‘Snedronningen’ is the first opera of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen, and this is its first ever production. The production draws on Spanish and Catalonia talent.
It is directed by Spain’s Francisco Negrin, and for the scenography, set designer Pell Steen Christensen recruited the help of Catalan art-installation company Playmodes, which provide the production’s striking visuals, where snowflakes and ice are represented by the play of light.
This new opera is minimalist and austere. Such features calibrate our emotional response and could lead to the feeling that the audience is too distant from the action.
The original story consists of seven separate stories, but in this production the emphasis is on a dream-like flow in which one tableau blends seamlessly into the next.
The music is characterised by features that draw on the theme of alienation in the narrative: its haunting quality (Gerda is haunted by the memory of Kay), its icy-cold wastes, and Gerda’s wandering far from her grandmother and home.
As chilly as the landscape
But of course this is a contemporary opera, so we shouldn’t expect the familiar emotions roused by, say, the tragedy or comedy of earlier opera.
More particularly, while it is an adaptation of a fairy tale, what Abrahamsen does with the story is similar to what Angela Carter does with traditional fairy tales: the story is transformed into a chilling adult tale of the harsh realities of experience.
From this viewpoint, the opera/production is a mature, mesmerising and striking creation.
Gutsy Gerda steals the show
Sophie Elkjær Jensen, the soprano playing Gerda, deserves a special mention. On stage most of the time, the soprano carries the whole production, putting in a brave and determined performance.
In line with the tradition of male dramatic roles written for the mezzosoprano voice, Kay is played by Melis Jaatinen.
More interestingly, the Snow Queen in this opera is a baritone, a traditional male part, interpreted here by Johan Reuter, who executes his role with distinction.
And kudos to Johanne Bock too, who switches between three different roles, starting and finishing with Gerda’s grandmother.