The blistering inner journey of two women who unwittingly share a prison cell.

Two women are forced to share a prison cell: a young activist arrested after an illegal protest and a working-class woman for killing her boyfriend. Their involuntary togetherness gets off to a bad start, but as the nights pass, they begin to reveal their fears and hopes to one another. They start talking about the things in life that are worth fighting for and how far you can and may go. Their shared confinement becomes an inner journey that changes them both permanently. Notwehr brings together old and new music: Banchieri’s madrigal cycle La Barca di Venezia a Padua functions as a kind of echo of the past and of the outside world, weaving its way into new music by composer Annelies Van Parys.


Dedicated to Maria Kalesnikava & all other brave women who lost their freedom fighting for a better world. 

What is freedom? And what are you willing to sacrifice it for?

During an illegal protest action, a young activist is arrested. She is locked up for the night together with an older barmaid, who’s been accused of killing her husband. The two women unwillingly share the small prison cell: their forced togetherness starts out on a tense note, but as time passes they open up to each other. First reluctantly and uneasily, then more intimately, they share their fears and hopes. Sheltered by the night, they look back on their lives, and wonder what freedom really is and what they are willing to risk it for. And if the end justifies the means, even if that means breaking the law. Where at first they have no understanding at all for each others actions, they soon find out they have more in common than expected. Their encounter, confined in time and place by their imprisonment, becomes an internal journey that will change them both.

Just like in Adriano Banchieri’s (1605/1623) madrigal cycle Barca di Venetia per Padova (two) people with a very different social background are brought together by coincidence — or is it fate? — and forced to spend a certain amount of time together in a limited space. And just like Banchieri’s travellers, these two women are ‘in the same boat’... Composer Annelies Van Parys’ music enters into dialogue with the Banchieri madrigals, as librettist Gaea Schoeters weaves the old texts into the new libretto and the vocal ensemble paints a picture of the events that led up to incarceration of both women. The two soloists share their thoughts and feelings not only with each other, but also with the audience, as they comment on their own situation — thus turning Notwehr into a performance that is both playful and touching, light and dark. Staged by Sjaron Minailo.

“Annelies Van Parys idiomatic instrumental writing, strong vocal lines, and characteristic ability to weave in and out of music history without losing her own voice all contribute to the evening’s strength. … A good libretto certainly helps. Schroeters strikes just the right balance between poetry and prose, never too wordy, but always a compelling narrative.”

25.09.2022 - (Classical Music News Site)

“… exceptionally strong and emotional singing from the starring actors. … There is a great deal of drive in the new production, both theatrically and musically. Van Parys has previously proven with operas such as ‘Private View’ and ‘Usher’ that she can compose exceptional vocal music. She does so again here. As a listener you are captivated, also by HERMESensemble’s fine orchestration.”

27.09.2022 - De Tijd - Koen Van Boxem

“A 50-minute stirring, subtle, and grim performance to pay tribute to Maria Kalesnikava … and the other brave women who battled the system to gain a ‘fairer world’. … Notwehr, an experiment in making dissimilar worlds, places, and artistic disciplines coexist, is willingly and warmly applauded by the entire audience, rapt all through the performance.”

29.09.2022 - OLyrix - Maggiolen uscotti


VENETIAETERNA vocal Ensemble: 

Silvia Porcellini, soprano
Elisabetta Cuman, mezzosoprano
Miranda Ying Quan, contralto
Giacomo Schiavo, tenor
Francisco Augusto Bois, bass
Francesco Erle, conductor

HERMES ensemble
Karin de Fleyt / Mar Sala Romagosa, flute & bass flute
Stijn Saveniers, violoncello & conductor
Bram Fournier, trombone
Gaetan La Mela, percussion

Translation (German) — Christina Brunnenkamp

Location Dates Hour  
Biennale Musica 2022