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Henrik Hellstenius and his opera Ophelias: Death by water singing

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Henrik Hellstenius and his opera Ophelias: Death by water singing
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Theatre of Dreams

by Verena Großkreutz

In the symbolic, difficult language of dreams the psychoanalysis has soon found analogies to those of old myths and fairytales. A language, "which has a different logic from our everyday language, a logic in which time and space aren't the dominating categories, but intensity and association" as explained psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in 1951. Similar to dreams, fairytales and myths translate human features into a pictorial language that enables deep insight into the psychological inside of the human collective and into its relations between genders as well as its dealings with instincts, misfortunes and death or its grasp of good and bad.

With this background it isn't surprising that certain sources for myths turned into something similar to a "bible" for the founders of the genre of opera. However, the priority was to justify the singing on stage. Thus Thracian singer-songwriter Orpheus advanced to a kind of patron with the help of the mysterious power of his singing. The dream-like sphere of the myth and the emotional effect of music that isn't tangible with reason, were married together and remain united.

The unique power of opera
Henrik Hellstenius, who was born in 1963 in Bærum in Norway, also recognises above all the features of a dream game in the genre of opera: "Watching an opera production is like experiencing the Theatre of Dreams; you enter a room in which movement, music, text and stage are interwoven. It is this network that makes opera unique – not the fact that a story is being told and someone is singing or moving around on stage. A unique power is created when all these elements blend. It makes opera a very special experience." Music has its own rules, but it would be meaningless if resounded in a theatrical vacuum.

In his chamber opera "Ophelias: Death by water singing", which had its world premiere in Sandnes in Norway, the composer and his librettist, the Norwegian author Cecilie Løveid, fall back on William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and the Danish chronicle of the Anglo-Saxon myth of Amled. But the hero Hamlet, who wants to take revenge for his father's death, isn't the centre of attention in Hellstenius' opera. It is told from a female point of view – from Ophelia's consciousness of being used and betrayed by Hamlet.

"Young Ophelia is brought to a rotten and corrupted royal court in order to marry an unstable Hamlet. Hamlet falls in love, Ophelia falls in love. They meet in the woods and make love. Later, Ophelia is pregnant and deserted by Hamlet. He kills the king. Ophelia goes insane when she realises that her Hamlet is a murderer and a traitor. She drowns herself in a river", so Hellstenius. In response to the logic of the dream, the plot isn't told linearly: It leads through 13 dream-like images in which the structure of time is held in suspense, and reality and imaginary intermingle. For librettist Cecilie Løveid, who is always led by the interest in female attempts to follow instinct, the development of the characters in the opera "Ophelias" is also about the power of the motives behind things.