Vienna commissions gender-bender opera

Vienna commissions gender-bender opera


norman lebrecht

March 10, 2015

Dominique Meyer has announced an opera on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando by Olga Neuwirth, due in December 2019.


The composer says: ‘Ever since I was a child I have always been interested in everything, from arts to politics, sciences to human psychology. Passionate towards everything. I let myself be inspired in the same way by the small and big things that the world has to offer, by the wonderful diversity of life, and that is something that I see reflected. The essence of this fictional biography is the love for oddities, the supernatural, deceit, virtuosity, exaltation andexaggeration. It’s also about remembrance, about a sophisticated form of sexual allure and against the restraint toward a single gender. Another important topic is also the refusal to be patronised and to be treated in a condescending way, which is something that happens over and over again to women and will keep on happening. Virginia Woolf questioned the roles of man and woman, the status of women in society and their approach to literature. My musical theatre won’t be about a theoretical proof, but about different possibilities that unfold – also musically – scene by scene. For me Orlando and music are very similar: through the centuries the story of Orlando conveys, in the same way as (classical) music, on the one side the bittersweet pain that goes beyond words, and on the other hand the precise structures, proportions, abstraction and mathematical-scientific thinking and solace. Each life arises from a process of self-creation. As we live, we create our own world. In the same way as we do with music, or with and through Orlando’.


  • May says:

    This opera hasn’t even been written yet, and I don’t want to hear it. Why not commission a new story, instead of plundering literary brand-names that are no longer subject to copyright restrictions. There is nothing Olga Neuwirth could compose that would add to the myriad interpretations of Orlando. It would have much more interesting to commission something completely new.

    • Halldor says:

      So please, go on – give us some examples of major operas (other than Die Meistersinger) based on completely original stories.

  • Anonymous says:

    As Orlando was published in 1928 – is it actually out of copyright? Either way, I don’t think that Woof’s highly individual story has been adapted elsewhere. I think that this is a highly interesting commission.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is surprising that, of all musical institutions in the world, it is the Vienna State Opera that commissions not a musical work but a work of sound art, which is Neuwirth’s specialism:

    As we know, and as can be heard on these videos, sound art is the art of pure sound and not a medium for musical expression, and is not intended to express anything, so it does not seem to be specially suited to opera where all is about expressing situations, stage characters, etc. etc. For the Viennese audience it is hoped that the story and the staging will compensate for this.

  • JAMA11 says:

    I first read Orlando when I was 17, and I distinctly remember thinking “gee this would be a cool opera.” (I was a very popular 17 year old.)

  • NYC says:

    At least they didn’t commission an opera from Paul McCartney or Sting.