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.
As a result of Cave’s tour of North America and Europe being cancelled due to lockdown, the singer-songwriter had more time on his hands than usual, as did Lens, who saw performances of his operas cancelled until at least 2021.
The pair worked together previously on the 2014 opera Shell Shock, which explored the tragedies of war. Lens has collaborated with other librettists previously, including 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 wrote 12 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, the recordings of which were then brought together in post-production.