"In fact, utopia is never a pure fantasy detached from reality: it is always a reaction to reality, more precisely, it is the criticism of a state of existing things in which the utopian idea is a fantastic solution. " (Corbel-Morana, C. 51, 2010)
Cuckoo Land, what is it?
This title comes from Cloud Cuckoo Land (Greek Νεφελοκοκκυγία, Nephelokokkygia), which is a place described in the theater comedy entitled The Birds by Aristophanes (414 BC). It's about a utopic land hovering between heaven and earth, created by a man, through his ambition, rhetorics, and the help of the naivety and vanity of the birds. Our first contact with this theater piece was by the musical work of the German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954), which has written an opera with the same title in an adaptation of this narrative. The enchantment with his music prompted us to further research on his compositions, what led us to find out his two song cycles Fragmente eines Federspiels and Neues Federspiel op .7 with texts from the Des Knabewunderhorn, with songs also with the theme of birds. It was the harmonic color and richness of these short, simple songs, together with the fascination with Aristophane´s narrative plot, that brought us the spark to the creation of this concert concept.
The Competition Concert Lab of the HFMT Hamburg Career Center gave us the opportunity to experiment in an academic context and to rethink traditional concert formats, what led us to the creation of a newly Chamber Concert concept: A narrative chamber songs concert, with animation film and multimedia. The idea was not to break all the rules of this traditional concert format but to bring it into a new interpretation framework.
With that in mind, we have decided to create a “narrative concert” with a free adaptation from Aristophane´s play, The Birds, which was thought to be told through an animation film and the alignment of the sequence of specific chosen songs. Through the short animation film, the action of the narrative is told, and the different songs act as a "lyrical narrative" which brings a poetic dialogue with the film in correlation with the story being told. In this way, the traditional songs not only enter as a poetic dialogue with the narrative but also receive a new role and a new interpretive perspective.
Cuckoo Land Plot:
War, Laws, Conventions: Two men, Roger (Pisthetaerus) and Axl (Euelpides), tired of the life in their home city, decide to embark on a long journey in search of a place where they could lead their lives in a different way. Inspired by the mythological story of a man that was turned into a bird, the Hoepoo, they realize that life among the birds is the life they were long looking for. This leads to the idea of the creation of a utopic land suspended between the human world and the realm of the gods, the Cuckoo Land.
As the Greek literary critic R. Lauriola (2009) defends, the term utopia was first elaborated by Thomas More (1478-1535), but the basis of this concept and its use was already explored by the ancient Greeks. In Aristophanes theater piece we can see the concept of utopia in its three variations (utopia, eutopia and dystopia) in a figurative description along with the plot of the narrative. These three concepts and their relationship with the piece led us to take it as the theoretical and philosophical background to the creation of our animation film free adaptation of the piece and as criteria to the selection of the related songs.
From traditional Greek comedy theater, we have kept the three main structures: Prologue, Parabasis, and Exodus, which were usually played by the greek choir. The narrative thread is presented by the animation film. What we describe as a “lyrical narrative”, through the sequence of the chosen songs, stands for the poetic dialogue to the animation film plot.
The discussions raised by Aristophanes piece are timeless and reflect ubiquitous human problems that have always existed and always exist: the unrest, the dream, the desire for spiritual and spatial change. The utopian dystopia of segregation of all kinds, the illusion that life safe in a bubble turns out to be the solution to all problems, and others. Nonetheless, the piece shows us how through our utopias, as individuals and as a society, we develop our lives and conduct our choices by the lessons we get from striving to achieve them.
These different utopias are represented in our concert in songs like L'invitation au voyage, Kennst du das Land and Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, and others. The transition from utopia to eutopia can be found in Il vole and Villanelle. In both pieces, we find not only the human desire to belong to another spatial place but also the inner desire to achieve spiritual another state, namely that of individual well-being. The human eutopic desires are presented in the song Si mes vers avaient des ailes, and on the other songs that describe the life and beauty of the birds. The destructive result of utopia, dystopia, we find in the short songs of S. Barber, Sea Snatch and Praises of God.
Animation film versus songs:
As the scientist Dan Sofaer (2011) has shown, Aristophanes reinforces in his play the utopian distance between humans and birds through a kind of confrontation between Language and song:
Throughout the play, song and speech are brought into the confrontation, with Pisthetairos (Roger) representing the power of the language, rhetorics, and the bird choir represents the powers of the song. (...) The right balance of song and language is not just part of the comedy in general; it can also be a utopian goal that conjures up this comedy by raising people and birds to the same stage and trying its reconciliation through a dynamic juxtaposition of song and speech. (D. SOFAER, p. 16, 2011)
By dealing with texts by Sofaer and other literary scholars we have developed a theoretical basis that helped us to develop the project.
Who are we in this concert?
We are the portrayal of people of all ages, with their playful aspirations, to reach new lives and new worlds. As inspiration, whether for scientific development or to give light to our deep inner dreams, the birds with their mysteries and liberties, are the ones that have and will always fascinate and inspire us as human beings in search of seeing life in different perspectives.