Vienna (AFP)

The first woman to compose for the Vienna Opera, the Austrian Olga Neuwirth takes up the challenge with a work that wants to "shake the institution" by celebrating the fluidity of genres and musical identities.

In 150 years of existence, the Viennese Staatsoper had never presented the creation of a musician. It is not the only one: the productions of operas composed by women are almost absent from the great lyric scenes.

This is not the only reason that the presentation of "Orlando" Sunday sold out, one of the events of the Austrian musical season: for this adaptation of the eponymous novel by Virginia Woolf, Olga Neuwirth promises a "opera performance" overcoming the codes of the exercise.

A leading figure in contemporary music, the 51-year-old artist chose to write a score for one of the most unusual works of the British novelist (1882-1941), an imaginary biography of a hero who changes sex. as of century.

The story of "Orlando" accompanies since adolescence, told the AFP the composer, who sees echoes of his own youth in rebellion against the social roles assigned to women and men.

Before gender issues became a hot topic of society, Virginia Wolf published in 1928 a novel flirting with fantasy about the fluidity of identities: first poet in the Elizabethan era, then ambassador to Constantinople, Orlando is metamorphosis into a woman before continuing her journey through the ages to land in the 1920s, becoming a writer haunted by the passage of time.

"There are so many strata in this book ...", says Olga Neuwirth, who has added additional stops to the story: she takes her hero / heroine to the present day and imagines a child "non-binary" according to the press kit, which she has entrusted to the transgender artist Justin Vivian Bond, a muse of the New York cabaret.

- "Open the eye, the mind, the heart" -

For the composer, a frail silhouette with curly hair, Orlando recounts "the journey through the centuries of a free spirit who refuses to obey the rules and tries to find his way to live and create".

With an adaptation that focuses on dissonances, electronic sounds and amplified, Olga Neuwirth wishes to "open the eye, the mind, the heart" of the Viennese spectators and "shake the institution a little".

"Virginia Woolf said that androgyny is freedom, I wanted androgynous sounds, I like sounds in transition, when you do not know where they really come from."

In the title role, the American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey will share the stage with Constance Hauman, a soprano accustomed to breakaways in jazz and pop registers.

The image occupies a central place in the scenic device conceived around luminous panels where the landscapes and ambiances of the Orlando odyssey succeed each other.

Like the libretto signed by the French-American Catherine Filloux with Olga Neuwirth, the staging was entrusted to a woman, the British Polly Graham, and the costumes to the Japanese fashion label "Comme des garçons" founded by stylist Rei Kawakubo .

A rare female density in the middle of the opera where men are at the controls of most productions.

In 2016, the Metropolitan Opera in New York presented its first opera written by a woman, "Love by far", by Finnish Kaija Saariaho.

Often considered a temple of the classical repertoire, the Vienna Opera had taken the lead by commissioning in 2002, together with the Paris Opera, an original work by Olga Neuwirth, then a young thirty-something, and star writer Elfriede Jelinek. .

The bet was daring: the two women, who maintain a long-standing artistic complicity, share the taste for strangeness, provocation, dig deep shadow of the Austrian society to which they are not tender.

The current director of the Staatsoper, the French Dominique Meyer, who made contact with the composer in 2014 and sees the project culminate, a few months before his departure for the Scala in Milan.

© 2019 AFP