A Finnish composer and soccer-fanatic has created a synthesis that should send purists reeling: the perfect union of the ancient gods of Olympus and today's gods of the game wrapped into an opera on violence and racism in the stands.
"Learning to shout" came to the Eriksdal sports stadium in Stockholm this week after first being shown on the Finnish island of Aaland in the Baltic Sea, home to composer and author of the piece Peter Laang.
After exploring romantic themes, making an oratorio on large sailboats and an opera for children, Laang was searching for a brand new topic for his sixth opera. "I was watching the 1998 World Cup in France on television and I was looking for a way to get back to work and still keep watching the games," he told AFP the day before the premiere last week in Stockholm. "Suddenly, all became clear. I had found the solution: I would make an opera on football," he said.
"Learning to shout" is a "pop opera" created on a budget of only €280,000 ($340,000). It is made up "of two half-times, lasting 45 minutes each, and includes tackles, shots, passes and dodges", according to the program.
Hector leads the Troy inter-city firm
Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth personified by soprano Therese Karlsson, sells beer -- instead of the nectar of the legends -- on the stands, where she meets Hector, Trojan warrior and soccer supporter, played by baritone Johan Hallsten.
A black player tackles a white opponent in the penalty area. The referee doesn't blow his whistle for a penalty, and Hebe pays the price with her life as the fury of the hooligans bear down upon her.
Good and evil battle it out
The choir plays a fundamental role in this libretto. The young girls and boys of the Estonian 21st Century Orchestra personify the two teams, G.O.D. and O.N.D. -- Good and Evil in Swedish -- which correspond to Homer's clash between the Trojans and the Greeks.
For Arn-Henrik Blomqvist, director of the piece and former soccer coach, "the entire tragedy is concentrated in the tiers. We didn't need to add drama to the field. The intensity of one match was enough in itself."
"Soccer is like life. It evokes strong feelings. That's how I've gotten into my part," soprano Karlsson said.
With a mix of classicism and avant-garde, a giant screen towers over the choir flashing "pop-art" soccer pictures signed by Laang. A television sports commentator sits facing a small screen, belting out his comments while a hooligan chorus wearing T-shirts with the logo "Troy FC" let loose a torrent of abuse and belches. Agitation among players in the center circle rises.
Contemporary soccer issues
The violence, intolerance and racism, a familiar curse of contemporary soccer, is expressed through dramatic violins accompanied by African percussion instruments and accordions. The effect is clear.
But "it's not obvious that we'll attract traditional opera amateurs", admits producer Ulrika Lind, who makes no secret of her ambition to suck in organizers of the 2006 World Cup in Germany with the opera's themes of fair play and the fight against racism.
Laang meanwhile is exasperated by what he calls the "blindness" of the Swedish Football Federation when it comes to addressing these issues. "I have contacted them to get them involved, and they told me that there was no racism in Swedish soccer.
"It is stupefying. Just a few hundred meters from here there is a plaque commemorating a supporter who was beaten to death after a game," he said.