An Uneasy Slumber - Trauma, Dialogism and David Mitchell's Libretto for 'Wake' (Klaas de Vries, 2010)
Ee, J.H. van
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In May 2010, Nationale Reisopera staged a production of 'Wake', an opera commissioned to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of a series of explosions (the "fireworks disaster") that flattened part of the Dutch city of Enschede in May 2000. Its libretto was written by popular English novelist David Mitchell, at the request of its composer, Klaas de Vries. This study explores a peculiar tension that seems to exist between the opera's text and music. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the novel, it argues that 'Wake' stages a tug-of-war between the novelistic dialogism of Mitchell's text in acts two and three, especially, and the univocal monologism of the musical genres employed by De Vries, particularly in act four. While, musically, the opera ends on a comforting note of closure, a lullaby-esque setting of William Wordsworth's "A slumber did my spirit seal," the remainder of the text and stage designs hint at what has been lost, and what cannot be represented in any other form than a form that has itself been lost: the lives and living environments destroyed in an unspecified disaster. As Astrid Bussink's documentary film 'Mijn Enschede' (2010) shows, the need to find (narrative) forms that will allow a traumatic event to be addressed is complicated by those aspects of trauma that cannot be readily integrated into a narrative framework, and which will continue to impose themselves even if a manageable form has been found. It is this ambivalence that is reflected in the uneasy slumber that ends 'Wake'.