Roziena Salihu
Photos: Harry Rafique (left) & Kilian Kayser (right)

A combination of the familiar with the spectacular

9 March 2023

Composer Carlijn Metselaar and librettist Roziena Salihu talk about the spokenwordopera: The Theory of Everything

Text: Naomi Teekens

Roziena Salihu and Carlijn Metselaar are storytellers pur sang, each in their own artistic discipline. Roziena uses language and Carlijn music. Together they have embarked on an adventurous creative undertaking which unites spoken word and opera.

Roziena: ‘At first glance, opera and spoken word may seem like a surprising combination, but I think the two art forms share something very important: a strong narrative tradition. I’m looking forward to bringing those two worlds together.’

Carlijn: ‘Roziena’s lyrics are different from what you typically hear in opera, especially in terms of syntax and rhythm. I’m looking forward to working with her to find the right form, so the musicality of the text is reflected by the sounds coming from the orchestra.’

The two are not only looking forward to the interplay between spoken word and opera. They are also involved in exchange projects with children, who are being invited to take part in the creative process and offer their input. They work with material from the performance in the ‘hands-on’ projects Opera Heroes and the Children’s Chorus Festival

Carlijn: ‘I work a lot with children, and I’m always struck by their playful lack of inhibition. You just have to give them a little musical nudge, and they’ll multiply that many times over. What’s more, children are super honest. When their minds start to wander, you notice it straight away. This makes composing for this target audience a demanding task. Making art for children is anything but easy: everything has to be just right!’

Roziena: ‘Exactly! I also believe that you should never underestimate children – certainly not their capacity for experiencing art. They’re capable of so much more than people sometimes think. It’s really valuable to give children a voice in the creative process.’

Carlijn: ‘For me, composing is about much more than putting notes on paper. I don’t like to lock myself up in my study like a classical composer and deliver a ready-made score. Music must be treated like a living thing, and this applies to the creative process as well.’

Roziena: ‘I think this is going to be the kind of opera I wish I’d seen growing up. We deal with themes that are very familiar to children, such as making choices and dealing with time pressures. Together with them, we dive into the world of Nia, the main character. It will be a great adventure, which combines the familiar with the spectacular. We’re hoping to further broaden children’s worlds in this way.’

Season 2023-2024
From 23 December to 7 January, The Theory of Everything can be seen in Studio Boekman (National Opera & Ballet)

Roziena Salihu

is a multidisciplinary artist who always takes language as her starting point. She enjoys putting herself in other people’s shoes. Her direct texts seek to confront audiences with some tough facts, without being pedantic.


Carlijn Metselaar

is a Dutch composer who has written a number of children’s operas. She enjoys new and challenging creative collaborations and has previously worked with a variety of directors, librettists, choreographers and visual artists. This will be her first collaboration with a spoken word artist.