Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” arrives at the Liceu with a staged production signed by Daniel Kramer and the gaze of visual artist Wolfgang Tillmans

War Requiem, with music by Benjamin Britten and text by Wilfred Owen, is a masterpiece of universal musical literature. Written in the middle of the Cold War with the nuclear threat at its peak (1962), the work has a peaceful and hopeful message. The production that is presented at the Liceu bears the stamp of the renowned stage director Daniel Kramer and reinforces the moral message of the requiem, adding an environmentalist background. Wolfgang Tillmans’ audiovisual work unites the language of video art and operatic dramaturgy with a poetic effect on the scenography.


Music and the arts merge on the stage of the Gran Teatre del Liceu with War Requiem, a work by Benjamin Britten that arrives from October 19 to November 2 at the Teatre with a stage proposal signed by the stage director Daniel Kramer and the look from photographer and visual artist Wolfgang Tillmans. After premiering in 2018 at the English National Opera, the production can be seen for the first time in Spain.


In 1961 Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write a piece on the occasion of the re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed by German bombers during Hitler’s air raids on England in World War II. Although on the date of the War Requiem premiere – the following year, May 30, 1962 – the cathedral was still demolished, the idea was to build it again, and Britten’s piece was to symbolize victory, the values ​​of peace and reconciliation over those of war and destruction. Britten’s great contribution, beyond the enormous and complex musical scale of the score -written for symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, mixed choir, children’s choir and three solo voices-, was, above any other, the inclusion in the text of a cycle of nine poems – which are more lieder in the tradition of Schubert, Wolf or Strauss than arias – written by Wilfred Owen. The intercalation of Owen’s poems, which is sung by the two male voices – the tenor represents an English soldier; the baritone, a German one, is the one that gives War Requiem this secular dimension and, also, the one that allows proposals such as the staging by Daniel Kramer and Wolfgang Tillmans, which ends up giving a profound environmentalist message. Against a black background, the production is articulated mainly through the screens of Tillmans, who reflects on wars, humanity and the importance of a return of man to nature.


War Requiem (© ENO / Richard Hubert Smith)


In its final form on stage, this War Requiem production is as complex and collective as the exclusively musical part: in addition to aspects related to video and lighting, the choreographic work of Ann Yee, a figure in charge of giving movement and meaning to the simultaneous and chaotic presence of three choirs -male, female and white voices-, which are the human blocks that, in reality, carry the true weight of the work. The performances will feature the participation of the Choir of the Gran Teatre del Liceu-directed by Pablo Assante- and with the VEUS children’s heart of Granollers, which will be complemented by the entire Symphony Orchestra of the Teatre, directed by maestro Josep Pons.


The most lyrical and delicate moments of the War Requiem fall on three solo voices, and for this reason it is important that, in addition to a well-articulated orchestra and experienced choirs, the performances include a high-level soprano, tenor and baritone. The soprano will be Tatiana Pavlovskaya, one of the great spintos of recent decades, a veteran singer -formed at the Mariïnksi Theater in Saint Petersburg as a member of the wonderful quarry discovered by maestro Gergiev- who alternates strong roles from the Russian or Wagnerian repertoire with the great Mozartian heroines, a balance between lyricism and forcefulness that make an ideal interpreter for this part of the requiem.


The tenor will be the veteran Mark Padmore, one of the great English voices -specialized in lied, in solo parts of oratorios and, more particularly, the work of Benjamin Britten-, while the role of the baritone, will be defended by Matthias Goerne, a A singer with a very similar profile, with a lot of experience in the German lied – he was a student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who sang at the premiere of War Requiem – and in roles of great intensity in the Wagnerian and 20th century repertoire. A cast, in short, perfect to defend each and every one of the delicate parts of an ensemble as fragile as it is majestic.