Die Befristeten

Residenztheater Munich: Nico and the Navigators musically extend Elias Canetti’s drama together with composer Detlev Glanert.

Die Befristeten (Their Days are Numbered)

What would it be like if we always knew how long we had to live? How would we shape our lives and change our relationships? 

In the early 50‘s Elias Canetti explores this idea and the questions that it raises in his piece „Die Befristeten“ (Their Days are Numbered). He depicts a society in which the number of years a person will live becomes their name. A central power known as ‚Kapselan‘ controls and administrates death. And the people are cheerful, because the knowledge and certainty of ones own death ends the sorrows of life. Only one man named Fifty begins to doubt the system.

Since its completion in 2003 the Human Genome Project has brought our world one step closer to Canetti‘s dystopia. Genetic analysis today can decipher up to 250 hereditary diseases with which life expectancy can be estimated. These scientific develop- ments and their applications lead to ethical, political and personal questions which pickup exactly where Cannetti‘s play left off.

Together with composer Detlev Glanert a new piece of musical theater is being developed. 

 

A production by the Residenztheater in Co-production with the Munich Biennale. In cooperation with Nico and the Navigators. Commissioned by the Munich Biennale and the Residenztheater. 

Dates

Press reviews

Peter Jungblut / BR 2

…Nicola Hümpel did so bringing humor and tempo to the stage of the Cuvilliés Theater. […] a well deserved premier success which will hopefully be staged again elsewhere.

Peter Jungblut / BR 2

...Death was also the main topic at the Biennale the day before. It was about the question of whether fifty secure years or 88 uncertain ones are the better perspective on life? In other words, a guarantee of life or the risk of dying every day? Elias Canetti dealt with this question in the 1950s when he wrote his thought experiment The Limited. The topic has become unexpectedly topical. In the meantime, thanks to genetic engineering, human life expectancy can be predicted with increasing precision, perhaps one day to the nearest year. Even now, interested people can take various tests and have their risk of cancer and Alzheimer's disease evaluated. The composer Detlev Glanert turned the play into an entertaining and somber melodrama, i.e. an opera in which only speech is used. A long time ago melodramas were once fashionable, so it was a gamble to revive this forgotten musical art form, and it paid off in every way. In the Temporaries, people are named like their programmed age, which they all carry around on a necklace. So the luckier ones get to call themselves 88 from birth. Those who know to the day exactly how long they have to live may face an abyss of boredom, despair of the rest of their lives, or become an imposition on everyone else because of their many years. Director and set designer Nicola Hümpel brought this to the stage of the Cuvillièstheater with a lot of wit and tempo. In the end, everyone involved realizes that their programmed age was just a hoax. But what follows from this? A freedom that not everyone is willing or able to handle. For almost two hours, this melodrama captivated the audience with its gripping, often ironic, sometimes aggressive music. Detlev Glanert is one of the most gifted and theatrical composers of his generation. He always writes dramatically, i.e. action-oriented, and in this case he even composed mainly during rehearsals and was thus able to react to all changes. A well-deserved premiere success that I hope will be replicated elsewhere. Overall, the Munich Biennale for New Music has become much more audience-friendly this year - it has dared a lot: winning is not necessary in opera.

Manfred Engelhardt / Augsburger Allgemeine

Peeling characters and situations out of Canetti’s work and molding them into the actors personalities from the Rezidenztheater, Nicola Hümpel created powerful performances.

Manfred Engelhardt / Augsburger Allgemeine

The motto of the 14th Munich Biennale is "Out of Control". The latest world premiere embodies it perfectly, but also the exact opposite of it. "Die Befristeten" after Elias Canetti is about a totally controlled world; on the other hand, composer Detlev Glanert and Nicola Hümpel (concept, direction, costumes) have a risky production process behind them: Neither did a finished score exercise temporally immovable control over the course of this "music theater," nor did the notes serve as mere background music for a logical libretto. Rather, the anarchic stage play about the programmability of society, which was acclaimed at the Cuvilliés Theater, was created as a work in progress. Nicola Hümpel peeled situations and characters out of Canetti's work, adapted them to the character of the fantastic actors provided by the Residenztheater and condensed this into effective scenes. In constant contact with the composer Detlev Glanert, the textual and musical guidelines gradually converged, and they allowed themselves to be mutually inspired. And Glanert reacted flexibly again and again to new ideas, associations. People no longer have names, only numbers Canetti wrote "Die Befristeten" in 1952, when the NSA and the decoding of the genome were still a long way off, but Orwell, Canetti and Hermann Kasack were already there with their uncomfortable visions. In the world of the "limited", there is no longer any uncertainty about the course and duration of biography, death has lost its horror. In life on the drawing board, people no longer have names, but numbers: 50, 88, 17 or 30 also means the allotted lifetime. Careers, relationships, not to mention insurance and economic priorities can be better planned and optimized with such amounts of data. Lost his terror...? Canetti himself leaves his game with determinism open. Nicola Hümpel, however, who updates original passages with her own texts, radicalizes them, also spices them with black cabaret charms, creates sparks of a sometimes subtle, sometimes cutting horror, and this with a proper joy in the full theatrical use. Their "Brave New World" is coming apart at the seams: because everything is determined, primordial human passions and spontaneity come to nothing; the personnel only twitches in senseless behavioral templates of the old "ignorant" world: vows of love, gestures of friendship, social roles end up on the trashy revolving stage in the cocoon of a dense ground fog. Destination unknown. But it was an opportunity for juicy actor theater, singing à la opera is not. A great musical prank Detlev Glanert (born 1960), with whose opera "Leyla and Medjnun" the first Munich Biennale was opened in 1988, contributes music that sometimes discreetly accompanies the drastic actions, sometimes charges or even counteracts them. The ensemble piano possibile under Heinz Friedl (clarinets, saxophone, piano/keyboard, percussion, viola/cello/bass) realizes this music with brilliant precision: Ravishingly sweet waltz, polka, circus or jazz touches seem to lift the anarchic action to a bizarre level like déjà vu from the old world, shimmering and fragrant motoric, few sharply placed explosions land with pinpoint accuracy - a great musical stroke.

Alexander Strauch / nmz - neue musikzeitung

Performed tremendously intense with numerously unforgettable outbursts of laughter and sobbing by the man-in-a-frock and pumps Philipp Caspari, the unbelievably feign female congregation of mourners Valerie Pachner, Marie Seiser and Michaela Steiger or the Asian body bending of Yui Kawaguchi.

Alexander Strauch / nmz - neue musikzeitung

...I am still gnawing on Detlev Glanert's Canetti music for the play "Die Befristeten", updated by Nicola Hümpel to include genetic life planning implications. It was played fabulously intensively, unforgettable the countless howls and laughs of Philipp Caspari dressed in women's costume and pumps, the unbelievably hypocritical mourners with the ladies Valerie Pachner, Marie Seiser and Michaela Steiger or the Asian body bends of Yui Kawaguchi. Staging and Glanert's score emerged in cross-fertilization during the rehearsal process. This read as special for the state theater company, but should be anything but unknown to colleagues who work for film and independent theater. So should it have read "Biennale goes Freie Szene"? Probably not. Because how theatrically beautiful it was to see a piece of the Biennale on the revolving stage of the Cuvilliés Theater. After all the acoustically unsatisfactory halls like Muffathalle, Carl-Orff-Saal and Reaktorhalle, one can appreciate a real theater again. It started with the turning of the revolving stage, which was covered with potter's fresh foils and on which, in turn, a bulbous primal mother was turning on a potter's wheel. That alone made a sound from which the music could have evolved. Glanert's music combined noise with discreet revue sounds and dolcissimo expressionist glacée, was played beautifully by the ensemble pianopossibile and reminded one of a soundtrack that could have been part of "Die Manns". I look forward in any case to his next opera, where there will be singing again!...

C.M. Meier / Theaterkritiken München

It was a stimulating and worthwhile enactment where the artists understood and executed the diversity of a universal metaphor successfully. The meticulous conceptual process of cooperation was an achievement standing symbolically for new possibilities.

C.M. Meier / Theaterkritiken München

From Verdun to Auschwitz and Hiroshima, death spread its mantle over people, about 90 million were handed over to it in a period of barely 50 years, the first half of the 20th century. Elias Canetti was a contemporary witness of these enormous mass exterminations and in his works there are traces of the confrontation, which to follow can broaden the intellectual horizon considerably. In his radio play "Die Befristeten" (The Limited), written in 1953, he tells of a society that confirms itself in the delusion of having achieved greater security, satisfaction and control through knowledge of the lifespan. An unmistakably fascist approach that corresponded to the zeitgeist agreed upon in the National Socialist idea, which classified the lives of others and dealt with them as it saw fit. And this despite the fact that the original idea for the work came from the seemingly simple process of reading destiny from the lines of a hand. The use of presumption and faith should serve to convey certainty. "Death as a threat is the coin of power. It is easy to place coin upon coin here and accumulate enormous capital. Whoever wishes to come to terms with power must set his eyes unabashedly on the command and find the means to deprive it of its sting." (Mass and Power, E. Canetti) Man's fear in life, for his life, is omnipresent and as all-encompassing as is probably the overtaxing of this very thing. The process of encountering existential fear is kept in motion by the generation of power and oppression. Here the individual and the mass meet in equal measure. In an age, in which the destruction of all life and the entire planet earth is possible by the technical armaments, the fear takes on disproportionate proportions. It is suppressed and yet it is noticeably omnipresent. Its perversion creeps through society, is legitimized in places. Effects can be found in the attempt of scientific and acquirable body perfection as well as in the "forcible" preservation of life, from which the freedom for age-related self-determined death is taken away. To gain power over existence - a dream of the individual - which always degenerates in the movement of the masses. For the Biennale for New Music Theater, director Nicola Hümpel and composer Detlev Glanert took up the work "Die Befristeten" to create a production in which language, music and body were given equal attention. The piece, a sequence of scenes of everyday situations, offers not only the basic problems but also a number of points of contact that are currently being discussed in society. The starting point for this is the individual human being in his or her respective present condition, which seems to be fixed on the certainty of the day of his or her death. The rational material handling of death and the available lifetime has top priority, to which everything is subordinated. Education, choice of profession and partner and finally the fatalism with which the end is accepted as fate-given. This order, the social contract which is maintained by the Kapselan (God image or legal order representative), is considered unchangeable and is not questioned. The mass bows to the law as long as, until one questions it. By the contradiction the system begins to dissolve ... On a potter's wheel in the center of the revolving stage, designed by Oliver Proske, stood a voluptuous Venus figure made of clay, on which the capsuleer tried his hand artistically. Paul Wolff-Plottegg also explored his body, examined his arm with a close look, turned around his own axis symbolically. The music remained rather in the background, sometimes casually, like in a film, and yet underlining the moments that had to be traced. The stage began to turn, time took its course and the prospectus came into view. Yui Kawaguchi danced on the house, her movements showing subtle, almost perfect body control and acrobatic skills. This brought beauty and vulnerability into play. A group appeared from the background, stepped up to the ramp and Michaela Steiger, in a powerful voice that brooked no contradiction, explained the common beliefs. Wolfram Rupperti, Marie Seiser, Tom Radisch and Philipp Caspari embodied figures of this world, which spread out their everyday life. Götz Schulte played fastidiously, but unobtrusively the refusenik, whose conviction led to freedom. At times intentional comedy interrupted, sought applause from the audience and dissolved in the next image. Some continuations of the text into the present seemed long-winded and deliberately enlightening, quite as if celebrated in real space, dissolved in the next image. The stage, whose floor was decorated with plastic remains and not grass, carried time forward - sometimes very slowly, sometimes continuously, sometimes quickly or stopped - wall and houses changed until at the end the figures seemed to be carried through the openings into the open air. What is missing in society is the natural relationship between life and death. Fear and the repression, suppression of this very fear, paralyze change, respectively drastically limit the space of experience and brought forth in modern times a kind of android, which acts fully mechanically and, for example, fulfills time-limited contracts for power output in hamster wheels, in order to get horny, wear out and wither away, driven by the vain attempt to keep fearful power under control and to justly manufacture in platitudes empty secrecy. An equally industrial production process for the mere self-affirmation of the capsuleers - the operators of the system. The piece thus also illustrated an internal process, as it also takes place in the brains. The amygdala, the happiness center of humans atrophies to a closed capsule, in which imagination is supposed to replace a physical state of life, and, which only finds its confirmation through death, as the religions praise it. Parallel to this: The messages transmitted to the frontal lobe through the omnipresent board in front of the head guide the characters. The opening of the board-like apparatuses is forbidden (the questioning of the contents), because these are empty, they serve only the transmission of arbitrary intentional importance. Nevertheless, man seems helpless without these flat "capsules" and chaos spreads, but it would be the chaos which first made a reorganization possible. "The most dangerous thing about technology is that it distracts from what really constitutes man, from what he really needs." E. Canetti. The final images of the production had a haunting effect, showing the characters' loss to knowledge and the concomitant loss of formerly agreed upon and accepted values and guidelines. Valerie Pachner, in glasses and costume, stood for this - perplexed, in the face of freedom. An unmistakable call for departure into more liveliness was offered and with it the acceptance of existence per se, which is carried by interaction, the composition of classical and free elements of music and dance, vibration and movement of the creative forces. It was a stimulating production worth experiencing which the artists succeeded in realizing the diversity of a universal metaphor. The concept of mindful process-related collaboration was successful and symbolic of a possible new path. What more can a musical theater piece achieve? To say it with Elias Canetti: "Principle of art: to recover more than has been lost."

Robert Braunmüller / Abendzeitung

Hümpel characterizes her figures through lovingly ironic speaking masks […] framed in softly choreographed living paintings. Glanert’s music for the eight instrumentalists of the ensemble Piano Possibile is held discretely and quiet in the background as long as a little dance is not dared. It is however more then just background music that completes the serene stylization which Hümpel has draped over Canetti’s bleak thoughts.

Robert Braunmüller / Abendzeitung

A modern opera without sung sound: "Die Befristeten" by Nicola Hümpel and Detlev Glanert at the Cuvilliés Theater. When the earth was still desolate and full of plastic bags, God created woman out of clay as a plump Stone Age Venus. 90 minutes later, man is free: God throws away the clay, lets his creatures do their dirt alone and begins a career as a bum. This is how light-footedly director Nicola Hümpel can bring final questions to the stage. She has staged Elias Canetti's "Die Befristeten" for the Munich Music Theater Biennale at the Cuvilliés Theater: a mind game about a world in which dying has been replaced by a clean, punctual ritual, which a society of urban neurotics sees as humane progress until one character radically and liberatingly questions it. Music Theater A few basic rules of this festival are also turned upside down: Detlev Glanert's music plays only second fiddle. It was not calculated in the highest room of an ivory tower, but developed from improvisations during rehearsals. No one sings a note - and so the evening is more drama than opera, and forms of musical theater between Wittenbrink or Marthaler closer than the usual output of the Biennale. Hümpel characterizes her characters through lovingly ironic speaking masks - most extreme and also funniest in an unsentimental, chuckling ugly duckling of a woman. This is framed by gently choreographed, living images. Glanert's music for the eight instrumentalists of the Piano Possibile ensemble, unless it dares to dance, stays discreetly and quietly in the background. But it is more than background music and completes the cheerful stylization that Hümpel gives to Canetti's somber thoughts. The performance, which will remain in the Resi repertoire until early June, has only one catch: it is a quarter of an hour too long. Certainly, one encounters God, who in between acted as the priest-king of the "Temporaries", once again. But this rounding off is superfluous: The doubt about freedom of the bespectacled lady in the costume would have been the perfect question mark at the end.

Detlef Brandenburg / Die Deutsche Bühne

Nevertheless this evening had […] as a whole, theatrically strong moments. Attributed mostly to Hümpel’s theatrical choreography unfolding on Oliver Proske’s end of days stage littered with plastic trash endlessly rotating […] how societal attitudes – dark, assiduity, loyalty to the system, uncertainty, protest, jealousy, flattery – are stylized into posture is impressive. A masterful physical theater where Hümpel tactfully stages vivid tableaux. In all her distortions, a beauty of floating acrobatic tumbling by the soft-limbed Yui Kawaguchi.

Detlef Brandenburg / Die Deutsche Bühne

"Out of Control" is the motto of the 2014 Munich Biennale, the last under the artistic direction of Peter Ruzicka. But for the premiere series of Dieter Schnebel's "Utopias" and Detlev Glanert's music theater "Die Befristeten," the theme "Utopia" could make a pretty good subtitle. This includes not only all those dreams of happy islands and social ideals that have run through cultural history since Thomas More's initial work, but also the horror stories of an inhuman future by Samjatin, Bradbury, Orwell and Hume. Elias Canetti's drama "Die Befristeten" is also such a "dystopia". Glanert's music theater, which he developed together with the off-theater director Nicola Hümpel and her theater troupe Nico and the Navigators, ignites on it. In 1988, Glanert had opened the first ever Biennale with his first opera, "Leyla and Medjnun," and now returns to the site of that double beginning. And this project, which the Biennale commissioned together with the Munich Residenztheater, and which was also produced at the "Resi", differs fundamentally from the previously known works of this composer, who has been successful and much performed at many houses, and who can write so wonderfully for the human voice - and here does completely without singing. Like many dystopias, "Die Befristeten" also comes in the guise of a perfect world: people are allotted their lifetime from birth, everyone wears their date of birth and death on their neck in a capsule and the number of their years of life in their name. However, here only everyone is allowed to know his own birthday, so that in the case of a person with the sober name "Fifty," the others know how many years he will live, but not what his current age is and when his time of death will be, his "moment," as it is called in the play. He himself, however, can arrange his life according to his reliably determined life expectancy; there is no surprising death, no aborted life plans, no tragically lonely partnerships. Life can be planned perfectly. But as in many dystopias, there is one person who rebels against the brave new world because he senses the lies and sterility in it. By discovering that the capsules are empty and thus exposing the grand administrator of the punctual dying operation, called "Capsulean," as a manipulator, he brings down the system - partly to the delight and partly to the horror of the caringly manipulated. The strength of Canetti's text is its calculating rigor. He sets only as many axioms as necessary to carry out the dramatic thought experiment, which means that beyond this experiment he cares little for the characterization of the characters and the viability of his axioms. Unfortunately, however, Nicola Hümpel sees this as a weakness and loads Canetti's calculation with well-subtle politically correct textual sottises against the fitness cult, wellness hysteria and the hubris of (genetic) medicine. Even the refugee suffering off Lampedusa is not left out. That is the one shortcoming of the evening. The other lies in Glanert's music and is even honorable, at least in its experimental claim. Glanert has reversed the process of composing music theater: instead of writing his music and leaving it to the director to figure out how to handle it, he has developed much of his musical material only during the rehearsal process together with the Navigators as well as the Munich instrumental ensemble piano possibile, which fits excellently into this working process. More precisely: The music follows in the arrangement of its set pieces and partly also in the composition of the text and piece development, which also took place only during the rehearsal process - which has the consequence that it can hardly develop its own formal context. It underpins, sometimes it also counterpoints. And if one follows the action in composing, then one quickly ends up with allusions that are all too obvious: romantic elegies for sensitive scenes, soft blue jazz when it comes to melancholy, dissonances for despair and aggression, and jazzy repetitive figurations for the hectic. Glanert's approach may be unusual for an opera composer. But in advanced drama music, the primacy of the scene is normal. And since all the texts here - and there are indeed quite a few! - are spoken and one experiences more a melodrama than an opera, the music remains stuck exactly there: in the secondary. Nevertheless, this evening, to which the rococo splendid and yet intimate Cuvilliéstheater provides a picturesquely contrasting setting, has strong moments as an overall theatrical event. This is mainly due to the theatrical choreography that Hümpel unfolds on Oliver Proskes' eternally rotating end-time stage littered with plastic sheets, which is empty except for an architectural set piece with two portals: an art hub for the presentation of an artificial world. The way in which social attitudes - arrogance, prudence, loyalty to the system, insecurity, rebellion, envy, flattery - are stylized into physical postures is powerful: a virtuoso theater of movement that Hümpel puts on stage with a great feeling for pictorial tableaus. In all its contortions - wonderful the acrobatic floating dance daredevils of the delicate Yui Kawaguchi - and slapsticky caricatures it is not so far away from Matthias Rebstock's Schnebel retreat the day before. In their nuanced and pointed treatment of language, however, the Stuttgart vocal soloists were light years ahead of the Navigators. Glanert's music embraces and caresses these end-time scenarios with sometimes downright humble subtlety, decidedly atmospheric and theatrically appropriate. The fact that many of these desperately funny, screamingly bleak, quietly dreary scenes have such a strong effect is also thanks to this music, which the piano-possibile musicians on saxophone, clarinets, viola, cello, double bass, keyboards, guitar and drums, under the direction of Heinz Fried, subtly and atmospherically realize. Considering what this composer is capable of, one must consider this a very conscious withdrawal - and will by no means regret that he has another fully composed opera on the agenda as his next project.

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