Unzeitiger Gast
a chamber opera from Andrej Koroliov, directed by Heinrich Horwitz
vocal soloists Nina Guo and Kinga Ötvös with the Decoder Ensemble

next performance: 21.December.2022 Resonanzraum Hamburg

The full-length music theater reflects the ritual archaism of historical mystery plays, as they have been popular since the European Middle Ages, and translates them into a contemporary, multimedia formal language. Koroliov deals with the idea of the finiteness of human existence. The basis for this are historical texts and illustrations of so-called „dances of the dead“ from the Alemanni. In his work, Koroliov confronts traditional iconography with the question of how the often repressed theme of transience is dealt with in our contemporary culture.

Mystery plays have been a theatrical realization of religious rituals since the early Middle Ages – for the entertainment and instruction of the „common people“. In this context, so-called „dances of the dead“ are among the earliest multimedia works of art in which painting, poetry, and music were combined: a hybrid of the „high“ and the „low,“ an amalgamation of worship, passion play, popular theater, and elementary pedagogical education. Often, their images were prominently displayed on cemetery walls, thus functioning as spiritual art in public spaces.

From the 19th century on, such a directly displayed preoccupation with death was suppressed and condemned as obscene, as in the case of the famous „Grossbasel Dance of Death“. The banishment of death from the public space runs more than ever through today’s society. This fact, as well as the deciphering of modern ritualizations in the digital age, form the core content of the project.

In the death dance representations, death manifests itself in physical form, as a skeleton with a scythe, sometimes also with musical instruments in his hand. The person to whom it appears is helplessly at its mercy, some offering minor resistance, others surrendering to the inevitable.

In „Unzeitiger Gast“ this passivity is contrasted with the mass hysterical phenomenon of the „dancing mania“: Sources from the 14th and 15th centuries attest that groups of people are said to have publicly „danced“ themselves for days on end to death. The cause of this religious ecstasy is thought to be the consumption of hallucinogenic substances in conjunction with contaminated food. Thus, it is the human body itself that meets its end through the greatest possible activity. Offshoots of this phenomenon up to our present time are part of the artistic consideration.

The representation chosen by Koroliov takes a hybrid, interdisciplinary form. The elements of music, image and representation merge into a unity in the form of live performance, stage design and lighting. Thus „Unzeitiger Gast“ is an entity that dialectically juxtaposes the static of ritualization with an artistic flexibility.

Design. Art has always been a means for man to reflect the inevitability of his own end and to articulate unchangeable facts. While in past centuries death was omnipresent simply because of the high infant mortality rate, the question is now to what extent research in the humanities on the one hand and contemporary research in medicine, robotics, and digitalization on the other have changed our approach to death.