Songs of Exile and No Return

Bernhard Gander (*1969) / Serhij Zhadan (*1974)

20:00 - 21:40
€ 20,00 / concs.* € 10,00
Free choice of seats / Part of this staging is that the audience watches the performance from different perspectives and on different seating options. There are seats on the grandstand with and without backrests and beanbags placed at ground level.
Information about the work

Musical theatre by Bernhard Gander (*1969)
Libretto by Serhiy Zhadan (*1974)

Premiere in the Tischlerei of the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 21 May 2022

recommended from 14 years

100 minutes / no interval

In German with German and English surtitles

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Co-production of the Munich Biennale with the Deutsche Oper Berlin; Commissioned by the Munich Biennale and Ensemble Modern

20:00 - 21:40
€ 20,00 / concs.* € 10,00
Free choice of seats / Part of this staging is that the audience watches the performance from different perspectives and on different seating options. There are seats on the grandstand with and without backrests and beanbags placed at ground level.
the content

Can you hear the voices of those unable to burst across the border?
Voices of the insulted and the disaffected?
The angry voices of those still ensnared,
those who were just a few yards from their coveted salvation?

How are you supposed to sleep with these voices in your skull?
How are you supposed to watch the day break knowing
that beyond the horizon remain those who couldn’t
break through with the sun?

Eastern Europe is akin to purgatory.
A large mountain pass where whole crews freeze.
A train station where you can’t go anywhere.
A market where you can buy joy.
(From the libretto by the Urkain writer Serhij Zhadan)

Borders are lines that chart human fear. A person who steps over a border is entering an area on the margins, a transit zone, where there is no going back and no chance of a fresh start. In one such sector two men await their deportation in a detention cell. Both men will be tried in court on arrival in their homeland. On the day of their deportation they realise that it makes no difference whether they are heading to a foreign country or back to the land of their birth: no one is expecting them anyway.

In his libretto for the world premiere of SONGS OF EXILE AND NO RETURN Serhiy Zhadan sketches in vivid language the dramatic effect on the human individual of war, displacement and flight. With the existential challenges posed by Russian-Ukrainian relations as his point of departure, Zhadan uses a blend of choral passages and short dialogues depicting everyday situations to present fictional experiences of flight and forced migration. In this fourth collaboration between the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Munich Biennale Austrian composer Bernhard Gander has set Serhiy Zhadan’s text to music and worked with director Alize Zandwijk and soloists of the Ensemble Modern and Deutsche Oper Berlin to produce an original work of musical theatre.

Serhiy Zhadan, born in 1974 in the province of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, studied German, wrote his doctoral thesis on Ukrainian futurism and since 1991 has been an influential figure amongst the younger generation in Kharkiv. He is one of the most prominent voices in modern Ukrainian literature. War and dissolution are common themes in a body of work encompassing novels, short stories and over a dozen volumes of poetry. He has portrayed, in moving and haunting images, life in eastern Ukraine and never ceased to remind people that war has been a bitter reality for the Donbas population since 2014. His latest novel, “Internat”, presents war in a series of dense, atmospheric scenes, depicting armed conflict as something that is devoid of useful meaning and yet, precisely for that reason, transforms people’s lives dramatically. In 2014 he was awarded the Jan Michalski literature prize and the Brücke Berlin prize (jointly with Juri Durkot and Sabine Stöhr) for his “The Invention of Jazz in Donbas”, which was voted »Book of the Year« by the BBC. Zhadan lives in Kharkiv and publishes with SUHRKAMP. The libretto, penned by the poet and novelist for the Munich Biennale and the Deutsche Oper Berlin, marks his debut as a writer for the stage. He is also a member of the band Sobaki v kosmosi (Dogs in Space) and has sung at concerts given for soldiers in Ukraine’s disputed territory.

Bernhard Gander has made his name as a composer of New Music and writes music that straddles genres and defies categorisation. He combines New Music and heavy metal on a number of levels – formal, auditory, gestural and energetic – to create hugely expressive works of great plasticity. Gander’s material has been performed at a wide variety of venues and events that include the Wiener Konzerthaus, the Wiener Festwochen, the steirischer herbst Festival, the Klangspuren Festival, Transart Bozen, the Donaueschinger Musiktage, Wien modern, Musica Strasbourg, the Wittener Tage for New Chamber Music and the Munich Biennale. He won the City of Vienna’s 2004 Music Composition Grant, the 2005 Erste Bank prize for composition, the 2009 SKE Publicity Prize and a state grant for composition. Bernhard Gander was awarded the Ernst Křenek prize for melting pot, a piece which had its world premiere at the 2012 Wiener Festwochen.

From 1998 onwards stage director Alize Zandwijk was joint art director with Guy Cassiers of the Ro Theater in Rotterdam. On a regular basis since 2003 she has presented works at German venues that include the Thalia Theater and the Deutsches Theater Berlin. In the 2012/13 season she made her debut at the Theater Bremen with Dea Loher’s “Das Leben auf der Praça Roosevelt”. Since then, she has staged works such as Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” and Arne Sierens’s “Girls and Boys”. As of the 2016/17 season she has been Principal Director of Drama at the Theater Bremen, where her credits include Hauptmann’s “The Rats”, Brecht’s “The Good Person of Szechwan”, genre-mixing evenings of dance (“Golden Heart” and “Amour”), Tom Lanoye’s “Gaz – Plaidoyer d’une mère damnée”, Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” and “Mothers – Stories of Bremen women from around the world”.


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