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Brilliant...Megalomaniac...Unstageable – these are just some of the words that have been used to describe the mammoth opera cycle LICHT (Light), the most radical project in the history of music theatre, written by the legendary and controversial composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. He spent 26 years writing this larger-than-life opera, which would take days to perform and was completed only in 2003, six years before his death. But his magnum opus was never staged as it was musically and theatrically too complex, logistically near impossible and just too expensive. No opera company was brave (or rash) enough to produce it. Until now.
But in 2019, the world-famous Dutch National Opera and Holland Festival staged parts of Stockhausen’s LICHT. Oeke Hoogendijk, award-winning director of The New Rijksmuseum, documented the creation of this frenzied opera spectacle, complete with musicians in helicopters, envisioned by an eccentric genius.
The film recreates Stockhausen’s musical universe through the making of LICHT, against the backdrop of his dramatic life story. At first, the film focuses on Stockhausen’s two ‘widows’ and the celebrated artistic director Pierre Audi who initiated the project. Despite mutual good will, they all have their own agenda. Kathinka Pasveer and Suzanne Stephens, Stockhausen’s legal heirs, are artistically involved in every tiny detail of the process. The attempts of Audi to modernize the work cause lively discussions as the two women, fiercely guard Stockhausen’s vision. How far will Audi surrender to their artistic vision to perform his final masterpiece?
During the film, the focus shifts as Stockhausen himself becomes imposingly present. Through unique and intimate archive footage, photos and stories from his loved ones and children, we peer into his soul. His life is dictated by two obsessions, both arising from his traumatic childhood and youth: his infinite search for love, and his dedication to his work. A musical visionary who was far ahead of his time, Stockhausen challenged those around him to their limits, in the end leaving him estranged from his family.
The opera LICHT reflects Stockhausen’s personal experiences of life’s biggest themes: birth, death, war, love and spirituality. He is no longer here to explain exactly what he wanted to say. Yet he becomes so penetratingly present in the film that we get to know him like a family member. Ultimately, LIGHT is a portrait of a free spirit making the impossible possible – even from the grave.
Note: LICHT is 29 hours long. Stockhausen had it planned as a performance over 7 days, for each day a 4 hour piece and for the last day one of 5 hours. The Dutch presentation was an edited down version of 15 hours, performed in 5 hour pieces over 3 days. The Dutch performance was a one time only happening.