Fanny och Alexander
Ivo van Hove
Set and light design
Premiere: December 2024
Casting drop Fanny och Alexander
Cast drop Fanny och Alexander
In the category ‘everything you’ve always wanted to know about opera’: how to find the perfect singers for each role? General and Artistic Director Peter de Caluwe reveals how the casting of Fanny och Alexander came about.
The casting stage of Fanny och Alexander – the opera – is now behind us. As befits a work by the greatest Swedish film director ever, the first thing I did was seek the advice of the Scandinavian world of singers. This led me to Anne Sofie von Otter, herself a Swede and familiar with the work of Ingmar Bergman. She seemed the perfect fit for the role of the central character: the spirited grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, who keeps her family together. This fascinating ‘mère de famille’ has a lover: the Jewish Isak. So I asked Anne Sofie who she saw as her favourite opera partner… She didn’t need to think about it for long before naming Thomas Hampson. When we were able to tie them both down for a video call and I saw for myself the chemistry between them, I had a eureka moment. The role of Isak seemed to me much too episodic and small for a celebrated artist like Hampson. So I suggested to the artistic team that the two singers be considered for the lead roles of the bishop and his sadistic housekeeper Justine. They both leapt at the idea and the matter was decided.
This did mean that we had to look for a new granny! Our Director of Artistic Planning and Production, Bettina Giese, suggested Doris Soffel. I needed little persuasion, and the video meeting with Doris, the composer and the librettist confirmed that this was the right choice. Doris is married to a Swedish diplomat, speaks fluent Swedish and knows Bergman’s films well. In our discussion, it was suggested that we might approach a Swedish variety singer cum actor for the episodic role of her lover. The choice fell on Loa Falkman and he, too, readily agreed. For the other major roles, I took the lead from the artistic entourage of composer Mikael Karlsson and librettist Royce Vavrek who had worked with American singers before. Consideration was given to two names for whom I had long been searching for a project: tenor Peter Tantsits and mezzosoprano Sasha Cooke. They will perform the roles of Oscar and Emilie, Fanny and Alexander’s parents.
Now we just have to find the rest of the family and of course cast the children - the titular roles. I am confident that we will be able to find a solution for them in our children’s chorus, but it is a little too early as yet. December 2024 is still some way off. One person we have already brought on board is conductor Ariane Matiakh. A work with forceful women led by a female conductor. It just gets better and better!
IVO VAN HOVE NEW INTENDANT AT THE RUHRTRIENNALE FESTIVAL
Today, it has been announced that Ivo Van Hove, director of Fanny och Alexander, will become the new intendant of the Ruhrtriennale for the 2024-2026 term. On November 1, 2023, he will succeed current artistic director Barbara Frey. Van Hove will also continue his directorial and management duties at Internationaal Toneel Amsterdam.
The Ruhrtriennale has been held since 2002, when former La Monnaie director Gerard Mortier became its founding artistic director. For four weeks during summertime, this prestigious arts festival transforms the Ruhr area into a place where international music theatre, theatre, dance and concerts are staged in former factories and industrial buildings
Ivo Van Hove: 'I am honoured to become the intendant of this fantastic international arts festival, which within a short period of time brings together so many artists from all over the world. For me personally, it means going 'back to my roots' to the early 1980s when I was producing theatre with Jan Versweyveld in unconventional places such as harbour warehouses, an old laundry, a cellar and even living rooms. The Ruhrtriennale offers me the opportunity to put music theatre and theatre in particular at the heart of the programme. Each year, I will be directing a production with the ITA ensemble that will have its world premiere during the arts festival.'
Fanny och Alexander Oscar wins
This Tuesday 8 February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards, the world's most famous and prestigious film awards ceremony. Thirty-eight years ago, in 1984, Fanny och Alexander won no less than four golden statuettes, in the categories of Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography (Sven Nykvist) and Best Foreign Language Film, an award which, in the absence of Ingmar Bergman, was accepted on his behalf by his wife Ingrid von Rosen and - not without a dry sense of humor - by the film's producer.
Cinematograph is the name of the production and distribution company founded by Ingmar Bergman himself, which has (co)produced all his feature films from Skammen (1968) to Fanny och Alexander (1983) and which has been led by his son Ingmar Junior since 2019. One of Cinematograph's daughter companies, Hammars Drama Production, was responsible for the cultural entertainment at the Nobel Prize banquet in 2018 and for this occasion knocked on the door of Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson. The beginning of a creative collaboration that now continues with the opera Fanny och Alexander, in which Cinematograph will be involved as a partner.
The ultimate Christmas movie
It is no coincidence that Fanny och Alexander is scheduled as an end-of-year production. The opulent, magical Christmas festivities with which Bergman’s movie opens, makes it for many one of the most beautiful Christmas films of all time. The meticulous preparations at the Ekdahl house, the grandiose buffet, the perfect Christmas tree, the Nativity scene, the dances and authentic carols ("Nu är det Jul igen")... No wonder that, in Sweden, people still speak of a "Fanny och Alexander Christmas”.
According to Bergman himself, the origin of this Christmas scene can be traced back to a proposal by the Bavarian State Opera to direct Les contes d'Hoffmann: “Toward the end of the 1970s, I was supposed to direct Tales of Hoffmann at the Opera House in Munich. [...] In a short story written by Hoffmann there is a gigantic, magical room. It was that magical room I wanted to re-create on stage. [...] There is also an illustration from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s stories that had haunted me time and time again, a picture from The Nutcracker. Two children are quivering close together in the twilight of Christmas Eve, waiting impatiently for the candles on the tree to be lighted and the doors to the living room to be opened. It is that scene that gave me the idea of beginning Fanny and Alexander with a Christmas celebration.” (Images: My Life in Film, Faber and Faber, 1995)
Smiles of a Summer Day
Where else to work on Fanny och Alexander than on Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked for more than 40 years? Since 2010, the Bergman Estate, founded by his youngest daughter Linn Ullmann, has managed his houses and properties on the Swedish island as a non-commercial place of work, inspiration and contemplation for performers, creators and academics from around the world. Librettist Royce Vavrek and composer Mikael Karlsson were in residence there for nearly a month this summer. They were welcomed to the island by none other than Ingmar Bergman junior (left on photo) and some of the work on the text was done at the filmmaker's very own desk, which has been preserved in its original state.
Today, the Paris Opera saw the final performance of the revival of Play. This new choreography by Alexander Ekman from 2017 owes its success in part to the intensity of its music, composed by Mikael Karlsson, who is currently working on the score for Fanny och Alexander.
Fanny och Alexander currently at the Comédie Française
In its complete version, originally intended as a mini-series for television, Fanny och Alexander lasts about 5 hours. If that makes you wonder whether this work actually lends itself to a theatrical adaptation, you should know that Ingmar Bergman himself wrote a version for the stage. For those interested: the piece is currently being performed at the Comédie Française in Paris....
van Hove over Bergman
Bergman has always stuck with me, because his films are at the same time harsh and tender. They can be bitter, they look life straight into the eye, but in this they always remain humane.
Ivo van Hove
With Fanny och Alexander, Ivo van Hove is not entering unknown territory. The celebrated Belgian director has already made several theatrical adaptations of films by Ingmar Bergman: Scenes from a Marriage (2005), Cries and Whispers (2009), After the Rehearsal / Persona (2013).
The work begins on a new opera - Fanny and Alexander