Mittwoch aus Licht, Argyle Works, Birmingham

4.00

 

Stockhausen! Not so long ago the composer’s name served as an expletive for conservative music lovers, expressing not so much their dislike as their nervous fear of radically modern music. It is five years since he died, and he has suffered the usual post-mortem slump in attention.

All credit, then, to Birmingham Opera Company and its inspired director, Graham Vick, for giving us the world staged premiere of Mittwoch aus Licht, one of the series of seven operas (one for each day of the week) on which he worked for more than 25 years.

The sequence runs for nearly 30 hours, making Wagner’s Ring look like a snack. Stockhausen was not thinking in terms of conventional opera or the conventional opera house when he devised this cycle.

So a staging in the vast flexible spaces of the Argyle Works is absolutely apt, and works extraordinarily well. Mittwoch (Wednesday) is in six substantial sections which could hardly be more diverse. The wordless prelude, which lasts nearly an hour, is played in total darkness.

We were immersed in electronically produced surround sound, but granted occasional glimpses of simple human activities – a boy with a kite, some dancing, a procession of pregnant women. The second scene, a sung debate in an imagined world parliament, is quite different: unaccompanied human voices, singing mainly in groups but with occasional dramatic solos.

The Ex Cathedra choir sang this superbly, and the music is magnificent. I can think of no reason why this scene should not be performed as a self-contained work. And there’s the rub. Mittwoch contains some superb, sustained music, but lacks coherence. The world parliament scene is followed by two which are wholly instrumental.

The first, which features 11 soloists playing from seats suspended in mid-air, is full of wit and vitality, but the second, in which a string quartet plays in four helicopters, with their music and the hum of the ’copters beamed down to the audience, seemed an extravagant, pointless stunt.

It was executed with perfect efficiency, much to the audience’s appreciation, but the music, so far as it could be heard, was repetitive and mechanical. We need to hear – and see – more Stockhausen. His use of space to complement sound is extraordinary, and was brilliantly realised in Vick’s production. But Mittwoch as a whole isn’t a whole, it’s a hotchpotch.

No one need apologise for playing or performing its best sections separately.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world