Falling Awake arouses attention and debate at the international opera conference in Rotterdam

2019-06-25
Every year the international music theatre award Music Theatre NOW selects 10 winning music theatre works out of more than 400 works from all around the world. The jury consists of five internationally renowned music theatre professionals. The ten winning productions are invited to present their works at the annual Music Theatre NOW conference in Rotterdam. The Danish composer Lasse Schwanenflügel Piasecki was one of the winners in 2019, and his opera “Falling Awake” aroused great attention when it was presented at the conference in Rotterdam, May 2019.

Lasse Schwanenflügel Piasecki was the tenth and last composer to present his work. He presented “Falling Awake” through video excerpts as well as a brief summary of the work. Some of the reactions to the presentation were hard-hitting and the criticism was directed towards the theme of the opera, which is about oppression primarily expressed through a story about incest. It was questioned whether a white male composer can portray the mistreatment of a young girl. Others felt offended by the composer insisting on aestheticizing the assault with beautiful and entertaining music, instead of, as is more common, morallytaking the audience by the hand with music depicting the sufferings. A caricature of Chinese people is taking place in the opera when the composer instructs the audience to wear yellow masks and sing along on the cruel exploitation  - this was also provoking for some in the audience. 


Photo by Louise Eriksen. Scenography by Jannie Rask De Vitt

Photo by Alexander Banck-Petersen, KLANG 2017. Scenography by Jannie Rask De Vitt

At the Music Theatre NOW conference, the presentation of the opera generated a discussion that also went beyond the opera in question, An important discussion about the opportunity for artists to speak on behalf of those who cannot. A task that comes with an obligation to handle this responsibility with a sincere respect for the persons or issues portrayed. The discussion turned to topics as preserving artists’ right to freedom of speech versus censorship, democratic values ​​and the challenges of the increasing political correctness. Furthermore, the discussion was sparked by the question of what art should and can do, and how we can protect it - we who believe in art.

Photo: Salih Kilic, MTN 2019. 

Music Theatre NOW · Jury Statement:
"In the first place, FALLING AWAKE makes the spectator indeed completely fall for it and willingly surrender to the melodic and visual beauty woven into a seemingly trivial narrative. Eventually, it shakes us awake to face the cruel exploitation of a young girl in the opera that we’ve been uncritically following. Lasse Schwanenflügel Piasecki’s artistic strategy controls and transgresses spectators’ perception in order to reveal the mechanics of manipulation and social exploitation in a most tangible manner. A pertinent reminder and a plea for more critical approach to the stories we are part of in our life."
Krystian Lada for the Jury Members of the 2018 edition of MusicTheatreNOW competition.

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