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5 questions for Jan Dvořák

On 20 May the first performance of the opera »Frankenstein« will be given at Kampnagel. Composer Jan Dvořák explains what the audience can expect.

Music Theatre at 3rd Hamburg International Music Festival

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Political statement, vision of the future, horror story: in 1818 the 19-year-old Mary Shelley published the story of Frankenstein, the young scientist who creates an artificial being; his creation mutates into a monster and drives itself and Frankenstein to death. 200 years later, the subject matter is still topical; the story is told at Kampnagel by Hamburg composer Jan Dvořák and the Berlin film and opera producer Philipp Stölzl (»Der Medicus«, »Winnetou«). The audience can look forward to a gothic opera with the sounds of nature, shock effects and black neo-romanticism. We asked Jan Dvořák five questions about the production.

Five Questions for Jan Dvořák (Composer)

There are numerous films and productions based on the Frankenstein story. What's the fascination for you personally?

Since British actor Boris Karloff played Frankenstein's monster in the 1931 film version, the horror aspect of the story has been pretty much flogged to death. In recent times, the only possible approach has been a humorous one. But on rereading the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that »Frankenstein« is actually a highly philosophical horror tale. Mary Shelley really wrote a coming-of-age novel about an artificial being, using this futuristic viewpoint to illuminate our own human existence. Triviality and complexity, studio theatre and road movie constantly intermingle – and all that from the pen of a 19-year-old!

What inspired you to set the story to music?

Film producer Philipp Stölzl and I were putting on a production of »Frankenstein« at a theatre in Basel, and I was responsible for the script and the incidental music. In the course of the work, everything became more and more musical, gradually assuming an operatic character. In the end, the theatre manager asked whether we couldn't develop the material further to create a genuine opera. I was delighted by the idea!

The Basel production was a resounding success. What will be similar or different in Hamburg? What can the Kampnagel audience expect?

We've adopted many elements from the Basel production. I'm especially happy that we were able to rescue the terrific monster puppet, which is over seven feet tall and operated by three puppeteers. For me the intonation and timing of the Basel actors were a constant source of inspiration for the composition of the music. If everything works out as planned, we should have a perfect symbiosis of music, plot and changing scenery. And the audience will be sitting really close to the action, with no orchestra pit between them and the stage…

Behind-the-Scenes at a »Frankenstein« Rehearsal

Musiktheater: Frankenstein

My music emerged from the theatre scene: I am a man of the theatre.

Jan Dvořák

What kind of music can the audience expect? And how do music and drama interlock to tell the Frankenstein story?

My music emerged from the theatre scene: I am a man of the theatre. I hope the sounds produced by the 25-piece orchestra will forge a world in its own right for the singers, with all its ups and downs. Since I started composing, I've been working on developing popular music into a fully-composed musical style. I think I've come another step closer to my goal with this work.

For me Frankenstein is one of the central books of our time.

Jan Dvořák

This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's novel. What does this story published in 1818 mean in the year 2018?

For me »Frankenstein« is one of the central books of our time, a founding myth of modern science. Since the novel appeared, technology has intruded more and more in our private lives, gradually merging with us. Without our being aware of it, we ourselves are turning more and more into cyborgs, into Frankenstein's monsters. The ethical questions raised by these developments can no longer be answered instinctively. Fear alone offers no answers: technological progress goes on undeterred. It was this that brought about Dr Frankenstein's downfall in the end: let that serve as a lesson to us all!

Interview: Julia Mahns

A production of Staatsoper Hamburg in cooperation with Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and Kampnagel. Adaptation of the production by Theater Basel.