Sacred music or profane music? Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) placed the question surrounding the relationship between the sacred and the profane at the centre of his “Petite messe solennelle”. In 1864 – that is, 34 years after his previous work for the stage – the composer dedicated this latest work to God, pleading, by way of precaution, that he was actually born for the Opera Buffa: “As you well know! A little science, a little heart, that's all. Be blessed, then, and admit me to Paradise.” Strong words, at once humble and demanding. But where can this Christian utopia be found in this day and age? How do we reach it while living in the secular society of the here and now? And how does one hit that note that Rossini once described as semi seria – half serious, half playful – in reference to its tongue-in-cheek contrast with the character of the Missa Solemnis?
In recent years NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS have set themselves on a path which now, after Franz Schubert (Wo Du nicht bist) and George Frideric Handel (Anaesthesia), leads them to Rossini, the third composer to provide Nicola Hümpel and Oliver Proske's Berlin-based performers with the musical motivation for a poetic adventure. One thing that certainly is new is that on this occasion the Navigators are teaming up with a choir, conducted by Nicholas Jenkins, and which Rossini has reduced down to twelve voices – in parallel with the number of Jesus's disciples, to whom this highly accomplished gourmet, a veritable composer of flavours, made an allusion in a reference to his second passion: “Twelve is also the number of disciples in the famous guzzling scene Leonardo painted in his fresco, known as The Last Supper; who would believe it? Among your disciples there are those who hit the wrong notes!! O Lord calm yourself, I pledge that there will be no Judas at my feast, and that mine will sing your praises as they should and with love.”
NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS work in such a way that their own life experiences inform the process in rehearsals even more than art-historical and biographical approaches to the work, with their backgrounds comprising different cultures and languages being brought into play. In this way tender relationships as well as shocking conflicts can develop, then grow and dissipate with and in the music. The text of the mass, which has already been charged with deeper meaning by Rossini, is thereby additionally expanded and enriched with intimate testimonials of faith and doubt. The spare instrumentation of the original version for two pianos and a harmonium offers the ideal requirements for a concert of bodies which asks for freedom in chains – that is, for that paradoxical experience that you can also find in the firmly bound up and simultaneously endlessly liberating music of Rossini. That which is most holy meets that which is most profane – sacred music or profane music?
A production by « pèlerinages » Kunstfest Weimar and NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS. Coproduction Grand Théâtre du Luxembourg, Bregenzer Festspiele (Kunst aus der Zeit), KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen and Theater Erfurt. Supported by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, by the Land of Berlin, the Schering Foundation and the Augstein Foundation. In co-operation with Opéra-Comique Paris, Opéra de Dijon and Radialstiftung Berlin.
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