Donnerstag aus Licht

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Donnerstag aus Licht

Opera in a greeting, three acts and a farewell (1978-80). 

When, in 1977, Stockhausen set about writing a cycle of operas for the days of the week, it was with the Thursday instalment he began, probably because this would be devoted to the whole endeavour’s hero, Michael.

Premiere of Le Balcon’s version was in November 2018, at Opéra-Comique, Paris. It was then presented in London, the 21st and 22nd of May, 2019, at the Royal Festival Hall (Southbank Centre). 

Team : 16 soloists, orchestra, choir & electronics
Color : blue | Celestial body : Jupiter | Spiritual features : love and wisdom

Donnerstags Gruss | Thursday’s Greeting – 12 minutes

In the foyer of the theater, the audience is greeted by a chamber ensemble playing Michael’s formula, a melody expressing the depths of the identity of the main character in Donnerstag aus Licht.

Act I : Michaels Jugend | Michael’s Youth – 1h

Michael, a child born into a modest family, has displayed an outstanding gift for music.  From his mother Eve, he has learned to sing and joke, and when she adopts the role of a female dancer, he has also learned how to dance and succumb to charm.  From his father, Luzimon, a school teacher, he has learned how to pray, hunt and act.  But there is great tension in the family.  His mother, who suffers from depression, has attempted suicide and been admitted to an asylum where she is maltreated.  Herman, Michael’s brother, dies in the arms of his father who turns to drink, and then goes off to war.

Enter Mondeva, born in the stars, half-woman, half-bird, playing the basset-horn.  Michael falls in love with her.  While he is discovering her music through their erotic interplay, his mother is killed, an act of euthanasia, and then his father is killed in battle.  Mondeva, after seeing the most beautiful child in the human race, disappears in her spacecraft.

To enter the Conservatorium, Michael has three examinations requiring him to recount the tale of his childhood to the jury by singing, playing the trumpet, and dancing.  The jury is delighted and immediately proclaims that he has passed and is accepted.

Act II : Michaels reise um die erde | Michael’s Journey Around The Earth – 50 minutes

This is a journey of instrumental music.  Michael’s instrument is the trumpet, and the orchestra is the world.  The musicians are seen as penguins seated on the globe of the world.  Michael performs his formula as a farewell, then steps inside the globe which begins to rotate.  His journey covers seven destinations:  Cologne, New York, Japan, Bali, India, Central Africa and Jerusalem, with Michael appearing at each of the seven points to converse with the musicians.  At the sixth point in his journey, Michael hears a basset-horn calling, commanding him to turn back.  The call is heard again.  Eve (previously personified as Mondeva) appears before him.  Two clowns laugh at them, then step into the globe where they play the clarinet and are attacked by the trombones.  Notes delicately held by Michael and Eve can be heard.  As Michael and Eve come closer, their plaintive melody fills the space.  In the shadows, they come together in a trill which then fades.

Act III : Michaels Heimkehr | Michael’s Return – 1h20 minutes

Michael returns to his celestial home.  Eve has planned a festival to celebrate his return.  Together with five choirs, five orchestral groups and a string ensemble, Eve sings a song of praise as Michael arrives, and presents him with celestial gifts.  Lucifer breaks in and stops the festivities, mocking Michael and his naive sentimentality, then disappears, scowling.  Michael is now alone, and in his three-part identity affectionately recalls episodes from his life on earth.  He confesses that he has fallen in love with human beings, despite Lucifer, despite Satan, despite everything, then waves to the audience, marking the end of Donnerstag aus Licht.

Donnerstags-Abschied | Thursday Farewell – between 11 and 30 minutes

As the audience leaves, five trumpet players perform excerpts from Michael’s formula;  the musicians are scattered and concealed in nearby streets, on a roof or at a window.  The musical farewell to the audience is also the character himself bidding them farewell, surrounding us with his different sounds while remaining invisible.


by Maxime Pascal
Le Balcon, artistic director

Stockhausen deeply changed the relationship between space, time and music; he imagined a theatre of the future, combining electronics with the metamorphosis of the space and the circulation of sound in the concert hall to explore questions of acoustic properties that much newer forms of technology are still probing today. His musical expressiveness flowed directly from his perception of space and time, and embraced a human, intimate dimension as well.

Stockhausen was convinced that music transforms humans, saying «that which absorbs music, becomes the music». His music demands that you listen; it requires active engagement so the noises can resonate inside you. The rewards are immeasurable; his music has been a seminal influence on my musical life, and on Le Balcon, the new music company that I co-founded in Paris a decade ago in pursuit of a « total art », which embraces Stockhausen’s artistic vision.

Licht was composed over a 26-year period from 1977, with each opera named after a day of the week and represented by a different colour and planet. Licht is unparalleled, no-holds-barred music and spectacle of breathtaking vision and ambition – famously, a quartet for four helicopters played from the sky features as part of another of the Licht operas, Mittwoch.

Stockhausen’s ambition is huge: in his approach there is a will to go beyond all the traditional limits of the operatic world and also a profound desire to change the way the spectator listens to the world. In a world soaked in mass culture, the idea of «total art» ought to be diverting, like it was in the last century, yet it remains unquestionably difficult to fully grasp Stockhausen; the true nature of his mysticism should be seen in the context of his entire output.

I believe that our society is beginning to reshape, so that social hierarchy becomes less important than a desire to create a horizontal ‘common ground’ between humans. It’s a reshaping that perhaps permits us to better understand what Stockhausen was setting out to explore in his operas. The 20th century opened with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the 21st century with Stockhausen’s Licht, music made for our ears.

Le Balcon

Musical direction: Maxime Pascal
Staging: Benjamin Lazar
Set design & costumes: Adeline Caron
Lighting design: Christophe Naillet & Sébastien Böhm
Video designer: Yann Chapotel
Computer Music Designer: Augustin Muller
Sound Projection: Florent Derex
Preparation of the singers: Alain Muller
Choir Master: Richard Wilberforce
Transmission of the dancing parts: Emmanuelle Grach
Artistic collaboration: Alphonse Cemin

Michael, tenor: Damien Bigourdan or Hubert Mayer (act I), Safir Behloul (act II)
Michael, trumpet: Henri Deléger
Michael, dancer: Emmanuelle Grach
Eve, soprano: Léa Trommenschlager (act I), Elise Chauvin (act II)
Eve, bassethorn: Iris Zerdoud
Eve, dancer: Suzanne Meyer
Lucifer, bass, Damien Pass
Lucifer, trombone, Mathieu Adam
Lucifer, dancer: Jamil Attar
Accompanying Michael (piano): Alphonse Cemin
Pair of swallows, clarinets: Alice Caubit & Ghislain Roffat
Two angels, saxophones: Darius Moglia & Eléonore Brundell
Old Lady: Bernadette Le Saché
The Messenger: Antoine Amariutei (student)
Michael as a child, acting: Ilion Thierrée 

Orchestra : Le Balcon

Choir, Le Jeune chœur de Paris
Orchestra, Act III: Orchestre à cordes du Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris
Orchestra of the “Michels-Ruf”: Orchestre Impromptu
Production: Opéra Comique, Le Balcon
Coproduction: Opéra National de Bordeaux
Revival: Southbank Centre, London

Publisher: Stockhausen Verlag


Thursday’s Greeting

11mn – Foyer

Chamber orchestra (brass, piano, percussions).

Act I – Michael’s Youth 


1 soprano
1 tenor
1 bass singer
3 dancers
1 solo trumpet
1 solo bassethorn
1 solo trombone
1 piano


Act II – Michael’s Journey Around the Earth

1 solo trumpet
1 solo bassethorn
2 solo clarinets
1 solo trombone
1 solo tuba
1 solo flute
1 orchestra (27 musicians)


Act III : Michael’s Return

1 soprano
1 tenor
1 bass singer
1 solo trumpet
1 solo bassethorn
1 solo trombone (tapdancing)
2 solo saxophones (2 angels)
3 dancers 

1 choir (50-60 singers)
1 orchestra (60 musicians)
1 actress (‘The Old Lady’)

DR Meng Phu.

Act I : Kindheit – répétition
Suzanne Meyer
Mise en place de l’acte III (Festival).
Act I : Kindheit
La MÈRE (Léa Trommenschlager)
Act I : Kindheit
Le PÈRE (Damien Pass)
Act I : Mondeva
PÈRE (Damien Pass, Mathieu Adam, Jamil Attar).
Act I : Mondeva
Michael ténor (Damien Bigourdan), Mondeva (Iris Zerdoud), le PÈRE (Damien Pass)
Act I : Mondeva
Mondeva (Iris Zerdoud), Michael ténor (Damien Bigourdan)
Act I : Examen
Michael ténor (Damien Bigourdan)
Act I : Examen
Michael trompettiste (Henri Deléger)
Act I : Examen
Michael danseur (Emmanuelle Grach)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Michael (Henri Deléger)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Maxime Pascal (direction), Ghislain Roffat et Alice Caubit (clarinettes)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Michael (Henri Deléger) et Eva (Iris Zerdoud)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Alice Caubit, Ghislain Roffat (anges clarinettistes)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Mathieu Adam (trombone), Alice Caubit (clarinette), Ghislain Roffat (clarinette), Maxime Morel (tuba)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Eva (Iris Zerdoud), Michael (Henri Deléger)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Benoit Coutris (trombone), Alice Caubit (clarinette).
Act II : Eva danseuse (Suzanne Meyer)
Act II : Michaels Reise
Maxime Morel (tuba), Henri Deléger (trompette).
Act III : Festival
Entrée du chœur céleste
Act III : Festival
Act III : Festival
Act III : Festival
Act III : Festival
Act III : Festival
Jamil Attar

Act III : Vision
Emmanuelle Grach (dance), Safir Behloul (tenor), Henri Deléger (trumpet).

Act III – Vision Emmanuelle Grach (danse), Henri Deléger (trompette), Safir Behloul (ténor).

Press reviews (Opéra Comique, Paris / Southbank Centre, London) : 

German libretto

French libretto