By Anna-Maria Merkel, Evita Rigert and Ryan Eykholt

Photograph by Kim Krijnen
Performed at Dutch National Opera

Anna-Maria Merkel, Evita Rigert, Ryan Eykholt, and Chris Harris developed the opera “Call Me Co-Plaintiff” in response to the Repeat After Me brief, an assignment to identify a collective trauma within an institution and reenact it through an operatic form. This team collaborated with Milieudefensie, also known as Friends of the Earth Netherlands, and researched their current lawsuit which demands Royal Dutch Shell to meet the criteria of the Paris Agreement. Merging rituals of musical, activist, and spiritual origin, the project raised questions about how to feel the presence of responsibility during a time when climate change exists as a hyper-object, an object that extends beyond time and space.

The sonic composition of ‘Call Me Co-Plaintiff’ grew from an attention to the musicality of breath. As breathing plays a significant role in spiritual practices for staying rooted to the body and to the earth, we explored the many ways breath allows for musical strength. The fans blow air that give shape for the black towel in the piece and provide an industrial drone. Meanwhile, the performers lie back to back and hum both through exhales and inhales, centering their internal and external rhythms. This influenced the choreography as well, considering the way that methods like the Alexander Technique start any action (as small as standing up and sitting down) with opening up energy flow and deeper breath. The character Trude, with embodied and disembodied voices, pushes towards the edges of what their lungs can produce. The layered voices and harmonies that grow throughout the piece demonstrate a synchronicity that is not possible without clarity of breath, without cyclical movement. Structuring the emotional arc of the music involved staying focused on not only sounds but perceived silences. The ‘caesura’ is a written break between musical phrases. It is also essential for the rhythmic symmetry within Old English texts, as is the case with the
Nine Herbs Charm, which was used for this libretto. In exploring a balance between the primordial and contemporary world, between the inhale and the exhale, the silences become spaces of possibility and transformation. ‘Call Me Co-Plaintiff’ culminates with a breath of relief, inviting the audience into imagining what action would enable the possibility to share this moment.