DJ & MC: Mixmaster AG
Ēriks Ēšenvalds’ “The Immured” is an opera about the construction of a library, and the sacrifices without which nothing great can ever be created. It’s a modern-day legend, whose sources are found in the folklore of various European cultures, as well as in modern Latvian society. The heroes of this tale are artists and masons, librarians and politicians, their love and betrayal, faith and responsibilities.
The opera is based on an idea and original libretto written by Inese Zandere as a poem; Zandere wrote it in honour of and as an ode to poet Knuts Skujenieks, who has also rendered numerous European folktales into Latvian. This libretto won second place in the LNO Libretto Contest; first place was won by Valentina by Arturs Maskats.
Scene 1. The construction site of a new library. The Builder tells tales of how a soul must be given up for each new building. The Architect muses: “We’re protected from old mistakes, and from the past. It’s not just a library we’re building – we’re building the future.” But the beliefs of his friend, the Builder, make him wary: “According to legend, one must sacrifice what one loves . . .” They are joined by the Architect’s sister – the Poet and the Builder’s sweetheart – and the Librarian – the “girl with a secret”, whom the Architect asks to become his, and the “girl who reveals it”. The community gathers for the ground-breaking ceremony. The President and politicians boast about their decision to build the library, the Minister talks about the future generation, in whose name the library must be built, while the Poet’s words foreshadow the soul destined to be sacrificed.
Scene 2. The reading room of the library. Students discuss philosophy and their romantic feelings. The Architect explains to the students that the library is like a modern-day temple: “It’s not a space that light fills, but rather a space built of pure light. A house of intellect.” The Librarian warns everyone about the dark shadow that hides in the light of the mind, but the rational and ironic Architect isn’t frightened by this notion. He’s in love and longs to be with her. The Librarian and the Architect are left alone in the library among the old books – and their fateful night of passion begins.
Scene 3. The legend told about in the book brings us to the dream. The ruler has chosen a place for a building that will immortalize his greatness. The wise Advisor reveals a secret to the Craftsman’s sister – the building can’t be completed because people don’t believe in those who want to accomplish grand things. Whatever had been constructed has collapsed overnight. The Craftsman and Assistant compare their identical dreams: They must wall the woman they love into the construction. Whichever one of their lovers appears the next day, she will be the one to be sacrificed . . . The Assistant convinces the Craftsman’s sister not to come visit; he’ll come to her. While lying awake at night, the Craftsman prays for his lover’s path to be filled with obstacles, if even death – but she shows up, excited to tell him that she’s pregnant. While she’s being immured, the Craftsman’s sister arrives as well – she’s figured out what is happening and has decided to sacrifice herself, but it’s too late. The woman being walled in sings to her unborn child – a song about milk that tastes of death.
Scene 4. The Architect and Librarian say goodbye after their night together: “Now I’m your book. From now until forever, day after day, please reach for me again.”
Scene 1. In the dark of night, the same people who voted to have the library built tear down the progress. The Architect walks the Librarian home, his eyes on the empty construction site, and he feels like he’s in a terrible dream from the past. But he quickly shakes the image to come back to reality, and is full of determination to fight for the progress of the project: “Destiny is our duty and our way of thinking”. There’s no time now for romantic relationships. The Librarian leaves, upset. The cornerstone-laying ceremony is taking place at the construction site. The Poet addresses the Minister, as if to continue the conversation started in the dream about the sacrifices made in the name of greatness. But the Minister avoids her; no one has to see her weaknesses. There are celebratory speeches, and the Minister and Architect immure a missive for future generations.
Scene 2. The Poet’s birthday – after a poetry reading and congratulations, the Poet and Builder talk alone in a bar. The Librarian comes in, beaming, and declines the wine offered her, leaving the Poet to assume that she’s pregnant with her brother’s child. The Architect is too busy, “walled into his thoughts”. But he will definitely come to visit his sister on her birthday, and the Librarian believes that this meeting will once again “carry them skyward”. The Poet and Builder leave, not wanting to interfere. The Architect arrives, preoccupied and sullen; he doesn’t want to listen to the Librarian and announces his decision: “It would be best for you to stay away from me, I don’t want to hurt you. If I’m going to fail, let me do so alone.”
Scene 3. The outline of the building is already visible. The masons are measuring something with a string and passing it from hand to hand like an ancient ritual: a person’s shadow can be sacrificed, too – all you have to do is measure it and wall-in the ball of string. The Builder understands that he will be the sacrifice, and tears the string out of the masons’ hands in a panic. The Architect, plagued by doubt, watches the progress of construction; the Builder tries to cheer him up. The Librarian arrives – upon being sent away again, she hurries away but trips and falls, and remains lying on the ground in pain. The Poet tells her brother sadly: “Word’s aren’t enough . . . Now a life has been sacrificed”. The Architect’s shadow stretches up over the new construction. The Builder measures his friend’s shadow with the string and gives it to the masons.
Scene 4. The library has been built, it’s full of young people searching for knowledge and not caring about the hardships of existence: “You are our library. We’ll fill you with our youthful, carefree joy and free you.” The President tries to find a place among the youths, while the Architect, Builder, Minister and Poet share the emotions that bring them together: “Our love and our exhaustion – our flesh and clothes have grown together – when you take one off it rips off the other and you can go to sleep free . . .” Lack of faith has been conquered, the work is complete, the luminous house of intellect has been born, the freedom of its creators regained – but who was the sacrifice, the immured? And was there only one? The Architect runs into the Librarian, who now works in the building he created – but the only thing they have left in common is their lost love and their unborn child – the freedom they’ve regained is an empty one.
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