Man booker’s Tokarczuk makes her debut as librettist in mythical opera
Olga Tokarczuk, this year’s winner of Man Booker International Prize, has always been interested in myth and history and her debut as opera librettist, “Ahat ili – Siostra bogów” (Ahat ili – Sister of the gods) derives from ancient Mesopotamian religion.
Based loosely on her 2006 novel, Anna In in the Tombs of the World, the libretto retells the journey of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, to visit her sister, the mistress of the underworld who ends up holding her against her will.
While Tokarczuk wrote it in Polish, the libretto has been translated into a variety of languages so the human characters sing English while the gods - in Akkadian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Old Slavonic or Nahuatl (Aztec).
Tokarczuk described the piece as a “funny opera about death”, when speaking to the media ahead of the premiere at the Sacrum-Profanum festival in Kraków.
“Are we totally off the wall?”, asked the writer.
“Terrible things are happening: the politics is crazy, the economy, the crisis, the world is trying to tear us apart.
“And we are telling a strange story about the gods that nobody believes in any more.
“But then I thought that it is precisely in these aggressive times, in our short-term world that we need stories like this to not go mad”.
She also said the piece was feminist in tone with strong female protagonists dominating the story.
The music, written by Aleksander Nowak, uses leit motifs in a manner that falls some way short of complete consistency, the composer said.
They are also associated with themes rather than specific characters, meaning there is no musical marker for each protagonist of the story.
Directed by Pia Partum, the opera casts Urszula Kryger as Ninshubur, Joanna Freszel as Inanna, Ewa Biegas as Ereshkigal and Jan Jakub Monowid as Dumuzi, Inanna’s human ex-lover who ends up replacing her in the underworld when the goddess’s sister agrees to release her back among the living.