length in the history of mankind. In all probability it was compiled in the 17th century B.C. but includes narratives of much older tradition. Among other things, you find the story of the Flood also known from the Noah legend of the Old Testament, in this work told by Utnapishtim on the sixth night. The Gilgamesh epic was found in excavations as late as the later half of last century. On the whole from Per Nørgård’s work follows the sequence of events of the epic, and a number of the central speeches of the ancient text form a direct part of the opera. This use of the text does not prevent a personal interpretation of the mythical content of the epic. This particular interpretation is apparent in the division into six days and seven nights, - at the beginning of the opera: The creation of the world with gods, demons, animals, and human beings, - at the end: the rebirth of Gilgamesh, - and then of course above all in the whole choreographic and musical language.
Jørgen I. Jensen