Sara Elisabeth Holmertz

The Otherness of Self

Chapter 9 


Doing it! 

- An inside reflection on the final presentation of The Otherness of the Self - Orfeo son Io. Norwegian Academy of Music  24/1-2020.





It’s cold, and my body is slightly numb. My feet are bare. The floor is chilly, but it's ok. My own temperature is high. I am waiting in the passage between backstage and the stage. There is a screen there showing the hall, and can I see it filling up with friends, family, and committee. 


I’m holding my hands, almost, together until I can feel my own magnetic field. It’s a trick I learned when I was 17. It’s supposed to help you collect your nerves before going on stage, to get all little pieces together.

Trying to grasp that the seemingly superficial scratching I’ve been doing for the last three years has brought me to these deep waters… Conclusions (if possible) will have to wait. Tonight: presence.


The ritornello.


I am just Elisabeth. Standing on stage, now, in this moment. 

And I am also someone in a red velvet dress and bare feet.


Now, when I've embodied Orfeo so many times, I feel a tenderness towards him. He is full of himself, but he is also full of love for Euridice and the whole world. 

Together with him, my body is heavy and tall at the same time, and my voice is anchored.


A fast shift to Euridice. Stillness in the body. Openness in the chest. 

"I no longer own my own heart, Orfeo.”

She, We, I, have become His. Our voice is airy and light, like a child's. Not because we are a child, but because we, having met Orfeo, experience life as a completely new phenomenon like a child. 


Now Chorus! I become of the musicians and take the opportunity to go back to myself - Sara Elisabeth. I can take a look at the audience (hello!), before meeting Orfeo’s voice again.


Orfeo… Smiling as I am writing it. Smiling as I am watching myself as Orfeo in a red velvet dress. Smiling as I hear the Per, Johannes, and Fredrik missing a beat and quickly assemble themselves. 

Happy, happy, happy!! No. Not happy. Tragedy. I stumble, my voice is suddenly shrill and sharp. I sing with a lump in my throat and panic in my heart. The dramatic movements with my arms, give my voice an extra shrill note. The almost falling, the leaning forward, affects my voice as if it is crying. 


Euridice is dead. How? She was here (she was, wasn’t she) and now…poof. Gone.


At this moment, I'm private. Yes, yes,  I know, I know!! But how can I shield myself from my own experience, when it helps me meet Orfeo? How can I protect myself from the sudden emotion of a loss? I feel for Orfeo, and I feel for myself. I feel for everyone in the room who lost someone. My voice is almost not there.

"In sadness ·I observe· that the pulse is weak and slow, and we feel as if our heart had tight bonds around it and were frozen by icicles that pass their cold on to the rest of the body.”FN

The music stands still. Sadness. Sorrow. Shock. Icicles.


The same Ritornello. But so different.


Intermission. I go outside. I hug the players and drink water. We are happy about how it is going. There are many ”good moments”, we agree. There are lots of people. Yes, it’s all good. 


They go inside again.

I am waiting in the passage. Looking at the screen and seeing a couple kissing and I giggle.


My own voice on the speaker:

”In the dwelling of Hades, you will find a spring on your left…”

We're in The Underworld and Proserpina’s voice echoes between life and death.


As ”Hope,  I know exactly what I am doing. I am in charge! I have led him here to the black marshes of death. But now I, Hope, cannot walk with him any further. I am adamant and firm. I leave him. 


In the Underworld, they are fearless. They who live there, already lost life.


I hear Caronte approaching in the Tom Waits groove.

Bring him on. Let me dig into my muddy darkness with a barking, hissing, bellowing sound. Oh, it’s such a relief to be…ugly!

Brrrrrraaaaouuuuullll! The power that lies in having given up; he couldn't care less about anyone (not least himself). I am almost embarrassed at how easily we get along, Caronte and I. We form a pact, molded by our envy, bitterness, rage… Bark, bark, bark! Go away! Leave us alone!


Singing Orfeo’s strange and mysterious prayer to ease the boatman, with the voice I have left. Have these notes ever been sung before? The embroidered embellishments take away the meaning of the words - they are Nothing. My Voice is not singing - my Voice is just there. 


I am ORFEO? ORFEO son io?


No, I am Caronte!

Malice and gloat! A wicked smile spreads across my face as I return to Caronte. He is genuinely enjoying watching the pathetic human begging for his help. It's pitiful! Of course,


The different components in this project are coming together, but I am falling apart. 


Is it no longer I who am Orfeo, but Orfeo who is me? Or? No? Orfeo, the Narcissist? Or am I the narcissist? 

Who is who? Where does the Role take over? 

Who is it that the audience is seeing? Me or the one I’m ’impersonating’?


The Caronte in me is sleeping as if we have been awake for a thousand years. Dreaming about a forgotten tenderness. 

When he sleeps, Orfeo takes the boat! I keep singing on my way over the black water of Styx.”Give me back my love, you gods of Hell."


What happens in the seconds I go from one to another? From Orfeo to Euridice? From Proserpina to Plutone?

Nothing. Nothing happens.

There is no time for hesitation, no room for thinking about anything.


Proserpina’s eyes are lowering and her lips are pouting. The gestures are small, but she knows what she wants them to do. Her voice is similar - small, but with a large impact.

This is a role I know how to play. 

But, Elisabeth doesn’t know for sure if Proserpina really wants Euridice to go. Elisabeth doesn’t really understand. There are so many versions of the queen of Death! Is Proserpina jealous? Does she pity Euridice? Are Orfeo and Euridice so annoying that she only wants them gone? Is his singing disturbing? 

I still don’t get it!


Plutone, the sexy psychopath, takes pleasure in it. He knows how it all will end.

My voice is calm, my body is in charge - I am a man now. Is it politically correct of me to admit that I feel powerful because of the masculinity written in the music, and in our interpretation of it?  Pluton could have been a woman, but he isn’t. The women in this cast are sweet, and very feminine. They are maybe even more so because they were performed by an all-male cast in 1607 - the differences between the men and the women thus had to be sharper - the women more feminine and the men more masculine. Singing the roles of men is annoyingly, cringingly, satisfying. I am not proud of myself for saying it.


”Orfeo will have Euridice back” (to be honest, his lament is haunting Plutone too. My heart is not entirely dead)!  Just one small condition… 


…don't look back. Don’t Doubt!”


At first, there is no doubt, only happiness.

But, then, as have been the case so many times during this project- the self-doubt! The constant looking back, not trusting the way forward. I am told that self-doubt is uninteresting and painful to observe. I agree!! It is. Someone else self-doubt is very, very annoying! But it is also part of the process, both mine and, right now, Orfeo’s. Orfeo doesn't trust himself, he doesn't trust the gods of the Underworld, and he doesn't trust Euridice.



Orfeo turns.


I see myself on the screen, through Wolfgang’s eyes. Elisabeth/Euridice/Proserpina is looking at me. I am Orfeo looking at Euridice. Me, seen through the lens of someone else and interpreted by another artist. 


The Otherness of the self. 


A voce sola in dialogo.


”Fluidity may have been an integral part of the production itself, Holmertz doubling possibly dissolving the distinction between Orfeo and Euridice in the spectator’s mind, uniting the narcissism of the former and the devotion of the latter in one and the same woman”. FN


I've given up on trying to hide my self. 

A voice is a Voice. It says words, it screams ugly things, it expresses emotions, it gets examined and interpreted.

I am Orfeo? So what? It’s just a role.


However, I'm done now. The last ritornello makes me teary (again!), but I can't help it. I am the one who remembers things - the actor, the storyteller… I remember how short life is. I'm overwhelmed by the sudden insight into how it all comes together, and how we all speak and sound through each other, even when we are silent. I'm reminded of how changed I am. How everyone changes. We are losing each other, and ourselves, every day.


The cold floor reminds me that I'm freezing. I need my warm socks…



..and wine.FN