Premiere of Marius Felix Langes Schellen-Ursli in Basel

The latest family opera by Marius Felix Lange bears the unusual title "Schellen-Ursli" (A Bell for Ursli).We eagerly await the premiere at the Theater Basel on 29 November 2019, staged by the versatile young Basel director Tim Jentzen. The Australian conductor, pianist and director of the opera studio OperAvenir at the Theater Basel, Stephen Delaney, is to occupy the podium.The subject of the opera is based on the so-called "Engadine Trilogy" by Selina Chönz and Alois Carigiet. The composer also wrote the libretto.
The Theater Basel provides a brief overview of the narrative:Deeply snow-covered, a small village lies peacefully high up in the Swiss mountains. But not for long! For Chalandamarz is just around the corner, and the children have been waiting impatiently for a long time to drive out the winter with loud peals of bells. But Ursli’s joyful anticipation turns to deep despair when, taunted and mocked, he of all people has the tiniest little goat bell pressed into his hand. He resolutely sets out to get the big cowbell from the lonely Maiensässhütte (Alpine hut). But the path there is steep and dangerous. When Flurina sets off into the icy snow too in search of her brother, the tension rises.

We met with Marius Felix Lange to talk about his opera, “Schellen-Ursli”.

To what extent does your opera depart from the original story?

Lange: The piece is based on the illustrated children's book by the writer Selina Chönz and artist Alois Carigiet, who extended the original volume 'Schellen-Ursli' with two more, namely 'Flurina und das Wildvöglein' (Flurina and the Wild Bird) and 'Der große Schnee' (The Snowstorm). I combined the three volumes, to include a girl, Ursli’s sister Flurina, to feature as a main character alongside the boy.

What was it that fascinated you about this children’s story?

Lange: The clarity of the treatment, the loving atmosphere of the stories, and nature itself in which the story plays out.

To what degree would you say you have interpreted the Schellen-Ursli stories according to your own ideas?

Lange: In adapting a story for opera, changes, extensions and cuts are a necessity. One is guided by one's theatrical instinct. When material is anchored in the collective consciousness (as is the case with Schellen-Ursli in Switzerland) I always feel bound to keep the promise made to the audience in adapting such a story for the stage (unless planning a parody or something similar). In dealing with the material, a host of ideas emerge in the visualization and the inner process of turning ideas into sound which one follows as long as they are enriching in terms of the dramaturgy or content, or are meaningful, funny, poetic and/or effective. It all happens on its own. As I always feel committed to the original story, I don't see change as a risk. But a change might be noticeable, as in the case ofFlurina, who also receives a bell at the end and is allowed to march along at the Chalandamarz. In fact, this is traditionally only for the boys.

Do you use special instruments?

Lange: Aside from cowbells, no. The Schwyzer Örgeli (the Swiss organ) is not typical in the canton of Graubünden, so the accordion is appropriate here.

Premiere Marius Felix Lange,        
“Schellen-Ursli”. An opera based on the Engadine trilogy by Selina Chönz and Alois Carigiet for 5 singers, a children’s choir and 6 instrumentalists
Tim Jentzen; conductor:
Stephen Delaney)
(Theater Basel)

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