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Lost Highway

Olga Neuwirth *1968

Music Theatre
Libretto by Elfriede Jelinek and Olga Neuwirth based on the script for the film Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch & Barry Gifford
First performed October 31 2003, Helmut-List-Halle, Graz

Sung in English with German surtitles. ca. 90mins, with no interval
Introduction, in German, half an hour before performances begin

»Dick Laurent is dead.« hears jazz trumpeter Fred Madison over the intercom. But there's nobody at his front door. Not long afterwards, he and his wife Renee, whose relationship is distinctly frosty, receive anonymous videos of them asleep. Renee no longer feels safe. The police investigate. — Fred's doubts about his wife's fidelity increase. He meets a mysterious man at Andy’s party, who maintains he is in Fred's house at the same time. A telephone call confirms this. Andy thinks the man is one of Dick Laurent's friends. — Renee is extremely uncommunicative on the way home when Fred asks her about her past with this Andy. —Fred wanders the corridors of his house at night. In a further video he is seen next to his wife's body. — Fred is arrested and sentenced to death. He is overcome by a terrible headache in his cell.
Fred has vanished without trace. A warder finds Pete Dayton, a young car mechanic, in the cell. — The worried parents collect their son, followed by two detectives, who will now be watching him wherever he goes. — Pete returns to the garage, where the ominous Mr. Eddy drops off his car. A man who ignores the no smoking sign is castigated and beaten up by the shady gangster. —Mr. Eddy returns, accompanied by the desirable Alice. The attraction is mutual. In spite of Mr. Eddy's friendly warning, that she belongs to him, Pete gets involved in a dangerous liaison. — Alice urges Pete to flee. They intend to steal the money they need from Andy, a man working in pornography. Pete learns of Alice's past in that milieu. — The coup is successful. After Andy's murder, Pete wanders the corridors of a motel, with a headache. — The couple drive off into the desert. They love each other. Pete: »I love you.« Alice: »You will never have me.«
Fred appears in the desert, looking for Alice. The Mystery Man knows, that he means Renee. — In motel room 27, Fred sees Renee and Mr. Eddy engaging in an explicit act. He waits for the gangster, beating him senseless before slitting his throat in the desert. The Mystery Man films everything. — On the run, Fred stops at his house and rings the bell: »Dick Laurent is dead.«

Dick Laurent is dead. The jazz musician Fred hears this over the intercom in his house, and a door opens to a parallel universe. Where does the boundary lie between illusion and reality? Lost Highway is a dark labyrinth, a network of paths which apparently lead nowhere. A puzzle, that is probably impossible to solve.

The Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth and Elfriede Jelinek based their opera, first performed in 2003, on David Lynch's film, a fascinating combination of psychothriller, horror and film noir. Throughout the script of a „case study of a person, who cannot cope with his fate“ (Barry Gifford), runs an very ambitious way of story telling which constantly leads to dead ends. Scene changes are feverish: time and space unstable – as are identities and sound worlds. Neuwirth's score is intermedial and full of complex notation: fade outs are altered sound spaces, lavish live electronics and the multiple use of vocal expression are confronted with visual dimensions. The integration of video makes fictional reality more and more virtual – making the protagonists and audience feel as if they are being left at the mercy of something. The tension between extreme artificiality and hyper-reality mirrors, in a frightening way, a reality, the turning towards which we took, a long time ago.