Opera Cycle

Licht, comprised of seven operas (Days), in all thirty hours of music, is a revelation for the mind, ears and eyes. It was composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen in the latter part of his life, between 1977 and 2003.

The original inspiration occurred when the composer was traveling in Japan (indeed the first working title was Hikari, the Japanese word for “light”). The work endeavors to combine the art of sound expression from many different cultures, while also developing a language emerging from a rich and solid nucleus born in the composer’s mind and known as the Superformula.

It extends over a long time-scale and covers the lives and loves, the unions and conflicts of three superhuman beings – Michael, Eve and Lucifer.

Donnerstag aus Licht (1978-1980)
16 soloists, orchestra, choir & electronics
First performance of the production : November 15th, 2018, Opéra Comique, Paris.
Color : Blue | Celestial body : Jupiter | Spiritual features : Love and Wisdom

Samstag aus Licht (1981-1983)
12 soloists, wind orchestra, male choir with organ
First performance of the production : June 28th, 2019, Philharmonie de Paris. Color : Black | Celestial body : Saturn | Spiritual features : Understanding and intelligence

Dienstag aus Licht (1988-1991)
14 soloists, brass ensemble, actors, choir, ‘european orchestra’ & electronics
First performance of the production : October 24th, 2020, Philharmonie de Paris.
Color : Geranium red | Celestial body : Mars | Spiritual features : Idealism and devotion

Montag aus Licht (1984-88)
14 soloists, 7 children soloists, 21 female actors, choir, girls’ choir, children’s choir & ‘modern orchestra’
First performance of the production : Fall 2023.
Color : Green | Celestial body : The Moon | Spiritual features : Ceremony and magic

Freitag aus Licht (1991-1994)
5 soloists, 12 couples of dancers, children’s orchestra, children’s choir, choir, 1 synthesizer & live electronics
First performance of the production : Fall 2022.
Color : Orange | Celestial body : Venus | Spiritual features : Knowledge and Reason

Mittwoch aus Licht (1995-97)
8 soloists, string quartet, choir, chamber orchestra, 1 synthesizer & live electronics
First performance of the production : Fall 2024.
Color : Yellow | Celestial body : Mercury | Spiritual features : Art and Harmony

Sonntag aus Licht (1998-2003)
7 soloists, vocal sextet, one child soloist, choir, orchestra, live electronics.
First performance of the production : Fall 2025.
Color : Gold | Celestial body : The Sun | Spiritual features : Willpower and Strength

Licht, a work for our time, by Maxime Pascal

The cycle Licht was composed over a total of twenty-five years, from 1978 to 2003, and the premiere performances of the last two operas were given posthumously, in 2011 and 2012.  In the current post-modern era we have to consider composers of recent repertoire, and revise our reading of a work as monumental as Licht which, in the composer’s lifetime, was not understood and was subjected to undue ridicule.

For Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), everything in his life converged to produce this quasi-divine cycle.  Original features in works such as Gesang der Jünglinge (1956), Mantra (1970), Inori (1974) and Harlekin (1975) were then brought together in a coherent whole expressing the ambitions of a creative mind that had achieved maturity in his musical and philosophical thought.  While Licht had roots in an older form of music, it was clearly aspiring to the future of the art.

The purpose of expression for Stockhausen is in the combination of writing space and time.  He revealed a new dramatic art played by instruments, extending the initiative of Berlioz and Strauss.  The “superformula” comprising the DNA of the twenty-nine hours of music is presented by Stockhausen as a new system of music built on thought and meaning which he assigns to different rhythms, intervals, tempi and dynamics.

Ever since Le Balcon was founded, the musicians have been intensely interested in this work, so it was only logical to entertain the prospect of performing the complete cycle.  The score of Licht includes elements that were impossible to produce at the time it was written, and entails a learning process presenting us with both a fascinating challenge and a duty to be artistically and technically inventive.

The complete performance as planned tells the tale of this learning process.

LE BALCON • Maxime Pascal, artistic director

Licht, a cycle of seven operas | by Laurent Feneyrou, Musicologist  (STMS / Ircam / Sorbonne Université)

Licht, the cycle of the days of the week, is a ritual in its own right, both masterly and symbolic, transcending religion, forming an apparently ingenuous, but scrupulously ordered ceremony of sounds, words, movements, colors and objects, continuing until illumination is achieved.

In the beginning is a melody, a “formula” composed in 1977 and developed further the following year;  it rules over the entire cycle which Stockhausen continued to compose until 2003:  twenty-five years expressed together, encompassing a life fervently devoted to creation that gradually developed through a spiral movement.  Each note, starting from the original tune, was extended and expanded through prolific inventiveness, becoming music, while also reaching a cosmological scale.  Following the great theories and theoreticians of ancient times, original creative work is a matter of building or rebuilding the order of the universe, doing so through a mystical concept of numbers and sounds, forming the harmony of the world, and reflecting the perfect proportions of that world.

The cycle is constructed around three immortal principles, three personifications of spirits, three forces expressed by the trumpet, the clarinet and the trombone, by the tenor, the soprano and the bass, and even by dancers (sometimes on stilts).  Whether soloists or ensembles, instruments, voices or choreography, everything here is an emanation.  Michael is the dragon-slaying archangel, also portrayed as Mithra in Indo-Iranian mythology, Thot in Egypt, Hermes in Greece, and Thor and Donar in Norse mythology, not to mention Siegfried, all reigning over a galaxy revolving around a central fire.  Eve, the intermediary, ranges from the cosmic Mother to the seductress, from the Sumerian Inanna to Mary the mother of Christ, and also including Aphrodite, Venus and Lilith.  Lucifer, the proud idealist, is the fallen one, the power of opposite forces that do not come together, rejecting the human illusion of time and determined to abolish it, for immortality should be inherent in each and every one of us.  The week thus follows an order, starting with Monday as Eve’s day, Tuesday for the conflict between Michael and Lucifer, Wednesday for harmony, Thursday as Michael’s day, Friday as the day Eve is tempted by Lucifer, Saturday as Lucifer’s day, the day of Saturn, of the tomb and the dance of the dead, then Sunday seals the Mystical Union between Eve and Michael.

Stockhausen often said, “I am he who listens.”  Stockhausen was the man who listened to light.

An educational project

CHILDREN. The operas in the cycle Licht all deal with major issues that are universal in scope: life and death, war and peace, spiritual belief, art, and even humor. All the subjects can be approached in different ways, for any age group, with dialogue between performers and students and through a purely musical dimension of time where the senses can embrace the experience of the concert. In contrast with the techniques of classical opera, Karlheinz Stockhausen chose to give the main roles to instrumentalists and dancers as well as singers. Here are stories told in music and movement, with no formally written narrative or lyrics. Depending on the age of the audience, the language will produce a wide range of reactions, from amusement to astonishment or sometimes, for older members of the audience, a certain degree of skepticism.
We have performed excerpts from the operas Donnerstag and Samstag for all school audiences, from kindergarten through to primary, junior high and senior high, including students who have studied music and others with no formal knowledge of music, children from different backgrounds and socio-economic circumstances, and even junior high school students who had only just arrived in France and did not speak French. All of them were interested, moved, and stimulated by the experience, and the discussions in class raised many questions that were always interesting.
The soloists played the music from memory, and could move freely without being tied to a score or music stand, moving amongst themselves and through the audience, thus creating immediate, direct contact. There is no need for a special venue, and a concert performance can be given anywhere, for example in a field, a classroom or an auditorium. The educational approach should extend over a number of months, or even a full school year so that the students can learn different elements of language, adopting and adapting them to improvise their own music. In the more traditional setting of a school concert, a pre-concert talk can be held, plus the opportunity to meet the musicians after the concert, offering both an educational approach and an experience to awaken the senses and musical sensibility.
For secondary school students, the concert may also be an opportunity for expressing ideas on art, history or philosophy as based on the subjects featured in the cycle of seven operas.

STUDENTS. Our approach always involves young tertiary students (aged between 15 and 23) who are studying to become professional musicians with a career in opera orchestras and choirs. We had sixty singers from the “Jeune Chœur de Paris” for Donnerstag aus Licht, and forty instrumentalists from the “Conservatoire à rayonnement régional” (CRR, Paris). For Samstag aus Licht, a total of sixty wind players performed in Scene III. For Dienstag, we intend to have the “Jeune Chœur de Paris” performing again, as well as students from the Paris Conservatoire (CNSM).

AMATEURS. While Stockhausen’s music is notoriously difficult to play, certain parts can be performed by amateur musicians. We were therefore able to include an amateur orchestra, the “Orchestre Impromptu” (with Maxime Pascal who has been artistic director since 2008), to play ‘Gruss’ (Greeting) in Donnerstag aus Licht. When the same production was performed at the Southbank Centre in London, it was with the New London Chamber Choir, amateur singers of outstanding quality, for Scene III.

Full opera productions 

Donnerstag aus Licht
• April 3, 1981, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy. Musical direction: Karlheinz Stockhausen. Conductor: Peter Eötvös. Stage director: Luca Ronconi.
• September 16, 1985, Covent Garden, Londres, Royaume-Uni (Karlheinz Stockhausen/Peter Eötvös/Michael Bogdanov).
• June 25, 2016, Theater Basel, Switzerland. (Titus Engel/Lydia Steier)
• November 15, 2018, Opéra Comique, Paris, France (Maxime Pascal/Benjamin Lazar).

Samstag aus Licht
• May 25, 1984, Palazzo dello sport, Milan, Italy (Teatro alla Scala). (Karlheinz Stockhausen/Luca Ronconi).
• June 28, 2019, Philharmonie de Paris, France (Maxime Pascal/Damien Bigourdan and Nieto).

Montag aus Licht
• May 7, 1988, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italie. (Karlheinz Stockhausen/Peter Eötvös/Michael Bogdanov).
• September 23, 1988, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, France. (Karlheinz Stockhausen/Peter Eötvös/Graham Vick)

Dienstag aus Licht
• May 28, 1993, Leipzig Opera, Germany.
(Karlheinz Stockhausen/Uwe Wand, Henryk Tomaszewski, Johannes Conen).
• October 24, 2020, Philharmonie de Paris (Maxime Pascal/Damien Bigourdan & Nieto).

Freitag aus Licht
• September 20, 1996, Leipzig Opera, Germany (Karlheinz Stockhausen/Uwe Wand, Johannes Conen).
• November 5, 7 and 8, 2022, Lille Opera and November 14, 2022, Philharmonie de Paris, France (Maxime Pascal/Silvia Costa)

Mittwoch aus Licht
• August 22, 2012, The Argyle Works, Birmingham, Royaume-Uni ; production Birmingham Opera Company, The Cultural Olympiad). (Kathinka Pasveer/Graham Vick).

Sonntag aus Licht
• April 9 and 10, 2011, Köln Oper, Allemagne. (Kathinka Pasveer, Peter Rundel/Carlus Padrissa).