Nick Cave, frontman for rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, has written an opera with Belgian composer Nicholas Lens during lockdown. The new work, L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S, will be released on Deutsche Grammophon on 4 December.
With Cave’s tour of North America and Europe cancelled due to lockdown, the singer-songwriter had more free time to pursue other projects, as did Lens, who saw performances of his operas cancelled until at least 2021.
The pair have previously worked together on the 2014 opera Shell Shock, which explored the tragedies of war. Lens has also collaborated with other librettists such as the Nobel Prize-winning novelist JM Coetzee.
Lens cites a visit to Yamanouchi, Kamakura in Japan as the inspiration behind the opera. ‘The initial idea for L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S was born in the natural silence that rises from the rainy and vivid green forest that surrounds these 13th-century temples’, he says. ‘Because my memory works in musical phrases, writing L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S has become my method of remembering the peace I found while visiting Japan as well.’
Cave has written a series of litanies to accompany Lens’s score. ‘Nicholas called me during lockdown and asked if I would write 12 litanies. I happily agreed. The first thing I did after I put down the phone was search “What is a litany?”. I learned that a litany was a series of religious petitions, and realised I had been writing litanies all my life.’
The opera has been performed by an 11-piece instrumental group with soloist Clara-Lane Lens, the composer’s daughter, who was trapped in Brussels due to the travel ban. The musicians recorded their parts separately, which were then combined in post-production.