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Shadow Play

Shadow Play

Music by Karólína Eiríksdóttir
Libretto by Sjón
Visualization by Messíana Tómasdóttir
Ingibjörg Guðjónsdóttir, soprano, Ásgerður Júníusdóttir, mezzosoprano, Eyjólfur Eyjólfsson, tenor, Sverrir Guðjónsson, countertenor
Conductor: Guðni Franzson
New Icelandic opera based on a story by H.C Andersen
The String Theatre in coproduction with the Icelandic Opera

Dalla's photos from Shadow Play.

Premiere: The Icelandic Opera, November 18th 2006

Shadow Play - Synopsis

Act I

The Poet appears in his lodgings in a Hot Country, where he has come to write poetry and stories about the Good and the True in the World. But the days are too hot and he spends them in his room with the curtains drawn, whiling away the time by tormenting his Shadow.
As evening falls the Poet draws back the curtains, leans on the window sill and composes high-flown thoughts on the bustling Arab market below him. As the muezzin calls to evening prayers from his minaret, the Poet sleeps.
Immediately his Shadow awakes, bitter and rebellious, prophesying a glorious Kingdom of Shadows over which he will reign supreme. His song ends as the city clock strikes twelve.
The Shadow now wakes the Poet, for every evening a radiant creature appears on the balcony opposite, whom the Poet recognizes as his Muse. Entranced, he joins her in song; but there is a dark undertone to her song which stirs the interest of the Poet's Shadow.
Not until the Muse has gone does the Poet realise that he should have surrendered to her. Not daring to go himself, he sends his Shadow over to her balcony. But the Shadow does not return.

Act II

The Poet has come home to the Cold Country. His fortunes have declined, and so have his circumstances. The papers all condemn his newest book for its lack of inspiration: he has lost his touch, and has no more to say.
He searches in vain in his book for the voice of his Muse; but we hear the dark undertones of her Shadow, the Princess, who distorts his exalted vision of the Maid of Orleans, turning her into a licentious witch.
His despair mounts as a letter arrives from his landlord, demanding overdue rent and threatening expulsion. And then—an unknown visitor knocks at his door. It is none other than the Shadow that left him in the Hot Country, who now appears as a well-dressed gentleman of means.
The Shadow tells his story. He stayed for a while in the house of the Muse, but being a Shadow could not come out of the dark and see her face to face. Finally however he managed to confront her, whereupon she called out the name of the Poet, just once—a single cry of pain.
The Shadow left her. He took to hiding in people's homes and spying out their secrets, amassing great wealth by blackmail. The Poet is disgusted, but in his financial distress he agrees to becoming the Shadow's servant and following him to Lichtenbad.


In the grounds of a magnificent ballroom in Lichtenbad, the Princess welcomes us to the waters of the spa, which will cure all the ills of the body and mind. She retires to the ballroom, followed by her gentle Handmaiden, a mute and pitiful figure.
The Shadow marches in, dragging the Poet with him. He dictates his travelogue to the Poet, whom he has bent entirely to his will. As the Shadow catches sight of the Princess we understand his plan: to wive it wealthily in Lichtenbad, even perhaps to marry a Princess.
And so the Shadow and the Poet join the masquerade. But first the Poet begs the Shadow to treat him as an equal. The Shadow's response is to agree to show him familiarity; but the Poet must continue to pay him respect. The Poet loses his temper. This is witnessed by the Princess, who admires the way the new arrival demeans his servant—as she humiliates her handmaiden. She approaches the Shadow with a glint in her eye. The Poet storms off in disgust.
The Shadow and the Princess whirl into the dance. He tells her that his shadow—the Poet—is a confused creature who believes himself to be a man. The Princess is amused, and commends the Shadow for humouring him.
The Poet returns, having learnt that the Princess is a she-devil who has gained power by treachery and murder. He tries to foil their relationship by warning her of the Shadow's true nature. But she laughs at him; and when he realises she thinks he, the Poet, is the Shadow's shadow, he falls into an apoplexy.

Act IV

The Poet lies unconscious in a dungeon with his head in the Handmaiden's lap. She croons without words but as he strokes her cheek her tongue comes to life, and she sings enchantingly. Aroused by her heavenly song the Poet dimly recognises his Muse; they sing together as they did of old. But this sweet dream becomes a nightmare as they see a vision of their own bodies hanging from the gallows.
In despair the Poet perceives his own guilt: again he falls into a swoon.
Now the Shadow and the Princess strut in to humiliate them. The Shadow announces he is to marry the Princess; he is willing to allow the Poet to be his well-paid laureate and receive the acclaim of the Academy, on the condition that once a year he will lie down as a shadow at his feet in the sight of all.
The Poet refuses, and cries out a warning to the world that the Shadow is but a shadow. At this the Princess loses her patience and suggests that the crazy creature be put out of his misery. And now the Poet realizes his danger and pleads with the Shadow to spare his life. But the Princess will have a hanging, says the Shadow; if it is not to be you, who will take your place? In self-loathing the Poet points to the Handmaiden.
The Shadow and the Princess are delighted at his choice. but decide instead that they shall both be strangled at the garrotte. As a final gesture, the Princess produces the Handmaiden's tongue from her purse, for the Shadow to replace in her mouth. She can now sing again; and to his horror the Poet at last recognises his dear Muse.
She now sings her story: the Shadow had lain in wait for her in her beautiful house; he had finally overpowered her and cut out her tongue, which he had presented to the Muse's own shadow as a memento until they should meet again. The Muse's shadow is none other than the wicked Princess.
Stricken by shame and despair the Poet begs the Muse to forgive him. They are strangled in the garrottes.
The Shadow and the Princess are married, taking the names George II and Queen Antonia. As they accept the acclaim of their subjects the sun is eclipsed. And the Shadow reminds us of his prophesy of the mighty Kingdom of Shadows: "Then all shadows will unite as one and darkness rule alone."