MILEVA

Aleksandra VREBALOV

Conductor: ALEKSANDAR KOJIĆ
Director: OZREN PROHIĆ, Hrvatska

 

ABSTRACT

ACT ONE

Scene one
1896 – At dawn, tamburitza band passes by the Maric family estate, situated close to Novi Sad, accompanying a drunken gentleman, playing an old love song. Mileva’s sister, a schizophrenic young Zorka, runs through the garden calling her cats. She wakes up her parents to greet the postman who is, in her opinion, bringing a long awaited letter from Zurich, from Mileva. The parents, perturbed by Zorka’s hallucinations, try to calm her down; however, the postman really does bring the letter. Mileva senior stands on the side, almost as if out of time, singing a fragment from Goethe’s poem Urworte. Orphisch (True words. Orphisch):

So mußt du sein,
dir kannst du nicht entfliehen,
So sagten schon Sibyllen,
So Propheten;

Scene two
At Polytechnic institute Mileva junior successfully passes the physics exam with Professor Webber, known for his austerity, who thinks that Mileva has no future in physics, being a woman. Mileva disagrees, saying that she wants to follow in Marie Curie’s steps. A young man accompanied by several students enters the room, and starts a brusque conversation with Professor Webber. This is Albert Einstein. When irritated professor leaves, students gather to celebrate Mileva’s successfully passed exam. Mileva junior withdraws to tell her parents the good news. Albert brings her back to the celebration.

Scene three
1899 – Bern. Summer evening. Mileva junior and Albert are sitting in front of Albert’s house since he forgot the key. As a stray dog approaches them, Albert asks Mileva what love is for her. Mileva junior sings a love aria, while Mileva senior stands aside as a shadow, commenting on the scene through fragments from Urworte:

Um Stirn und Brust den Frühlingstag entlang,
Scheintjetzt zu fliehn, vom Fliehen kehrt er wieder,
Da wir dein Wohl im Weh, so süß und bang.

Scene four
The double fugue. 1899 – At Polytechnic laboratory, Albert and his colleagues spend nights working on an experiment without any success. Mileva junior arrives in the morning and joins the lively discussion. Albert draws a parallel between music and laws of the Universe (Shakespeare’s verses from the Merchant of Venice):

“Look, how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold;
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings ...
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

While Albert’s friends are joking with him, Mileva defends his unique and imaginative views. Tired of physics, the group plays Mozart to relax. Professor Webber stands in the doorway, watching them without a word.

Scene five
Mileva junior and her girlfriends are getting ready for New Year’s celebration in the Zurich apartment. They are singing a song from their homeland and daydream of the coming new century. Mileva’s greatest wish for the future is that Albert succeeds as a scientist. The girls criticise Mileva for losing herself in love for him so much, there is a brief jealousy scene between Mileva and Milana, a friend who occasionally plays music with Albert. Gay young men arrive. Helena suggests that all present write down their wishes for the new century, and put them in a box to be opened ten years later. As the midnight approaches, Mephistopheles enters the room and announces his own century – the crowd laughs recognising disguised Michele Besso. Mileva senior is among the guests.



ACT TWO

Scene one
1901 – Mileva junior, pregnant, leaves to spend the summer with family in Novi Sad, whereas Albert, who has just completed his studies, remains to look for work. She promises to study during summer and asks Albert to write a letter to her father confirming that he would marry her as soon as he gets a job. Albert embraces Mileva junior, and asks her how much she loves him, while Mileva senior, watching them from the side responds with a fragment from Urworte:

“Gar manches Herz verschwebt im Allgemeinen,
Doch widmet sich das edelste dem Einen.”

Scene two
Morning on the Maric estate, Zorka is impatiently waiting for Mileva to wake up after a strenuous journey. Pregnant Mileva junior shows up on the porch to find out that, instead from Albert, arrived an unexpected letter from his mother in which Mrs Einstein writes against Mileva’s and Albert’s relationship. Mileva assures her parents that Albert is an ideal man for her. Zorka brings Mileva a cat and asks her how they will name it; Mileva thinks that she is referring to the cat, only to realise that Zorka is asking about the unborn child’s name. To Zorka’s dismay and horror, Mileva says that the child will be given the name by somebody else.

Scene three
Ten or so years later – At Einstein’s home, friends are celebrating Albert’s success. Mileva senior is withdrawn and gloomy. Albert comments on her difficult disposition, reminding her that their most difficult years have passed, and says that his success is also her success. Guests leave. Albert retires, and both Milevas – junior and senior, sing a lullaby/lament for the daughter who has been left in Novi Sad for adoption.

Scene four
Years of WWI; parallel events:
1. On the Maric estate
2. In Albert’s laboratory

1. On the Maric estate, Zorka, whose mental health has become worse over the years, is excited about the visit of her sister’s girlfriends. Mileva senior, Milana and Helena are sitting in the garden on a quiet afternoon, reflecting on the past. Mileva asks them not to mention to her parents that Albert has moved to Berlin. Milana and Helena criticise her for being overprotective of him. Helena opens the box containing wishes for the new century, of which only Mileva’s all three wishes came true: Albert, Albert, Albert.

2. In the Berlin laboratory, Albert’s colleagues and friends criticise his list of rules aimed at Mileva. They try to talk him into visiting her, and to work on their relationship. Albert responds by saying that that chapter of their lives is over, and that there is no room for sentiments which they ask of him. Recording of Einstein’s voice explaining the equation E=mc2 penetrates their raised voices, overwhelming them in the end.

Scene five
The Epilogue – 1948. In the hospital, Mileva junior sings a fragment about hope from Urworte:

“Ein Wesen regt sich leicht und ungezügelt:
Aus Wolkendecke, Nebel, Regenschauer
Erhebt sie uns, mit ihr, durch sie beflügelt,
Ihr kennt sie wohl, sie schwärmt durch alle Zonen;
Ein Flügelschlag – und hinter uns Äonen!”

Mileva senior addresses the vision of her late father for whom she thinks has come for a visit, as well as her best friend Helena. She talks to them about Albert’s emigration to America, death of Zorka and her mother, and hospitalisation of her mentally ill son Edouard (Tete). Considering the limitations of human happiness as opposed to the infiniteness of the Universe, Mileva summarises the past life.



A NOBLE DIGNITY OF OPERA LYRICISM
On opera Mileva by Aleksandra Vrebalov

Avoiding any form of genre quest for potentially optimal guise of opera at the beginning of the second decade of 21st century, fully aware of the significance of the accepted challenge and susceptibility of melody in the festive season of our oldest national theatre, Aleksandra Vrebalov, citizen of both Novi Sad and New York, had chosen the music which “wilfully” follows the amenable libretto by Vida Ognjenovic, but even more so, the tragic faith of Mileva Maric-Einstein, also a citizen of Novi Sad. Growing up in Kisacka street, in the atmosphere of a mid-European town, and also a very patriarchal environment, Mileva managed to reach the “precise celestial orbits” of the famous European academic institutions, renown professors, personal and “traditional” emancipation, and, lastly, the mind and heart of one of the most notable persons of the contemporary times – Albert Einstein. Mileva’s entire life was composed of contradictions which inevitably took her to the spheres of sad, often dark moments: a girl, young woman of immense potential ranging from intellectual, scientific, but also naturally maternal and social, all the way to emotional, had chosen, to her own peril, the one person who, because of the gift of being a genius, walked all over her personality, destroying her hope, faith – the entire life.
But, owing to the excellent dramatic pattern by Vida Ognjenovic which served as a starting point, as well as carefully selected fragments from Goethe’s poem Urworte, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and the original correspondence between Einstein and Mileva, Aleksandra Vrebalov has given Mileva the gift of forgiveness in the final adaptation and dramatization of the text through the closing words: “I know, we went wrong somewhere, since if the space is endless, so can be human happiness”. By revolving the scenes from Zurich, Bern, Novi Sad or Maric’s grange near the town of Kac, Vrebalov achieves a unique poetic unity of drama-music space, close to the scopes of Antic tragedy of which we are constantly reminded by not only specifically lead choir, but also through the cold objectivism of the diminished, yet “fully-blown” emotions of the fiery yet absolutely subtle stage direction by Ozren Prohic.
Main characters, archetypically accurate and abundantly expanded as required, have been offered in the span from caricature gestures (Professor Webber), through noble suggestive continence (Mileva’s mother), typically protective parental role from the region (Mileva’s father), dramatic-actuating stands of the supporting acts (Mileva’s girlfriends – Milana, Helena, Ruzica), to, finally, her sister Zorka, who represents the inexorable and incurable part of the existence and tragic being of the leading character and her wider family circle.
Setting of the two roles of Mileva – junior and senior, has been staged as completely simplified and extraordinarily effective, along with profiled music/scene and dramatic “halves” of the main character, representing the framework of the entire performance - through oscillations between the possible potentials of a young girl and shattered paths of life of a mature woman.
A rich palette of all activated musical parameters, paradigms and metaphors, determine belonging of our overall, not so distant in time, past, to Europe, a specifically central ideal of today, where the sounds of waltz, Mozart and tamburitza are exchanged on the same cultural level.
In the dramatic transformation of the main musical theme of the performance, the song Blue Danube, from the beginning of the opera, Mileva’s girlfriend Ruzica sings later on as a song (Act I, scene five) about a lost boyfriend. This actually represents the symbol of the forever lost Albert, where the “fast current” represents the flow of lives of the Einsteins which has, in the glimmer of his scientific achievements, but also through the undoubtedly highly raised egoism, finally gobbled up their love and the entire Mileva’s destiny. In the phantasmagorical, abstract and overemotional closing, musically furious Epilogue (Act II, scene five/second part), we recognise only the fragments of this song which in the end falls apart just like the life of the main character.
The performance is abundant with remarkable musical sections such as the double fugue (Act I, scene four), which from “Hindemithian” density and cumbersomeness gets to sheer translucence, the skilful construction of the parallel “double scene” (Act II, scene four – Mileva is on the grange with girlfriends, and Albert with his friends in the office) done in the best tradition of the Italian Opera of the second part of 19th century, through neo-classicist stage quiver of Igor Stravinsky, and all the way to the different style of superior lyricism, postmodern simplicity and almost religious meditation (Act II, scene five). However, love and lyrical/tragic points stand out: Mileva’s aria Love stands for something that cannot be expressed with words only (Act I, scene three), and above all, the moment of Mileva’s remembrance of the dead little girl (Act II, scene three), when both Milevas, singing in a manner close to the traditional funeral song painfully conclude – “Do you live anywhere else but in my heart? Sleep my Angel. For as long as I live, my heart shall be both your grave and your cradle”.
In the area of vocal parts and their interpenetration, relations and mutual sound encounters of exceptional artistic beauty, by use of a second long interval as a close, but at the same time and very frequently dissonantly distant sound parameter, Vrebalov starts with the folklore attributes of this interval in functionally cadence related sense which, harmonically set “upright”, offers a plenitude of exciting dramatic/musical solutions. So, “Our Lyrical Song”, originating from somewhere towards the end of Kisacka street, from some other characteristic psychological destination in Novi Sad, and Vojvodina, became and remained that poetical and notional circle of this sad musical story of a Serbian female from southern Hungary. This song has extended the lyrical pathos from Sumanovic’s canvas, a familiar part snatched from a Veljko Petrovic novel, or a touching moment of description of a verse by Milos Crnjanski. In its lifespan, the song has been added with “Antic-Balasevic” provenance, finally broken down to pieces and orchestrated once again by the discreet hand of Aleksandra Vrebalov. With this, it sank forever in the warmest pores of intimate moments in life, being transformed to the artistic expression familiar to everyone. Isn’t this more than enough for a great jubilee of our theatre, for all of us, today, whose appetites can never be satisfied, all of us longing for Pannonian melancholy and tones that carry the words and emotions, like tamburitza twittering deep into the soul?
Bogdan Đakovic



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