A small town is mired in lethargy. Functions of daily life have become unpredictable and the future holds little hope. But the arrival of a mysterious circus with bizarre figures promises distraction. The main attraction is a duke with three eyes. But it’s not about entertainment: He intends to destroy the people of the city...

The libretto by Guillaume Métayer is based on the eponymous 1989 novel by the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, who, as the narrator of the apocalypse, created a black parable about the contemporary situation in Eastern Europe. The French composer Marc-André Dalbavie is considered a representative of spectral music. His works shape the process of opening up contemporary music to different musical expressions. The importance of timbre, as well as the sensory experience at the heart of all his work, is also a characteristic feature of this piece. Hungarian director David Marton has developed a film opera for the premiere, in which the lines between reality and fiction blur.




A remote small town somewhere in Europe is dominated by strange circumstances. Overfilled trains disappear into nothingness, the roots of toppled poplars tower high in the sky, garbage lies strewn across the sidewalks, covered in darkness. After a revealing encounter on the train, Rosi Pflaum, a widowed housewife, is afraid for herself and for the town. She anxiously seeks shelter in her apartment, where the kitschy interior becomes a place of retreat. For the duration of an operetta, the unpredictable outside world is briefly forgotten.

Georges Esther, who has resigned from his post as school music director to dedicate himself exclusively to his research on the piano, has also created a refuge for himself. Obsessed with the idea that, ever since the rise of the concept and practice of equal temperament, European music history has been false, he tunes his piano back to “real” tuning and tries to use it to restore his vision of order to the world in sound.

He has tossed out his still wife Angèle Esther, thus offending her. Madame Esther, the former conductor of a male chorus, is a woman of action. With her clean-up program “A swept hall, order above all”, she seeks to return proper order to the town. But she knows that she requires her husband’s reputation in order to convince people of her plan. She extorts him, threatening to return to their shared apartment. Her plan works: Monsieur Esther joins in the action against his will and hopes in exchange to be rid of his wife once and for all.

The link that binds the separated couple is Madame Pflaum’s son Valouchka. He is the city’s mailman and each day brings Monsieur Esther his food and his mail and picks up the dirty laundry that his wife continues to wash. The eccentric who has remained child-like is fascinated by the reclusive scholar. For Monsieur Esther, in turn, Valouchka is not only his sole contact with the outer world, but an ideal worthy to strive for in his naiveté and marvel at the beauty of the universe.

For Valouchka, who has a tense relationship to his mother, the bar “Le Péfeffer”is a home away from home. Each evening, just before the bar closes, the drinkers urge him to play out the solar eclipse in order to keep the night going. To demonstrate this natural spectacle, Valouchka arranges three guests in the space of the bar as sun, moon, and earth, allowing them to revolve until the moon inserts itself between sun and earth and all darkens. Valouchka’s demonstration becomes a figurative premonition of the darkness that will fall over the small town.

With the arrival of a mysterious group of circus performers, a dark, uncontrollable energy is released. A huge whale and a tiny duke are the circus’ main attractions. While the majestic size of the whale is marveled at by the residents of the city, the duke himself does not appear. Only his voice his translated by a factotum. What he has to say is devastating: he has come to pass judgement, and he is not alone. His mysterious appearance exudes an eerie fascination for the people of the town. They join forces with him and, together with his followers, the men in heavy coats, a rebellious movement that seeks to topple the existing system. Chaos breaks out, the city is attacked and demolished. What was long in the making now takes place: the world has fallen apart. And Valouchka is a witness.

Madame Esther takes advantage of the chaos for her own purposes. She abolishes the police, overrules the citizens and allies herself with the military. Valouchka’s attempt to warn his mother about the rioters fails. Madame Pflaum doesn’t believe the situation is as serious as it is, makes accusations against her son and is then forced to watch how he is taken off by men in heavy coats. Paying no attention to who he is, Valouchka becomes part of the movement and for the first time in his life feels a sense of belonging, despite a concern for his mother and Monsieur Esther.

Madame Pflaum and Monsieur Esther both go in search of the boy. But Rosi Pflaum falls victim to the violent takeover. At her coffin, Madame Esther will later cynically call her a “hero” who carried out resistance. Madame Esther finally leaves with the general, her head held high.

Monsieur Esther’s search for Valouchka also remains unsuccessful. At the end, he returns to his piano: Valouchka can flee.

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