I’m wandering around the dark, decrepit corridors of a Cold War bunker below Copenhagen’s municipal hospital. This place was closed to the public for decades, and you can tell. In one room I enter, a man with a bandage wrapped around his face aggressively beckons me over to a kind of make-shift bar. The bandage, it transpires, is actually a t-shirt with an image of John Goodman’s character from The Big Lebowski on it. The man pours two shots of clear liquid from a clinical plastic beaker, and we raise a toast. It’s straight vodka. This isn’t your typical opera.
Efterklang have always had the guts to steer themselves away from the endless record-promote-tour cycle that has dampened the spirit of so many bands. Over the course of their career, they’ve performed with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, made an “abstract documentary” with French film maker Vincent Moon on an island by the coast and been involved with 24 hour, leftfield radio station The Lake. LEAVES was composed in collaboration with Karsten Fundal and performed in conjunction with the Copenhagen Opera Festival, which aims to make innovative use of the city’s spaces and shatter preconceptions of elitism in opera culture. It’s got to be the most advenurous thing they’ve ever done.
The narrative of LEAVES is non-linear in structure, but a vague synopsis suggests that the characters are imprisoned in the bunker and subject to horrific experiments that are carried out in hope of achieving eternal life. When the audience of 60 eventually assemble into the same room, the cast – which includes an array of classically-trained musicians and five opera singers – perform while grinning with a dead-behind-the-eyes expression. With black lipstick and gold glitter smeared across their faces, it’s both hilarious and deeply unsettling, with an added touch of The Rocky Horror Show’s thrilling campness.
Then comes a form of intermission, for which we’re left to explore the bunker’s corridors while the music continues from all angles. One group of musicians play among cauldrons of bubbling pink fluid, an axe-wielding singer wanders the corridors with a expression of pure distress and particularly creepy figure smears blackened water on our faces from a rusty fountain of youth.
After a final performance, during which the music reaches an almost unbearable level of intensity, the melodies reach a more tranquil equilbrium. The lyric “I want leaves, because leaves can fall” is chanted, and there’s the feeling that the prisoners have gracefully been granted their wish of mortality and inevitable death. The audience is then released from the bunker to wander the streets of Copenhagen and restore their sanity. A truly radical event.