Tree of Codes trailer, images, press

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[photos (c) Paul Leclaire]

Also see previous post for detailed information about the opera, libretto etc.


Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music
The New York Times, March 30, 2016. [+ related teaching & learning resource +
radio broadcast]

Raoul Mörchen, Wie bleibt von der Strasse der Krokodile, Kölnischer Rundschau, 6.04.16 [pdf scan]

Programme book_Tree-of-Codes_2016 [essays in German]


Egbert Hiller, «DIE WIRKLICHKEIT IST DÜNN WIE PAPIER» Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, May 2016.

That ‘reality is as thin as paper’ is a core statement from Liza Lim’s libretto that she underlines with her music. With its wealth of colours and forms, which does not shy away from ‘late Romantic’ gestures and arioso vocal writing, Lim’s suggestive sound-world itself becomes a shimmering ‘hybrid being’ in ever-changing ensemble constellations. What is also amazing is her attention to detail, which manifests itself, for example, in a viola with a gramophone horn, which is in turn connected metaphorically with the work’s subject as a de- or re-formed instrument. Liza Lim has fully attained her goal of writing ‘an opera about origin and memory, time, erasure and illumination’. In Tree of Codes, she convincingly connects the old vanitas principle with lurid, distorted images of the present in the tension between virtuality and existential de-restriction, scientific progress and the archaic depths of the soul – a major contribution to the music theatre of our time, and a further milestone in the work of this composer, born in Australia in 1966.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Review: Tree of Codes (Musikfabrik), Limelight Magazine  26.04.16

Cologne Opera’s stage is thus populated by beings who are part-human and part-bird, plant or insect. Musikfabrik’s brilliantly versatile clarinettist Carl Rosman, playing the part of the Mutant Bird, performs as both singer and instrumentalist… Masks, anthropomorphic transformations, instruments as proxies for the voice/prosthetics for the body – anyone familiar with Lim’s work over the last decade will have recognised many of the themes here. However, Tree of Codes not only brings these together in a fantastical piece of storytelling, but also gives rise to new depths and dimensions in Lim’s music. It contains some of her most lyrical work: Adela’s fairytale retelling of the Father’s bird-obsession; the Father’s funeral procession; the closing a capella chorus, sung by all 17 instrumentalists. A radiance that is usually just beneath her music’s busy surface has been set free. Everything seems to grow out of itself, like buds within flower buds, but at the same time articulating strong musical phrasing and dramatic pacing; this adds tremendously to that sense of coherence I mentioned before…Claims are often made for a new kind of opera, but in Tree of Codes they seemed entirely justified by the true fluidity between music and spectacle, sound and drama (a feat that few ensembles, it should be said, could have brought off as willingly and as capably as this).

Andreas Falentin, Schöne Neue Musikwelt, Theatre Pur, 10.04.16

The Cologne Opera can count itself lucky to have, with Tree of Codes by Australian composer Liza Lim, brought out probably the most exciting literary opera premiere in recent years. Lim uses its templates – the book sculpture by Jonathan Safran Foer is based on the contents of a related collection of short stories ‘Cinnamon Shops’ by Polish author Bruno Schulz – as neither Bible nor as a quarry. For her and the director Massimo Furlan, who developed the project over three years, the literature is a springboard for their own musical-theatrical fantasy. A composition is created that is self-contained, with high rigorousness and beauty and claims its own substance independent of the templates. Of course, there is the taste of Foer and Schulz in the transformation of atmospheric and formal motives in the new piece. But it lives on its own terms.

Ulrike Gondorf, Musiktheater als Labor des Bewusstseins, DeutschlandRadioKultur, 10.04.16

“Tree of Codes” by the Australian composer Liza Lim transports viewers into an alchemical laboratory of consciousness. It is about transformation, where music and plot unfold a maelstrom effect.
…Liza Lim and the whole team for the premiere, who developed the piece jointly over three years of close cooperation, have created a compelling piece of music theatreWhat Christian Miedl does in the lead role of the son this evening, is sensational.
Everything flows in this piece where no identity, no fixed contour remains. One seems to relive a dream where everything is harmonious, but nothing is logical and space and time are blurred. “Tree of Codes” is an exciting discovery for music theater, cleverly structured and extremely sensual in sound. In Cologne, the audience experiences the new work under optimum conditions: add suggestive theatre images from director Massimo Furlan, who is actually a visual artist. And with a virtuoso ensemble whose impressive skills are perhaps surpassed by their notably enthusiastic commitment to the new work.

Andreas Falentin, Liza Lim: Tree of Codes, Die Deutsche Bühne, 10.04.16

That one feels involved rests especially on the richly varied sounds of Liza Lim: clusters and nature sounds, fine melodies are combined in sound mixes with bizarre dissonances. It rests on the clear, highly concentrated movement direction of Massimo Furlan, marked by slowness. The images are formed and stay over long periods. They sometimes fall into a void, but this seems almost a mandatory part of the theatrical concept. But above all, the performers guarantee the success of the evening. Four mute actors deliver quirky but never intrusive accurate studies of ‘type’. The soprano Emily Hindrichs fulfills the role of the object of desire with wonderfully relaxed vocals, which although smokily lascivious, remain seductively beautiful. Christian Miedl, the son, despite a huge gamut, never slips a phrase and is believable in the intense game that illustrates his paradigmatic torment. The real protagonists of the evening, are the Ensemble Musikfabrik. The 17 musicians are the research team: playing strange and conventional instruments, they excel in small singing roles and towards the end, as wonderful a cappella choirs. They have fun and convey it.

Markus Schwering, Uraufführung in Kölner Oper Liza Lims „Tree of Codes“ überwältigt die Zuschauer, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 11.04.16.

Liza Lim’s music, which partly involves birdsong leaking from a computer, inclusive of everyday sounds and music of the spheres, is remarkably innovative in the crafting of sounds and combinations. Liza Lim’s music is remarkably innovative in the way it finds and combines sounds. Some parts have a great density in their structure while other parts are full of heart and easily accessible. And when the brass intone the funeral march for the father, one may almost feel a reminiscence of Beethoven, Chopin and Mahler.
A precise judgement on the work’s quality would require repeated listening, which makes it impossible here. But one thing certainly becomes clear: this is an opera which is for, not against the human voice – not something to be taken for granted nowadays. Vocal virtuosity in a very traditional sense is celebrated here in a veritable feast. And the calm mastery, the radiant, unstrained intensity in all registers with which the singers (Christian Miedl as the son and Emily Hindrichs as Adela; the father, portrayed impressively by Yael Rion, is a silent role) perform their difficult parts – these already make this 80-minute evening an event.
Finally, the performance by musikFabrik is outstanding. Liza Lim composed for the ensemble’s special characteristics – the score was tailor-made for them, as it were. The musicians not only make use of special techniques, but also draw on special instruments. A viola with a phono horn instead of a body – has such a thing been seen or heard before? Vigorous applause for all involved.

Reinhard Kager, Strohgeigen und Krokodile, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12.04.16
[pdf scan]

…how real is reality and how much of what we call reality, is a construct of human consciousness. The Australian composer Liza Lim follows this trail with a music of electronics, natural sounds and unusual playing techniques to approach a dream world that escapes direct conscious access. At the beginning a beguiling sound track of strange chirping sounds is mixed with real birdsongs so that the sound sources become indistinguishable. The musicians are part of the stage action with rare instruments: subcontrabass flute, strohviol, toy piano, double-bell horns…Lim alternates strict with more freely interpreted passages by which she succeeds in creating a convincing symbolization of the dissolution of the organizing power of musical rationality. As its antithesis, there is the lure of a delicate sensuality.

Uwe Bräutigam, Tree of Codes| Reality is only as thin as paper, NRWJazz. 14.04.16

The powerful images that arise again and again, accompanied by intense but not over-expressive music, allow the audience to become completely immersed in the action of the opera. The movements themselves are rather quiet and make the lines of development in the plot understandable. The actions, images and sounds constitute a whole, which captures the the audience and completely monopolises the attention… Anyone looking for rigorous action will be hard pressed to know who is involved in the different treatments of action and the sensory effects of music, for in surrendering to the singing one is richly rewarded. A great, contemporary opera, which one should not miss.

Jörg Lengersdorf, Liza Lim ‘Tree of Codes’ in Köln, WDR3 Opernblog, 11.04.16

Liza Lim’s sound techniques are extravagant, multiform as well as in part, downright entertaining.

Tobias Ruderer, Oper als Koan, Van Magazine, 13.04.16 [German edition]


Anni Heino, Liza Lim’s Tree of Codes and the ephemerality of life, Resonate Magazine, 16 March 2016.

Professor of Composition’s opera premieres in Cologne – 9 April. University of Huddersfield news, April 2016.

An interview with the Australian composer Charlie Sdraulig on making opera, recorded as part of a graduate seminar series Re-imagining Opera (2015) at Stanford University, can be found here.

[more info in the previous post]