Poul Ruders : Selma Jezková, an opera based on Lars von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark
September 5 2010
Royal Danish Orchestra
Ylva Kihlberg, Soprano
Michael Schønwandt, Conductor
Operaen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Selma Jezková – Dramatic soprano
Bill Houston – Baritone
District Attorney/Guard 2 - High tenor
Kathy – Mezzo
Brenda – Deep Contralto
Norman – foreman at the factory/Guard 1- Baritone
The opera is based on the story in Lars von Trier’s award winning film 'Dancer in the Dark' from 2000.
The story takes place in the U.S.A. around 1963. The factory worker – Selma – is slowly going blind due to an eye disease. Furthermore her son – Glen – suffers from the same disease. Unless he gets an operation soon he too will go blind. By a tragically incident Selma becomes a murder and is later convicted to death by hanging. By not revealing the circumstances leading up to the murder she chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save her son.
Scene 1 – The Factory
Selma and her friend Kathy are working at the machines in a metal factory. To get through
the tedious days Selma often dreams herself away and into the world of the musicals she
loves so much. Selma’s eyesight is deteriorating fast, and she is no longer able to work the
machines safely. The foreman Norman has to let Selma go.
Scene 2 – The Trailer
Later that evening Bill, a local policeman who owns the trailer Selma rents, comes to visit.
Selma believes that Bill is coming to collect the rent, but he needs someone to confide in;
he is broke, and fears desperately that his wife Linda will consequently leave him. Selma
also confides in Bill; she is slowly going blind from a genetic deficiency, but she has saved
up for her young son Gene to have an operation in the near future to prevent him from
going blind as well. Bill tries to persuade Selma to lend her money to meet his next
mortgage – but Selma refuses; the operation must be paid for very soon. Bill then tries to
steal the money from Selma, and in desperation and panic to get her money back, she ends
up shooting Bill at his own request
Scene 3 – The Court Room
In court Selma is silent about both Gene’s operation and Bill’s economical situation. It is
very important to Selma that Gene does not hear anything about his disease, as she
believes that this could make it harder for the treatment to work. Selma claims that the
money she has saved up is for her father, Oldrich Novy, back home in Prague. The District
Attorney produces the real Oldrich Novy, and her case is lost. She is sentenced to hanging,
and is taken to the state penitentiary.
Scene 4 – Death Row
Kathy comes to visit Selma. Kathy has seen the doctor whom Selma has paid for Gene’s
operation. He has agreed to return the money, and Kathy now plans to hire a better lawyer
to have Selma’s death sentence commuted. But Selma refuses; the money shall be spent on
the operation now – otherwise it will be too late. Kathy believes that Gene needs his
mother alive – but Selma is firm; the most important thing is that he has the operation.
She wants Gene to be able to see his grandchildren – even if it means that she herself never
will. Selma insists on following her heart in this matter, and is taken to the hanging.
Scene 5 – The Gallows Chamber
The witnesses are all in place, including Kathy. Brenda supports the panicking Selma. In
the last moment Kathy gives Selma a pair of glasses in her hands; they are Gene’s. Selma is
executed with the knowledge that Gene has had a successful operation, and will be able to
see his grandchildren.
Heartbreaking, disturbing, exciting
Monika Willer, Der Westen, 14/04/2013
Trier’s Björk flick is reimagined as an even darker, but more profound opera
Doyle Armbrust, Time Out Chicago, 10/08/2011
Ruders creates a score that is utterly human: deliberately flawed in some areas yet full of soul and heart.
Olivia Giovetti, WQXR, 30/07/2011
The seemless musical integration of very different styles and the magnificent instrumentation for a smallish orchestra.
Knud Ketting, Opera, 01/02/2011
Packed with elegant touches and delicate refinements
Jakob Wivel, Børsen, 07/09/2010