Anaïs Nin UK premiere @ Southbank Centre – Louis Andriessen

Last Thursday I attended the UK premiere of Louis Andriessen’s latest work – Anaïs Nin – a monodrama for soprano and chamber ensemble. Enough fuss has been made about the subject matter so I won’t bother with that here. What I found interesting about the work was the interaction between ensemble, soloist as singer, soloist as actress, and prerecorded video. Andriessen has (successfully in my view) managed to combine these different elements on stage without a feeling of disjointedness – no mean feat – and in fact uses the video as another means of forwarding the narrative (as well as giving soprano Zavalloni a breather. At times Zavalloni was required to ‘conduct’ the ensemble, drawing in the ensemble into the drama so that they could not remain a mere backing.

One fascinating aspect of the piece was the juxtaposition in the text of intense emotion alongside everyday comments (“strange days, weather bad…”) which manages to bring home the humanity of Anaïs Nin whilst at the same time highlighting her complicated multiplicity of fragmented identities.

The music worked well alongside the text, not necessarily following the vocal part but often contrasting with it, at times sparse and light, at times dark and grungy. Recurring themes in the instrumental lines backed up the themes in the text and the changing textures generally enhanced what was being sung. Andriessen managed to avoid falling into cliché at the climax of the piece and doesn’t go over the top, but restrains the music from being too brash, in a way highlighting any misgivings Anaïs Nin had about her relationship with her father…

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