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Interview | "Holiday in Paradise, with Hell next to it"

Bernardo Mariano | Diario de Noticias, 19.10.16

What has the work of Hieronymus Bosch in common with three European sunbathers in a Mediterranean resort? At first glance, nothing, but our perception may change if we locate the action: the island of Lampedusa. It was from these contrasting premises that Vasco Mendonça´s opera BOSCH BEACH  was born (...)

"The commission from Bosch Foundation proposed a reflection on the painter's work, and we were immediately interested in the themes of guilt and atonement. When, after  a while, the pictures of Lampedusa surfaced, this shocking confluence of such radically different universes seemed the ideal setting (...)" Faced with a libretto "in episodes or vignettes, without a narrative or chronological thread, written in a biting, sarcastic, even blunt register(...)," VM decided to "create a structure in separate numbers, related to opera archetypes, thus mirroring the shape-mosaic of the libretto. "

But then he took advantage "music´s fantastic capacity to go beyond the text, which can ultimately suggest the the opposite of what´s in the words. He thus forged "a route that is often not paralell to the text", a kind of "snake". In his opinion, "constant sarcasm and vitriol are a trapdoor, become superficial and merely for effect"," because, he argues, "one should not be afraid of sincerity or lyricism". And with these "weapons",  "mechanisms that,  through the  type of vocal writing and harmonic treatment, are hopefully able to create empathy between us, audience, and the characters, which we would otherwise dismiss as monstrous". To create "elements of recognition, and the realization that their behaviors could be ours". The aim being to escape the "temptation of simple explanations for complex issues" (...)

In this scenario, the Other [the refugees] is notably absent: "Only indirectly realized in the form of corpses." Rather, it is in the music that they live: "I´ve created opposing universes: histrionic and loquacious inside the resort and austere, ritualistic and sacred in the surroundings (...)

VM recognizes the dangers of treating such a burning topical issue, "the risk is that it will narrow down one´s appreciation of the piece to its context, and to our ethical judgement of the artist´s position." (...) This "is only one dimension" of the piece (...). He prefers to see it as "an allegory of horror, capable of generating a reflection on the relationship between our intimate and collective guilt" (...).

All served through a piece in which VM that identifies three new features of his work: "pastiche, a set of dances that refer to the universe of pop culture, and instrumental exploration: the use of instruments associated with other languages, such as electric guitar and bass, melodica, slide whistle, didgeridoo,bass clarinet ... ". With the purpose of "putting sand in the mechanism." (...)