A double opera in two parts - 2016

Composer Miroslav Srnka · Libretto by Tom Holloway
In English with German surtitles

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  • Bayerisches Staatsorchester
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In 1910 two competing teams set out on an expedition to the Antarctic: A band of British explorers, led by Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen's Norwegian party went head to head in a race to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. Amundsen arrived at his destination one month before Scott; Scott and his four companions lost their lives in a snowstorm on the return journey. The news of Amundsen's success was shortly followed by that of Scott's heroic failure. It was Scott whose name became the stuff of tragic legend. 

The opera by Miroslav Srnka and Tom Holloway reads between the lines of the official reports and imagines what was going through the minds of the men during this long winter: the emotions this solitude in a world of ice evoked; how collaboration can lead to rivalry and tension; how conflict involving national pathos and everyday tasks can result in comical situations; to what extent the men thought about the wives they had left behind. Ultimately, the South Pole is just a white speck in the middle of a white landscape. The attraction of reaching this point seems utterly abstract; l'art pour l'art of achieving the impossible.

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Part 1

First Cable: Roald Amundsen from Norway informs the British team led by Robert Scott by telegram that his expedition is also targeted on reaching the Antarctic. The head-to-head race towards the South Pole starts. Arrival: Both teams are very enthusiastic. The British have brought ponies for the transport; the Norwegians rely on Arctic sledge dogs. The British play ball to amuse themselves in the base camp. The Norwegians plan to build a sauna. Tensions between Amundsen and his team member Johansen are being noticed for the first time.
Winter: When it is dark, time seems to stop. Both teams listen to music they are familiar with. The British try to explain to Scott, their boss, what affects them. It becomes obvious that Scott and Oates have their differences. Oates wants to be on his own and realises that the ponies will not be able to fulfil the requirements. Amundsen anxiously makes his team hurry to prepare themselves for their hard job. In the end, he wants his team to start ahead of schedule, too early in the season. His team makes him return to the base camp. Scott has a vision and his wife Kathleen appears before him. He imagines her at a party and mistrusts her love.
Starting Line: Johansen protests against Amundsen's behaviour. Scott asks his people to keep a diary. One of the motor sledges of the British team breaks down. Amundsen reminds his team of his strict order not to write anything down. Both teams set out.
Race: The ponies of the British prove to be of no use. On their way through the ice, the Norwegians fall into crevasses. Scott and Amundsen question the whole expedition. The 'Landlady', a former landlady and lover, appears before Amundsen. She explains that she needs to buy chemicals and disappears. Despite all difficulties, both teams make good progress at this point of time.
Killing: The British kill their exhausted and foreworn ponies. The Norwegians kill their dogs, which have done their job and are being stored as provision for the way back. While Scott sees it as his duty to attend the killing, Amundsen devotes himself to his diary. Home: In a big vision Amundsen and Scott look into themselves, their respective opponents and the signification of the expedition. Kathleen and the Landlady appear before them for a second time. It becomes obvious that the Landlady has committed suicide by consuming the chemicals. She calls upon Amundsen to face life. Kathleen is sick of her husband being jealous. Both Scott and Amundsen long for approval and love. The feeling of loneliness grows, the struggle for support and the fear of failing become stronger. The race towards the South Pole continues.

Part 2

Letters: In letters to their mothers Oates from Great Britain and Johansen from Norway write about scepticism and loneliness. Amundsen catches Johansen while he is writing and punishes him for breaking the rule.
Pole 1: The Norwegians arrive at the pole. The expedition team have reached their goal and put up the Norwegian flag. Amundsen is still afflicted by doubts and tells the Landlady about them. He leaves a letter for Scott to deliver to the Norwegian king. Afterwards he orders his team to return immediately.
Ladies: Kathleen Scott and the Landlady talk about their fears and their worries considering their men and the success of the expedition.
Pole 2: The British reach the pole. Scott finds the letter. The feeling of exhaustion is paired with the feeling of disappointment, as he has not reached the pole first. Birds: While watching skuas, Johansen feels a grim anticipation when thinking of the oncoming return. On the British side exhaustion grows, Evans is the first to break down. The Norwegians reach the depot where their slaughtered dogs lie. Amundsen is being persuaded to ski race with Bjaaland, whom he edges out.
Collapse: Evans is dead. The remaining British team members discover that the fuel has evaporated within their containers in the intermediate camp. On the one hand there are the British, who are suffering. On the other hand there is the self-confident Norwegian team, which is jolly, knowing they have enough food and won the race. The storm, Amundsen was waiting for, holds off. He is being overwhelmed by his feelings. The British collect pieces of rock and stone, although they are starving and suffering from frostbites. Wilson hands out morphia. Oates realises that he will not be able to cope with the stress and strains any longer and decides to use his last remaining energy to go outside and freeze to death.
Goodbyes: The Norwegians reach their base camp. Amundsen declares that he will deny Johansen's participation in the expedition. The three remaining British crawl into their sleeping bags. Bowers freezes to death. Scott reads from his diary. He is overcome by a sense of guilt. Wilson dies, too. Scott sees his wife Kathleen for the last time. She senses that her husband has died. The Landlady appears. Amundsen is also being plagued by thoughts of death.
Final Cable: Amundsen is being informed that Scott has died. He dedicates the pole to him.

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