Donald Runnicles on the world premiere of L’Invisible

Simon Pauly


Deutsche Oper Berlin’s Donald Runnicles tells us about Berlin composer Aribert Reimann’s new opera L’Invisible, what it’s like bringing a world premiere to the stage, and what we can expect from Reimann’s striking, dark ninth opera.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin premieres L’Invisible by Berlin composer Aribert Reimann. His new opera is based on a trio of plays by Belgian symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. We asked Donald Runnicles, General Director of the Deutsche Oper: what can we expect from Reimann’s ninth opera?

Runnicles: Something unlike what many of the listeners have really ever heard. It’s a very striking, a very dark work. These are three plays basically that Aribert Reimann has put together of Maeterlinck, where the central figure is indeed a figure that we never actually encounter. The people who are in these three stories are always talking about the feeling that there is “something,” that there is a presence in the room. We gradually understand that they are actually talking about death, “der Tod,” “la mort.” This is something that Aribert Reimann himself experienced very early on in his life as a young boy in the Second World War. And toward the end of the war he lost his younger brother. This is what is rather astonishing in his work, this presence of death, something that none of us can avoid. This is basically what is behind this opera, L’Invisible.

Host: I assume this is not the first time you’ve collaborated with Aribert Reimann?

Runnicles: It’s the second time. Three years ago I performed a song cycle; songs based on Edgar Allan Poe. Mr. Aribert Reimann does have something – he is fascinated by the dark and the bizarre.

Host: What runs through your mind just days before a world premiere? It must be quite exhausting, exhilarating…stressful?

Runnicles: All of the above. There is an added element of excitement bringing a piece to an opera house for the very first time and bringing in a work that we hope very much – indeed, we trust – will be picked up by other houses. We are enormously proud of being able to give this work. It’s a fact that Aribert Reimann is, of the contemporary composers still alive today, one of the most often performed worldwide.

Host: You are conducting this opera. How much do you get involved in the stage direction?

Runnicles: Initially I don’t get that involved. We have Vasily Barkhatov giving his debut here in the house as the Director of L’Invisible. Initially we talk about the story and how he sees it – how he turns this into pictures on stage, so to speak. And certainly, this is what you always you aim for at a premiere: that front and center is Aribert Reimann and his music. There is an alchemy, if you like, that should take place – where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Remaining performances: Oct. 22, 25 and 31.