Dutch first to hear Klingon opera

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The world’s first full-length Klingon opera is being performed here in The Hague today, the 9th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre. What can an opera about aliens from the Star Trek series, sung in a made-up language, tell us about the post 9-11 world?

More than you might think.

At first glance, it is not a happy coincidence. Klingons are a violent, warmongering people.

Important lesson
But Floris Schönfeld, the creative force behind the Klingon opera, title "U" (Klingon for universal), says his opera has a very important lesson for the post-11 September world: understanding other cultures.

"If we can understand the Klingons, and they can understand us, then we have nothing left to argue about here on earth."

Schönfeld is teaching by example. He was never a fan of the cult-television show and ensuing 11 films. He is not a Trekkie. So he spent the past two years doing extensive research in order to understand Klingon culture. He very much wants the opera to be accepted among fans of the series, in particular those calling themselves "terranized Klingons", or Klingons who live on the earth.

Schönfeld, however, didn't stop there. He has taken an even bigger risk by sending an invitation for this weekend's performances to the Klingon home planet, Qo'noS (and he made a short movie about the invitation). After all, Klingons from the home planet would be his fiercest critics.


Between reality and fiction
In his work, Schönfeld likes to cross between reality and fiction, and he keeps it up during interviews. So I asked the opera's producer, Hanna Boender of the Zeebelt theatre in The Hague, if all the oddities of hosting the first Klingon opera didn't make her think twice before taking it on.

"Well, a while back the municipality said we had to work on increasing our visibility. Well, how's this for visibility?"

Alternative art
Zeebelt is a small theatre, which promotes experimental performing arts. Ms Boender agrees that the world premiere of a Klingon opera counts as alternative art. But the opera itself is not only pleasant to listen to, she says, but also quite good as opera.

The plot is taken from a Klingon tale in one of the Star Trek movies and borrows liberally from Greek myth. Kahless The Unforgettable seeks to repair his family honour after his brother has killed their father.

Klingon instruments accompany the singers, applying a Klingon principle of musical combat. The beauty is found in the impact of opposing forces.

Sold out
Opening night at the 90-seat theatre is sold out. Marc Ghijsels purchased one of those tickets. Ghijsels is the public relations officer for The Flying Dutch Star Trek fan club. Their 600 members look at the world through the eyes of Star Trek. Some members like to dress up in Star Trek outfits, but Ghijsels says the Dutch tendency to be low key holds true even among Trekkies.

Ghijsels is proud that the world premiere, or, ahem, the universe premiere, of a Klingon opera is happening right here in the Netherlands. And he expects that the opera will have a lesson for how to respond to terrorist attacks such as that on 11 September 2001. Respect for different forms of life is an inherent value in the Star Trek universe. Respecting people of another culture is part of that.

Samurai warriors
Creator Floris Schönfeld agrees. He wants his opera to make people think about violence in a new way. Klingon violence takes place within a strict code, expressed by the proverb, qa' wIje 'meH masuv, we fight to enrich the spirit. An ethic borrowed from the Japanese Samurai warriors.

After all, who shows more willingness to embrace other cultures than people who enrich their spirits by dressing up in funny costumes and speaking a made-up language?