Shadowtime is a big event in the new music world. It's the 61-year-old
composer's first opera, an unlikely and savagely complex debut.
Four-and-a-half years in the making, Shadowtime is a seven-part reflection
on the philosophy of Walter Benjamin. Its premiere at the Munich Biennale
this week will be followed by performances in Paris, New York and the
Of course there is nothing as trashy as a narrative in the work, though
it does open with the last night of Benjamin's life, just before his 1940
suicide on the Spanish border. For the rest, there are canons, interrogations,
tableaux and lectures, all arranged in strenuous symmetry around Charles
Bernstein's opaque libretto.
Nobody can play Ferneyhough's music. The best they can hope for is an
approximation of the score. In this, the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart
and the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam under Jurjen Hempel come formidably close
to achieving the impossible.
Director FredericFisbach does what he can to make a homogenous whole from this disparate hodge-podge, but he can't disguise the fact that this is not an opera but an assortment of musical numbers that lasts for two hectic hours. Challenging? Yes. Entertaining? Occasionally. Comprehensible? Perhaps to an elite handful.