Lilian Farahani and Thomas Oliemans on Innocence
Text: Eline Hadermann
They have both performed various roles at Dutch National Opera, including those of Papageno and Papagena in Simon McBurney’s production of Die Zauberflöte. Now the Dutch singers Lilian Farahani (soprano) and Thomas Oliemans (baritone) share the stage once again in Kaija Saariaho’s Innocence.
Lilian: ‘As a student I attended a performance of McBurney’s Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera, and I realised: this is what I want to do. This theatre has allowed me to grow as an opera singer. After a number of smaller roles, I found myself on stage as Papagena – together with Thomas, as a matter of fact.’
Thomas: ‘I’ve often performed the role of Papageno in this production, but it’s still special to me that I was able to take part in the creation of the production. As a singer, I was closely involved in the process by Simon McBurney. I’ll cherish this style of collaboration for the rest of my career.’
Lilian: ‘These kinds of positive experiences give you something to build on for a long time. I have that same feeling with Innocence, in which I performed the role of the Bride at the world premiere at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. It was quite an intense process: for such a powerful piece you have to dig deep in order to fully empathise with your character’s situation.’
Thomas: ‘The trick is to strike the right balance, so that as a singer you can give shape to the heavy emotions without having to wallow in them. The libretto and music of Innocence are also extremely strong in this respect: the audience isn’t simply beaten over the head with intense scenes; rather, it’s invigorated by beautiful music and the critical questions that the piece raises.’
‘For a drama of such intensity, you have to dig very deep’
Lilian: ‘The audience sees a revolving house that alternately depicts the present and the past. We see that the shooter’s family members all wonder about the extent to which they were indirectly responsible for the incident. Who is truly innocent? The visual parallel between scenes of the students re-living the traumatic shooting and scenes depicting a happy wedding means that the performance doesn’t become dramatically flat. At the same time, it conveys the message that life goes on – no matter how long painful feelings of guilt may persist.’
Thomas: ‘That’s exactly what I think Innocence does so well. The opera not only asks questions about guilt and innocence; it also explores how to deal with those enduring feelings of guilt. The characters involved in the shooting, including mine, try to get on with their lives by repressing the past, as if that were a prerequisite for moving on. But when that facade blows up in their faces, it turns out that the opposite is true. That’s an interesting thought: eventually you have to move on with the baggage you’ve collected, whether you like it or not.’
The opera Innocence will be performed from 7 to 22 October 2023 in Dutch National Opera & Ballet
The career of the Dutch-Iranian soprano Lilian Farahani is taking off, with roles such as Despina in Così fan tutte, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi and Musetta in La bohème. At Dutch National Opera she sang Carolina in Il matrimonio segreto, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte and Zerlina in Don Giovanni.
The Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans has been praised for his ability to tell a story, be it in classical music or the chanson. He is a regular guest at the most prestigious opera houses. At Dutch National Opera, he has recently sung Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte and Pluto in Eurydice – Die Liebenden, blind by Manfred Trojahn