interview of the month
November 2019

»Heart Chamber« – interview with contralto Noa Frenkel

On November 15th, Chaya Czernowin’s opera »Heart Chamber« will premiere at Deutsche Oper Berlin directed by Claus Guth. We asked one of the four solo singers, contralto Noa Frenkel, about the piece with the subtitle »An inquiry about love«.

»Heart Chamber« is a powerful title, evoking intimacy and vulnerability, but also vitality and strength. What kind of story does Chaya Czernowin tell?

In her works, Chaya Czernowin always wants to bring the inner world, the innermost experience, on stage. She thinks very much like a painter in music. The piece is definitely not a story that goes from A to B like »Romeo and Juliet«. But you have all the colours of a love story – the insecurity before a meeting, while making or waiting for a phone call, the excitement, the reunion, the hurt… There are a lot of time jumps, it’s non-linear, and you witness memories and how they are built.

What is your part in the piece?

It is a big production, but basically, there are only four singers on stage. Two are obvious – they are the couple. It’s the soprano and the baritone, Patrizia Ciofi and Dietrich Henschel. Two souls, that’s it. They are also in the videos, in real surroundings. Then, there are two more characters, the alto and the countertenor, me and Terry Wey. We are the inner voices of the main characters. When you want to do something, especially something scary – as falling in love is for most people – the main voice says: »Go for it!« But the inner voice says: »No, you were hurt the last time, remember that!«

Did you prepare differently for »Heart Chamber« than for a piece in which you play a »normal« role with a name and an own body?

When you sing a role like Bizet’s »Carmen«, you know the plot and what she is supposed to be like. »Heart Chamber« is a work in progress. All we have is the text, and we work together from this with our director Claus Guth. It is a creative work of the whole team, really. We are more like theatre actors here, building the piece in the process. That’s why I can’t tell you what will happen in the end.

How do you describe Chaya Czernowin’s music for this piece?

Basically, »Heart Chamber« is an electronic opera. There are lots of sounds – the sound of many toys playing together, whispers, concrete sounds… there’s a very sensual moment when you just hear bees, for example. It’s all an in-between of sounds and moments of quietness. The electronic sounds create a landscape. Imagine to go inside the head and body of a composer. It’s all about to put out how you feel inside through notes. That is an attitude very different from romantic opera with its linear plot. It is more music theatre than opera – we definitely don’t sing Bel canto style.

What is the core message of »Heart Chamber« for you?

We are born for connection, but not necessarily the »being in love« thing. This opera inquires about love. Chaya does not give a lecture, but puts question marks behind the way songs, movies or operas generally try to promote love, marriage, kids as the greatest thing you should absolutely have. Chaya wants to show the colours of »being in love«, of »hurt«, of »wanting/not wanting«, those two voices in your head. »Heart Chamber« is beautifully advanced in its way: It shows something that is clear to us all, yet allows each of us to put their own meaning into it.

What audiences do you imagine for the piece?

I hope very much that this piece of music theatre does not only appeal to opera enthusiasts who are open to hear something less Bel canto and more soundlike, but also to younger people who like electronic music and avant-garde – because it is so open, because there’s such a universal message, because it leaves a lot of space for imagination and has this dance-through-time quality.

Interview: Annette Zerpner