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Culture

Off the Pitch, Into the Concert Hall

The world's first ever football oratorio, "The Depths of Space," is a 90-minute performance of two halves that sets out to capture the highs and lows, the agony and the ecstasy of ... soccer.

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Peter Lohmeyer kicks off the show

Oratorios tend to be on the sombre side. Featuring choral singing and a storyline but not much else -- no staging, no costuming -- it's a musical form geared to weighty subject matter such as the creation of the world or the life of a biblical prophet.

Chinesische Fußball-Fans

But as any fan can tell you, soccer is a weighty subject. Taking in the full gamut of human emotion -- hope, disappointment, euphoria, anguish, you name it -- it features protagonists who can be anything from heroic to tragic and a readymade chorus in the form of the spectators.

And those elements, more or less, fit the requirements for an oratorio, which is defined as "a musical composition for voices and orchestra that tells a sacred story."

It might not be an obvious medium to extoll the excitement of football culture, but the organizers of FIFA's World Cup 2006 official artistic and cultural program nonetheless felt the oratorio was ideally suited to conveying the full furor of a soccer match -- and they wasted no time entrusting celebrity composer Moritz Eggert with the job.

High-brow culture for the masses

Based on music by Eggert and a libretto by Michael Klaus, the result premiered at the RuhrTriennale festival of music, literature, theater and dance in North-Rhine Westphalia last weekend to a rapturous reception.

Ruhrtriennale Die Tiefe des Raums

With the recitative parts peformed by some of Germany's best actors, including Joachim Krol and Peter Lohmeyer (who starred in Germany's box office hit "The Miracle of Berne" about Germany's legendary World Cup win in 1954), and an ensemble starring baritone Thomas E. Bauer and tenor Corby Welch, the oratorio was a heady meeting of high-brow and pedestrian culture.

While members of the audience sported classic evening wear teamed with Borussia Dortmund scarves and Schalke jerseys, the choir did its best impression of fans in the stalls, waving banners, blowing on whistles and roaring the requisite soccer chants with all the gravitas of a Greek chorus.

The drama of soccer

Giovanni Trappatoni

Eggert and Klaus have said the piece draws on childhood memories, soccer battle cries, players' careers, famous managers' monologues, immortal phrases from players and coaches -- such as the hot-headed Giovanni Trappatoni (photo), known in Germany for his impassioned tirades while in charge of Bayern -- medical diagnoses of injuries on the pitch as well as famous quotations -- whether from the stands, the bench, the pitch or from interviews.

It might be a show steeped in allusions to Mozart, Richard Strauß and Wagner -- who admittedly knew a thing or two about dramatic effect -- but many soccer fans would no doubt agree that nothing can beat the real thing.

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