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Bergman’s film scripts have this century become a source of inspiration for many theatre and dance adaptations, and it is Sebastian Fagerlund’s version of Autumn Sonata that has so far been probably the most successful. The libretto follows the original quite closely. Fagerlund wrote the Ingrid Bergman role of Charlotte with Anne Sofie von Otter in mind. Finnish National Opera gave the premiere, with von Otter, in 2017. There have also been at least two operas inspired by Persona (1966), which explores the symbiotic relationship between a nurse and a famous actress who refuses to speak, including a version by Keeril Makan, premiered in Brooklyn in 2015. The same year saw the premiere of Cries and Whispers by the Brazilian composer João MacDowell, who has also adpated Bergman’s most iconic (and most parodied) movie, The Seventh Seal (1957).

In 1976 Bergman was arrested on suspicion of evading tax and subsequently vilified in the Swedish media. He was exonerated but the negative publicity traumatized him, and he spent the next eight years in Munich, where he mainly concentrated on directing theatre and writing screenplays and books. He returned to Stockholm in 1984 and staged many plays at Sweden’s national theatre, Dramaten. It was in 1991 that he finally collaborated on the creation of an original opera, asking the Swedish composer Daniel Börtz to write a work based on Euripides’s play The Bacchae (Backanterna), and working himself with the translators on the libretto. Bergman directed the 1991 production at the Royal Swedish Opera and the 1993 television film. There was almost universal praise, but most reviewers respectfully agreed that the spectacle was more reminiscent of theatre than opera. Could it be that Bergman’s slightly overbearing influence was suppressing Börtz’s music?

■  The Börtz-Bergman ‘Bacchae’ in Stockholm in 1991, with Sylvia Lindenstrand as Dionysos and Peter Mattei as Pentheus

By the time Saraband was screened, in 2003, Bergman had already retired to his home on the small Baltic Sea island of Fårö, spending much of his time listening to his favourite composers. He died on 30 July 2007, and at his request the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 was played at his funeral. You can be almost certain that somewhere up there, above the gloomy Swedish skies, Ingmar Bergman is forever playing four-hands duets with Johann Sebastian Bach.

Opera, December 2018


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