’u’ ([ʔuʔ], beginning and ending with a glottal stop) is the first opera in the Klingon language, billed as "The first authentic Klingon opera on Earth". It was composed by Eef van Breen to a libretto by Kees Ligtelijn and Marc Okrand under the artistic direction of Floris Schönfeld. The story of ’u’ is based on the epic legend of "Kahless the Unforgettable", a messianic figure in the fictional Klingon history.
The premiere of the opera in The Hague on 10 September 2010 was a success, and the opera has been revived since then.
The Klingon language was first conceived by actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery Scott ("Scotty") in the original Star Trek television series, for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He created some harsh-sounding words to be spoken by Klingon characters. The producers hired linguist Marc Okrand for the sequels to expand this into a full-fledged language with its own unique vocabulary, grammar and idioms. Okrand designed the language to sound "alien", using a number of typologically uncommon features. As Klingon characters became more important in later Star Trek films and television series, Okrand continued to expand the language, and it has become a spoken language with a number of fluent speakers.
As depicted in Star Trek, the Klingons are passionate opera lovers. According to the official webpage for the opera, "Klingon opera uses the principle of musical combat. Beauty in Klingon music comes from the impact of two opposing forces." ’u’ is translated to English as "universe" or "universal".
The opera was workshopped beginning 2008 in Europe and at the Watermill Center for the Performing Arts in Water Mill, New York. Artistic and stage director and "head researcher" of the ’u’ project and the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble (KTRE), Floris Schönfeld, carefully researched all mentions and examples of Klingon opera in the various incarnations of Star Trek in order to make the opera as "authentic" as possible in following the conventions of Klingon battle opera. He created an "ancient treatise" called the paq'jachchu', or "book of the perfect scream", as a "theory manuscript of Klingon music". KTRE crafted "indigenous" Klingon musical instruments, including percussion, wind and strings, designed by Xavier van Wersch, to accompany the opera.
Publicity for ’u’ included lectures and performances by Schönfeld and KTRE at SF conventions and elsewhere. On 18 April 2010, Okrand, on behalf of the KTRE, broadcast a message from the CAMRAS radio telescope to the hypothetical co-ordinates of Qo’noS, the Klingon home planet, in the Arcturus solar system. The message, in the Klingon language, invited the Klingons to attend the opera, although the message presumably did not reach the planet in time for the performance, since Qo’noS is 36 light years from Earth.
Productions and reaction
The opera had its official debut at Theater Zeebelt in The Hague, Netherlands, on 10 September 2010 (following a preview the day before) for a four-performance limited run. The Dutch artist Henri van Zanten narrated the opera as the Master of the Scream. The opera was produced by Zeebelt and KTRE, which is associated with the ArtScience department of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.
Audience reaction after the preview was enthusiastic, and the opening night, which was attended by Marc Okrand, sold out. The director of the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation commented, "I found the result quite fascinating and interesting and strange and weird." The opera was repeated later in September 2010 at the Star Trek fanclub meeting "Qetlop" in Farnsberg, near Bad Brückenau, Germany, "for an all-Klingon audience". It was performed again on 23 and 24 November at the Frascati Theater in Amsterdam. In 2011 the opera was performed at the Voi-Z opera festival in Zwolle on 5 April and at the Huygens Music Festival in Leidschendam on 28 May.
- Act 1 – yav
While hunting with his brother Morath, Kahless expresses anger when Morath causes him to miss his prey. Kahless vows to avenge this humiliation. The tyrant Molor offers to elevate Morath to the head of his house if he betrays his and Kahless's father. Morath accepts. With Molor's men, Morath enters his father's house, seizes his sword and demands that his father surrender the house. When his father refuses, Morath brutally slays his father. Kahless vows to restore their father's honor. He pursues Morath to the Kri'stak volcano. After the brothers fight, Morath throws himself into the volcano. Kahless forges the first bat'leth (or “Sword of Honor”) in the volcano, from his own hair.
- Act 2 – raD
The sorrowful Kahless makes an epic journey to the underworld. There he is united with his father and forgives his brother. He shows them the mok'bara, enabling them to regain their bodies. Kortar, the guardian of the underworld, is enraged to find two of his souls missing. Kahless raises troops for a rebellion against Molor. He meets his true love, the Lady Lukara, who assists him when he is attacked by Molor's men. Together, they defeat Molor's men and make violent love in the blood of their enemies.
- Act 3 – QIH
At the river, the armies have assembled. Kahless inspires his troops with a rousing speech. Kortar arrives and is also stirred by Kahless's honorable motives. He agrees to join the fight and to create a heaven for the Klingon warriors. Kahless, his father and brother fight together against their enemies. The latter two are honorably killed, and Kahless's death scream sends them to heaven. Kahless faces Molor and kills him, cuts out his heart and cleans it in the river to restore Molor's honor. With the Lady Lukara's help, Kahless commits ritual suicide; Lukara's death scream sends him to join his father and brother. The Klingon people are united.
Roles and original cast
- Master of the Scream (narrator) – Henri van Zanten
- Kahless (contralto) – Taru Huotari
- Kotar, Father and Molor (baritone) – Ben Kropp
- Morath and Lukara (mezzo-soprano) – Jeannette Huizinga
- Shiga, David. "It ain't over till the fat Klingon sings". New Scientist, 17 September 2010
- Klingon Language Institute official website
- "Klingon Opera Comes to the Netherlands". Gather Entertainment, 31 August 2010
- "First Klingon opera set to launch in the Netherlands". Dutch Daily News, 6 September 2010
- Official website accessed 8 September 2010
- Jacobson, Aileen. "An Otherworldly Opera That Speaks Klingon". The New York Times, 7 November 2008, accessed 8 September 2010
- Okrand, Marc. The Klingon Dictionary, New York: Pocket Books, 1992, ISBN 0-671-74559-X, p. 117
- Pellegrinelli, Lara. "The Fat Alien Sings: A Klingon-Language Opera". NPR Music, 2 May 2009
- Michaels, Sean. "First Klingon opera lifts off". The Guardian, 13 September 2010
- See, e.g., this performance and this one of "The Klingon Anthem" from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and this Klingon song from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Birthright, part 2".
- Hart, Hugh. "Klingon Opera Ramps Up for Earth-Bound Premiere". Wired, 26 August 2010
- Theatre programme, Zeebelt Theatre, 10 September 2010 (reverse side of programme), accessed 6 June 2011
- Berkowitz, Ben. "Klingon opera prepares for interstellar debut". Reuters, 10 September 2010
- Time magazine, 13 September 2010, p. 17
- Presenting 'u' at FedCon 2010, YouTube video
- Cast list at KTRE.nl[dead link]
- "World's First Klingon Opera Premieres in the Netherlands". News round-up – 22 September 2010. Opera Now magazine, accessed 22 October 2010
- Marc Okrand speciale gast bij Klingon Opera!, The Flying Dutch, Dutch Star Trek fanclub (Dutch)
- Tyler, John. "Dutch first to hear Klingon opera". Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 10 September 2010
- Pellegrinelli, Lara. "First 'Authentic' Klingon Opera By Terrans (That's You, Earthlings) Premieres". NPR Music, 9 September 2010
- ’u’ at the Frascati
- "'U': Huy’reH en Qich’lut Voi-Z Festival 2011, accessed 13 March 2011
- "'U', een Klingon Opera". Huygens Muziekfestival. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- "Project Information – U the Opera". U-theopera.org. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
- General links
- ’u’ Official website
- KTRE's website
- Photo of Klingon instruments used to accompany the opera
- Interview with ’u’ creator linking opera's debut with lessons of 9/11
- Feature on the opera from the Rachel Maddow Show
- Videos related to the opera
- Scene from the opening night performance, September 2010, YouTube clip
- Snippets of the opera and interviews, September 2010, BBC News
- "Recreating the primal sound of Klingon opera", July 2008, YouTube clip
- Klingon broadcast to Qo’nos: Invitation to attend the opera, April 2010, YouTube clip