Soprano Therapy for a Moping Philosopher

A lusty little opera about philosophy's wild child, with word games and involved theories in digestible portions.

According to history, Wittgenstein's last words were, "Tell them that I have had a wonderful life". The world premiere of the mini opera about his life and thinking is also an adventure in the absurd.

Framed by a prologue and epilogue the story is told in 'flashback'. Ian Magilton portrays the thinker from when he is a young and arrogant student who goes to search out Bertrand Russell (Jonathan Hart Makwaia) to when he himself is a professor at Cambridge. The two of them form a philosophical duet until Wittgenstein gets a blond soprano (Inki Storleer) in his lap. She is a feminine provocation for a philosopher who prefers men. The delicate dance between imagination's song and dry philosophy flows with humorous resistance to each other. The dialogue sparkles with elegant wordplay, while classics such as Grieg's "Solveig's Song", "Rule Britannia" and the famous aria from Carmen have been given new texts. In addition Hart Makwaia has written music that accords with the period, which with the piano accompaniment make Wittgenstein's thinking precisely as tangled as it deserves.

The Soprano also visits his thinking when, after his heroics in the First World War, he isolates himself with his fishing rod in Norway. He is haunted by the war and finished with philosophy, but she insists on pointing out philosophy's essential error. The 'Later' Wittgenstein makes his comeback and declares that, "Language is the limit to the world". The only limits to the stage are imagination, and the decor is cunning: a piano, an armchair and a standard lamp. In the background the portraits of Kant and Hegel preside. The hanging judge face of latter becomes a tea tray, while the lamp is dismantled into a fishing rod and water. Out of the water Magilton draws pieces of paper with the time and place on them, these signs refer to Wittgenstein's thoughts on scraps of paper that he left behind. Puzzling, as is much in this performance - Something to enjoy.

The two companies have worked for five years to bring this performance to the stage. It could very easily have turned out dry, but the risk of a grass fire was the last thing I saw in these singing and dancing philosophers in their musical of "Sophie's World". My brain sometimes got lost when brilliant intricacies of English language become songs and slightly messy dances on the edge of parody. Without being too long the mini opera is bright, awake, slightly crazy and refreshing, and it holds its audience well. At the end his starting proposition "Of that which we cannot speak, we must be silent" is re-distilled to become the weird, twisted and crooked 'Wittgenstein Restaurant'. Hurrah!

Heidi Oliv Wollamo Adressavisen 15 May 2009

Klassekampen Oslo 18th May 2009

Logic's Bankruptcy?

"Wittgenstein & the Soprano"
By: Charles Boer and Jonathan Hart Makwaia
Direction: Rosemary Quinn and Ian Magilton
Roy Hart Theatre in collaboration with Magna Vox productions and Teaterhuset Avant Garden
With: Ian Magilton, Jonathan Hart Makwaia and Inki Storleer
Teaterhuset Avant Garden, Trondheim

An unpretentious humoresque for you who love theatre, philosophy, music and logic.

Monty Python in their time turned philosophy into popular entertainment and pure fun with their legendary football match between German and Greek philosophers. Four years ago the Belgian theatre company, De Onderneming created a low-key and strangely humorous production about the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. And now it is Wittgenstein's turn in a collaboration between the British/French Roy Hart Theatre and the Trondheim company Magna Vox productions.

Wednesday was the world premiere of this humorous mini-opera, "Wittgenstein & the Soprano" at Teaterhuset Avant Garden in Trondheim. It is a fun little production that like Monty Python and De Onderneming thinks that philosophers and their thoughts are much more accessible than one might believe.

In four tablaux we meet the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in different phases of his contrast-full and many faceted life; the Early, the still Early, the Later and the Final! Wittgenstein came from an extremely wealthy family in Vienna, grew up in the secession period when the empire was at its greatest, took part in the First World War, even though his greater sympathies lay with England, lived through his homeland's transformation from being the navel of the world into a small alpine republic, gave away his wealth, become a hermit in Norway and a professor in Cambridge writing philosophical works in opposition to himself(!)

This is an unauthorised and particularly tabloid biography of the man, but can work as an agreeable introduction by means of its unpretentious presentation which with a mixture of respect and disrespect shows the different sides of his life and work all in a musical package.

Ian Magilton's interpretation of Wittgenstein is relatively historically correct, and is accompanied by Jonathan Hart Makwaia, who plays Bertrand Russell. He too on fairly secure historical ground. These two play with language labyrinths, referring particularly to Wittgenstein's first philosophical work, thought out and in part written in the trenches of the World War and given the pompous and almost comic title, "Tractatus Logico Philisophicus".

"A Performance to love"

While the two philosophers are busy with their philosophical intellectual language games, the soprano (Inki Storleer) pops up. Like a kind of Eliza Doolittle she is simple where those two are apparently complicated. And in the dialogues with her
we experience social and and language contrasts, most of all via different meanings of the English word "proposition". It can mean anything from a philosophical and scientific postulate, to a simple and blunt pick-up line, out of which arises a lot of comedy.
Via intricate language capers and comic songs, including iconic and easily recognisable music from Elgar and Grieg, this little ensemble takes us on a journey through logic, music, philosophy and a little hobby fishing. Or to put it another way; through the contrast filled life of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Almost stripped of scenery and far from physical theatre, we are presented with a text-rich vision. Here are humorous games, well played with self irony, perhaps without any very high drama, but all the same a performance to take pleasure in.
Perhaps one will not be wiser from it, if it were not for the ocean of wisdom in the epilogue of "the Final Wittgenstein"; I now know all of the questions, and none of the answers!
Armund Grimstad