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The Sunday Opera: Erik-Birger Blomdahl's "Aniara"

“Star Wars” may be a “space opera,” but this week’s Sunday Opera (4/16 3:00 p.m.) is truly one of the only operas that takes place in space. Join us this week for Swedish composer Erik-Birger Blomdahl’s “Aniara” from which premiered in 1959.

Erik Lindegren’s libretto for “Aniara” was based on a poem by Harry Martinson that is filled with symbolism and social commentary that was summed up by Blomdahl as “…modern man’s complexity and his basically impossible situation.”

Aniara is the name of the rocket that is taking a small group of survivors to their new home on Mars. The earth has been poisoned by the evil of mankind and is about to explode. The emigrants learn of all of the terrors through an on-board computer called Mima and its controller the Mimarobe and are overcome with emotion.

After finding that it would have been midsummer on Earth, the emigrants decide to celebrate, and during that celebration, Aniara is somehow thrown off course, and forces the Chefone or captain to plot a course for the constellation Lyra which he announces will take longer than any of them will live.

With no hope for survival, different factions and cliques are formed, basically repeating the mistakes and problems that they all faced on Earth. In the end, however, only the deaf-mute pilot Isagel and the blind Poetess are left alive, with Isagel dancing her pain while the Poetess sings of the “joy of death.”

The opera is an interesting combination of twelve-tone composition fused with jazz, electronic tape and other musical idioms.

The cast includes Erik Saeden as the Mimarobes and Chefone, Lena Hoel as the blind poetess, Thomas Sunnegardh as the comedian, the three chief technicians are Bjorn Haugan, Stefan Parkman, and Mikael Samuelson, and the lesbian performer Daisy Doody is Viveka Anderberg. They’re joined by The Radio Chorus and The Swedish Royal Symphony Orchestra with Stig Westerberg conducting.

In the first segment after the opera, host Michael Kownacky will be featuring two more works by Blomdahl. The first is a suite from his ballet Sisyphos which he wrote as a sort of homage to Dag Hammarskjold using Sisyphus’ futile act of rolling the boulder up that steep hill in Tartarus as the Herculean efforts of Hammarskjold to broker world peace.

The second Blomdahl piece is his Symphony No. 1 written during WWII about the futility of war.

We’ll have a major change of mood in our last segment together with two pieces (if time allows) by Jacques Offenbach as segue into next week’s opera. We’ll definitely look at the ballet “Gaite Parisienne” which was cobbled together from various other Offenbach works and eventually orchestrated by Manuel Rosenthal who will conduct this performance.

If time allows, we’ll conclude our time together with The American Eagle Waltz which Offenbach wrote as a gift to the United States for the centenary.

It’s a real rarity this week in Blomdahl’s “Aniara,” and because of the rarity of the recording of this work, we hope you’ll join us for an opera you may never hear again.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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