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Spasmodic enchantment

Missing Presence
- Purcell Picnolepsy -

Csaba Kutszegi / Theatre, journal for drama critique and theory

(...) Purcell Picnolepsy is a highly sensitive artistic reflection of new age tendencies. I believe it may be a true masterpiece of our age.

(...) The genre of Purcell Picnolepsy was defined by its author as a contemporary opera. Contemporary operas are verbal. Yet author Ágens has crossed the Rubicon: in the opera she wrote there is not a single well-articulated word, and no automated translation device would ever be able to identify a single intelligible word - in any language.

An esoteric stage design, Purcell's music, the monotonous intonation of incomprehensible vocal effects, which influence by way of their intensity the rotation speed of the giant windmill's propellers - all this suggests that Purcell Picnolepsy is difficult to interpret and even more difficult to enjoy. However, the surprise of the show is that every second of it is fascinating. The stage presence and the special singing technique of Ágens and Viktória Kiss results in an inspiring, overwhelming performance. The spectator is bedazzled: he both follows and participates in a dramatic plot, that doesn't have a tangible existence, in the sense that it is totally lacking action of any description. The same is true for the 'text': the singing technique based on a total lack of articulate words seems nevertheless comprehensible, or, put it another way, its incomprehensibility is not remarkable, not disturbing. The internal tension of the work is sustained by tense contradictions: the scene reminiscent of a virtual medium with a missing presence (nevertheless) incorporates people interpreting passionate characters in action with highly charged emotions, while the text with an absent meaning functions as an interpretable system of communicating signs.

(...) It is not by chance that Ágens 'placed' into Purcell's music the 'arias' she wrote. The sound of Baroque music and its ideological whirling towards heaven creates a background that is adequate in every respect for the vocal sounds 'rising to the spheres' as composed by Ágens. The proportionate answering of live music and Purcell's movements heard on playback is fortunate, Xénia Stollár's interpretation on viola da gamba and Ádám Jávorka's on viola is excellent. The idea of whirling to heaven is reinforced by the stage design, set design, and the projected video made by József Tasnádi. There are two step-ladders hanging above the stage, turning in front of the projected image of the already mentioned modern wind turbines, with the projected image of the step-ladders also appearing later on, mounted on the image of the whirling, infinite ocean. The ladder symbolizes the upward strive, the desire to reach transcendent eternity. (...) The choreography of Krisztián Gergye builds on the movement elements of ancient Javan dance, is highly elaborate, sensitive, perfected to a high level, and fits into the concept of the performance self-evidently. Its illustrative, accompanying character and the restrictiveness stemming from this effect highlight the 'opera-like' character of the theatre piece, while its set of movements - with its clear elements of form, without any need for explanation - recalls atavistic layers of consciousness.

The intensive acting of the two singers, accompanied by everyday gestures, maintains the tension all through, and serves as a secure base for the enjoyment and the interpretation of the performance. The phenomenon is exciting because the question arises: what do the singer-actors actually experience? If I were to make a guess, I would venture to say that it is exactly that incredible longing of the human being for harmony and unity. What distinguishes Purcell Picnolepsy from the average postmodern theater piece is that the creator-artists in it have undertaken the presentation of the suffering of the human being thrust into existence figured with an almost romantic set of means. The ambience of the scene has a postmodern character. The language of communication is based on units of voices and images simplified to the limit of interpretability, while human suffering and desire are expressed in an everyday metacommunicative language understandable to all. Micro- and macrocosm can be seen simultaneously in Purcell Picnolepsy. Above (in the projection): the endless whirling, the clash of the elements, the glowing magma, the flowing lava, the icy glaciers, the snow-fields, the negative and the positive image of the solar eclipse (at other times children's heads); while below: the benevolent human being. (...)