Kerstin Avemo’s tour de force in Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire in Gothenborg

SwedenSweden Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire: Kerstin Avemo, musicians from Gothenburg Opera. Gothenburg Opera small stage, 25.9.2021. (NS)

Kerstin Avemo as Pierrot (c) Lennart Sjöberg

Idea, concept and direction – Kerstin Avemo
Musical direction – Karin Holm
Direction and Choreography – Annika Lindqvist
Lighting design – Niklas Elvengren

Cast and instrumentalists:
Pierrot – Kerstin Avemo

Piano – Karin Holm
Violin – Øyvor Volle
Flute – Sabine Daniels
Clarinet – Kate McDermott
Cello – Hampus Linderholm

One of few silver linings in the last 18 months’ purgatory for live culture has been the explosion in streamed performances. Not only has this allowed new audiences as well as old ones to enjoy live performances of many genres, but it has often inspired new thinking from established institutions such as opera houses. One example may be Gothenburg Opera producing a recital of Schoenberg’s ‘Cabaret Songs’ (Brettl-Lieder) with Kerstin Avemo accompanied by Rut Pergament, which was streamed on in April 2021.

Avemo then conceived the project of performing the same composer’s Pierrot lunaire, which was performed twice (on 25 and 26 September) to a small live audience at the Gothenburg Opera small stage. Based on poems by Albert Giraud, translated to German by Otto Erich Hartleben and performed in the original language with Swedish surtitles (translation by Ilmar Laaban). This production was a Gesamtkunstverk in miniature. Avemo performed within a square marked on the floor, with the five musicians in a semicircle around her. Everyone was dressed in black and white, colours that also dominated Niklas Elvengren’s imaginative lighting. The only exception was little accents of red, such as the heart painted on Pierrot’s chest.

Kerstin Avemo’s Sprechstimme was incredibly versatile and expressive, as was her acting. She moved with balletic grace and precision. The combination was simply mesmerising. The instrumentalists all mastered the often-intricate score and could be as expressive as Pierrot when the composer called for it. While each part had its impact I felt that the third part (texts around the theme of homecoming and remembering the past) was particularly moving. Avemo describes this part in the programme note as ‘a declaration of love to Art and its origins’. The ending with ‘O alter Duft aus Märchenzeit’ was magical.

My last abiding impression from this extraordinary work is how it demands absolute teamwork from all the performers, even more so than most classical music. As Karin Holm comments in her programme note ‘In many texts on the origins of the work it is mentioned that the premiere was preceded by 40 rehearsals. The writers probably think that sounds like a lot of rehearsal time. It is not.’ However many rehearsals this team needed, it is clear to me that they brilliantly met the demands of this work. The rest of the audience evidently felt the same – during the performance they were spellbound and afterwards the applause was heartfelt.

Niklas Smith

Leave a Comment