A new take on old folk in a classic form

If someone were to have asked my grandmother what a ‘video-opera’ was, she would think of the summer evenings she spent humming along to bad recordings of Pavarotti that blurred out of her ancient VHS player so loud it was difficult to think. This particular video-opera, however, offers something quite different.

While some of the more sombre-looking folk from the Kongelig Theatre might argue that it is not an opera at all, and while it is true that this opera is a far cry from the oh-so-serious compositions in the Western tradition, Mauro Patricelli, the opera’s composer, promises audiences “a revival of opera in its truest form – both intellectual and experimental”.

Perhaps an indication should be found in the inspiration for the opera’s score. Syng for fremtiden, Ingeborg! is inspired by the Danish folk singer Ingeborg Munch. The performance combines jazz and minimalist elements and is performed to a backdrop of documentary footage taken from her life. It has an almost Hitchcockian feel – an ominous sense of dread gradually building and then vanishing. One that certainly would have my dear old grandmother turning in her grave!

Patricelli, who is a critically-acclaimed classical pianist in his own right, studied musical anthropology at the University of Bologna, and this gave him fresh eyes to examine the Nordic folk ballads of an age long forgotten. Ultimately this was the reason why he decided to draw inspiration from such an obscure source.

For Patricelli, despite the undeniable revival of the folk and world music scenes over the last 30 years, it is often difficult for the layman to tell the difference between authentic folk music and its modern variant. According to the composer, this is because it has been contaminated to the extent that it has been transformed into some idealised form – one that overemphasises the violence and simplicity of the time and setting. And while a lot can be said for the primal, earthy force of traditional folk singers, what is often overlooked is that folk music was refined long before it was ‘made good’ by educated Westerners.

Ingeborg Munch’s folk ballads are not the type of thing that is studied at a conservatory, but they were preserved thanks to Thorkild Knudsen, the music ethnologist and archivist at Dansk Folkemindesamling,  who documented Munch’s life and music from 1959 onwards. That documentary footage will provide the video aspect to the performance.

Munch’s repertoire was large and disparate, and this helps (in combination with the documentary footage) to give an almost mystical sense to Patricelli’s reinterpretation – one that can only be explained as the effect of his heartfelt connection with folk culture’s ancient traditions.

Ingeborg sang folk ballads, something that is practically endemic in Nordic countries. A ballad tells a story almost like a book, which according to Patricelli, makes it perfect for opera – the repetition and the ritual function of the ballad is something that is used in all forms of music, and this allowed him to develop the music in his own, unique direction.

Patricelli is keen to demonstrate the musical nuances that emerge from a reinterpretation of a complex music genre. He has inserted elements that have nothing to do with folk music in order to emphasise the contrast with the original material. The opera can best be described as an experimental and magical universe of sound, accompanied by documentary footage and video art implemented by the visual theatre artist Giacomo Ravicchio.

Although the opera takes its inspiration from a  Danish folk singer, Patricelli hopes that its theatrical form will give him the opportunity to not only show the audience the process he went through in the opera’s creation, but also that folk music is something universal.

Performing on stage with Patricelli are Ida Lorentzen (violin), Eva Katrine Dalsgaard (viola), Karin Dalsgaard (cello), Maria Boelskov Hansen (harp) and percussionist Matias Seibæk. The actress and singer Xenia Lach-Nielsen will play Ingeborg, the symbolic heroine.

Syng for fremtiden, Ingeborg!

Københavns Musikteater, Kronprinsensgade 7, Cph K; 

Performances Nov 21-23 & 28-30 (Thu & Fri 20:00, Sat 17:00); 

tickets: adults 100kr, kids 40kr, concessions available, billet@kobenhavnsmusikteater.dk 


The performance is in Danish. However, lyrics and interviews will be translated in a programme handed out prior to the performance.