”There won’t be much talk of blood here.
You can find that on TV, in movies, or in the newspaper.”
Heinrich Böll, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1974*
In the spring of 2013, Kaija Saariaho invited Sofi Oksanen and me to dinner. She had received a contact from the Royal Opera House about possibly writing an opera inspired by the contemporary world and was excited by the idea of composing her first work for the stage that would have numerous characters, languages, and perspectives on the same event. Kaija called the project Fresco. For this, she needed a virtuoso storyteller who could approach the diversity of our world through carefully crafted characters, i.e. Sofi. A dramaturge and translator familiar with opera was also needed because Sofi would be writing her first opera libretto, and she would do so in Finnish, whereas the final work would be multilingual. This was how I ended up as a dramaturge-translator at this first dinner trying to find an answer to Sofi’s question: what subject has not yet been dealt with in the opera?
Of course, this question was about more than the allure of novelty. Operas have been written about the full range of human experience: love, jealousy, ambition, gods, tyrants, murderers, rapists, slaves, rebels. To what contemporary phenomenon could we apply the tools of opera to expand our understanding about the ways human beings cause and feel pain, and survive?