Kafka Fragments
György Kurtág

Royal Opera House
Linbury Theatre
Soprano Claire Booth
Violin Peter Manning
Director/designer/video design Netia Jones



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Times * * * * *

Not really opera, scarcely music-theatre, yet more than a song cycle: the video artist and director Netia Jones's staging of György Kurtág's Kafka Fragments is a small miracle of perfection, and I hope that eventually it will travel farther than the space at the Royal Opera House where it was engendered...The black-and-white video projections are as exquisitely crafted as the words and music...There is no journey, no goal, no resolution here. But we, the bystanders, are irresistibly drawn into these "dances of time"; and their restlessness, their dreams and their darkness become one with ours.

Independent * * * *

Kurtag's work for soprano and solo violin weaves together scraps from Kafka's letters and diaries, and the resulting cycle of forty songs - ranging in length from four minutes to twelve seconds - runs the gamut of all the moods in Kafka's monochrome world...But that's just the words and music: when your director is a video artist as resourceful and inventive as Netia Jones, and when your soprano has the charisma and versatility of Claire Booth, you get a very heady brew. Jones believes that although this work has no 'story' it does have a structure, and she has realised this with compelling force, presiding with her laptop at one side of the stage while violinist Peter Manning conjures microcosms at the other, with Booth hurling herself around the space between in bursts of mime and dance...That space may be 'empty', but it's filled with the most intense drama as Jones's light-show interacts with voice, body, and violin. Sometimes Booth seems to be floating in a sea of flowing calligraphy, sometimes she's wrapped in delicately rustling foliage, or pinioned by hard shafts of light; she's by turns comic or tragic, hero or victim, as directed by Kurtag-Kafka whim.

Financial Times * * * *

What is Kafka Fragments supposed to mean? The brief sentences from Kafka offer no narrative, no personality that can be pinned down, and Kurtág's music rarely lingers long enough for the listener to grasp its meaning before the sounds evaporate into the air. This is a song cycle that demands a concentrated audience, as its series of intense, unrelated images flashes past...Perhaps that is why Netia Jones, director of the mixed-media partnership Lightmap, wanted to visualise the work in terms of light and image projections. The stage is basically in darkness, and for each song, projections take us into a shadowy world, everything in black and white, with abstract images that show the singer behind the bars of a prison, in a vertical shaft of light (buried in a hole?) or a low horizontal beam (a tunnel to freedom?). The staging homes in powerfully on the work's sense of alienation, portraying the woman cut off from the world, nervously alone with her thoughts and feelings.

Guardian * * * *

Aware that the work itself has no narrative, Jones refuses to stage it as a monologue, and separates the songs, some of which last no more than a few seconds, with blackouts... Her video projections, streaming in grainy black, white and grey across the Linbury walls, are often disarmingly literal. So, when Booth sings of flowers, cities and prison bars we see them looming above her. Not everyone will be convinced that the work needs staging. But this is a fine achievement, mesmerising and unnerving in equal measure.