Francisco Coll has not yet reached 30, but already he has ventured into the world of opera with Café Kafka, a chamber opera which will be premiered at the Snape Concert Hall, Aldeburgh on 14 March. The work is a collaboration with librettist Meredith Oakes and together the pair have constructed a darkly surreal world built from texts and fragments by Franz Kafka.
What drew the composer to these fragments and how is the opera structured around them? Meredith Oakes explains:
‘Kafka follows the truth of his feelings, so his writing is easily compatible with music. Francisco is particularly interested in him, and when we first talked, we agreed that we would like to make a short opera based on short stories less familiar to the public than, say, Metamorphosis. At first we thought we might find just one story, but ultimately we decided to group and reshuffle elements from a number of different stories (a thing Kafka himself already does). I wound up taking sections from over a dozen. In that way we could make a text that would lend itself to performance on stage.’
The opera explores various themes common in Kafka’s writing: the individual’s perilous, changeable relationship with the herd; the interplay between real and surreal; courtship, attraction, rivalry, impulsiveness and the way love can seem like a special instance of all the things that are confusing about being alive; the vertigo and intoxication people feel from trying and failing to understand the world. These elements are picked out in music that is equally vivid and revelatory, creating a sense of heightened sensory perception.
The drama focuses on relations between the sexes. Four of the characters are ordinary people: Girl (soprano – a bit flaky), Woman (mezzo), Man 1 (tenor), and Man 2 (counter-tenor – drinking schnapps and a bit drunk). The fifth, the bass-baritone, appears as the long-dead legendary figure known as The Hunter Gracchus.
Conductor Richard Baker leads Ensemble CHROMA and a talented young cast: Suzanne Shakespeare as Girl, Daniel Norman as Man 1, Anna Dennis as Woman, William Purefoy as Man 2 and AndriBjörnRóbertsson as Man 3/Gracchus/Policeman; whilst Director Annabel Arden and designer Joanna Parker add their own creative voices to the drama.