Sara Elisabeth Holmertz

The Otherness of Self

The music they used in the croquis:

  • Got Lost - Helmut Lachenmann 
  • Sete Pur fastidioso - Barbara Strozzi
  • Lonely Child - Claude Vivier
  • Orpheus could lead (from Ode to st.Cecilia) - G.H Handel


To get another vision of myself, I used what I call The Model Model:


"Sometimes, I work as a model in an art school. I started doing it because I needed the money, and I’ve continued doing it because I like the different perspectives it gives me. Just by doing something we usually don’t do, it does just that: gives us a new platform from where our views change. We can leave it right away and observe our familiar surroundings, now a little bit different.

What strikes me most is that when I look at the paintings and sketches that these students have done, it’s clearly a picture of me, but it’s also not. I am the model, and they have used my forms and measurements, but it is not a painting of me, it’s themselves. Suddenly it’s self-evident. Their pictures of me depending on where in the room they stand, or if they sit. It depends on their personal taste in colours. And it depends on their life experience and on their level of knowledge. Every picture of ”me” is very different and tells a whole new story…When I feel too judged or, even, too praised, I try to remember that we see ourselves in others and others see themselves in me. And ”me” could be ”you.” Is You.”

”A subjective gaze is a specific way of looking, approaching, or perceiving something that is exterior to one’s self but is only directly comprehended by a singular being. The artist experiences the privilege of the first act of looking and reproduces their perspective—of a particular object or selection of objects—into a work of artistic production; in other words, they re-create their attitude towards reality. What the viewer sees, in turn, is the artist’s rendering of his/her perspective of the world. In any case, each form of subjectivity and looking is shaped and determined by an individual’s habitual nature—one’s formative years, lifestyle, behaviors, opinions.” Adrienne Chau, From the academic blog ”Courseblog”

2. Orfevs


4. Musical croquis - The Model model


The artists:

Nils Ramhøj,                           Espen Brændsrød                    Esther Maria Bjørneboe                     Felicis Fortes,


3. The Story of Orpheus

5. Interview Poul Høxbro


1. L'Orfeo, free translation of the libretto

2. Orfevs (video)

3. The story of Orpheus (video)

4. Musical Croqui - The Model Model

5. Interview with Poul Høxbro



1. L’ORFEO in my own words, based on the Libretto/Favola by Alessandro Striggio

The complete libretto and literal translation can be found here. 





The Narrator/Elisabeth:

I am the narrator. The Voice. I come to You from the inside of myself. 

I will tell you about Orfeo - the half-god. Orfeo - the half-human. 

He who loved Euridice - the tree nymph who died. 

He who conquered death with his music.

He who lost everything.


The words are mine, and maybe they will tell you more about me than about Orfeo - perhaps I will expose myself to you (perhaps you will see and hear more than you wish). But what I say is one thing, and what you choose to hear is another. 

My memories, my words, my voices will meet yours. They will resonate with the cords within you. You will listen, and the words will echo in you. 

I will listen to myself while I sing and impersonate all of these characters - the mortal humans and the gods.  

We will be entangled in each other and create a thousand new stories.




Act One - In the forest. 

 In which we hear about Orfeo's happiness, after having been unhappy. He has met Euridice. They have met, fallen in love, and are now getting married. The love between them is all-consuming. 



At first, there was Nothingness. Emptiness. Loneliness. 


He, who was named Orfeo, didn't see or feel anything but his own abandonment. 

He was heavy with grief, as was everyone who heard his singing. You see, when Orfeo was happy, his songs were full joy, and everyone who heard them felt Orfeo's happiness as if it was their own. But, when Orfeo was unhappy, his voice was like tears that filled our hearts with crying. Even the cold stones were moved. Even the mountains cried. 

His lament imbued the forest, and we lamented with him.


She, who was named Euridice, did not hear his sad songs. She did not lament with him. She was dancing with the trees, as the trees were her sisters (she was a tree). Her voice was laughter. She was the happiness Orfeo missed in his own heart.

So there, in Orfeo's Nothingness, he saw Euridice, and she saw him. 

Nothing became Everything. They fell in love -they became Love.



Euridice, my world was empty until you came. Now, you are, you are mine, now there is Us.



Orfeo, I am no longer my own. I am only yours, and my love is yours. 

My heart is yours. The joy in my heart is yours.



Orfeo and Euridice. The half-god and the young girl, the nymph. 

Hearts beating with oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline…

They were Everything, and they were Nothing. 

But she walks away. Just for a little while. She will come back, of course. 

Someone has to leave because someone always has to go. 

She will come back.



Act two 

In which Orfeo's happiness turns to misery 





Euridice has left Orfeo (she will come back!). Orfeo is dancing with his friends. Those who once carried his grief is now singing his joy.




Do you remember how miserable I was? 

Now, that unhappiness makes my happiness shine even more. 


Euridice sees me, and I exist! Euridice sees me, and I live. 



All is joy! The future is happy and will continue forever and ever. It’s now. It’s dancing, music, singing. Love has infused the world.


Orfeo can’t stop singing and laughing.


But, a shadow falls over the forest, a shadow of a young woman. We can sense her pale cheeks and black eyes. It is Silvia, Euridice’s friend. Why is she coming all by her self?



Ahi…Ah cruel….Ah bitter…. Cruel fate, bitter heaven, ah unjust stars… Cruel, cruel, cruel.

Orfeo, I have to say what I do not what to say. I am going to murder your happiness with my words. 


Your beautiful Euridice…


…your wife, 


is dead.


She was walking barefoot in the grass… to gather flowers for her hair, when (we didn’t see it) a snake (we couldn’t do anything) bit her foot.


Her face turned white, the light in her eyes faded. She fell unto the ground. 


We did everything we could (we gave her the water, we prayed), but nothing helped. 

I held her in my arms. Her gaze was empty. 


Orfeo, she said your name. 


Orfeo. And then…



You died? You were my life, and now you are dead?  

I keep on living?



I keep on breathing? 


You have left, and I have to remain? 

I remain. 


No! No, I will go to where you are, and I will get you back.


If my music is truly magical, I will do what no-one has never before: I will go to the kingdom where you are, and I will get you back! If I can’t, I will stay there forever.




Act three 

In which Orfeo descends to the Underworld.




Orfeo left the woods, the light, the sun, the wind, and the birds. 

His goal was the Underworld - Hades - and Euridice. Death.

We carry the path to our own death in our hearts. Every step we take, from the second we are born, is leading us towards it. Step by step. Heartbeat by heartbeat. We know this.

But the path to someone else’s death is not for us to walk. We cannot find it. The entry to Euridice’s death was eternally closed as soon as she had entered it. So, you understand, Orfeo shouldn’t be able to walk that way. But he sings and plays, and the music, which is the most vulnerable you could ever hear, leads him down, down, down…into a silent nothingness, blind darkness.

Only Hope walks with him.

When they had gone to the deepest of depths, he stood by the Styx - the river was now the only thing between him and the Plutone’s mighty kingdom of shadows. The water in Styx is black, colored by the anxiety from the dead who hasn’t yet found peace. 



Now, we are here, in the darkness. The marshes of Hades is before us. Here is Charonte, the ferryman who guides the souls over the river. 

Now, you have only yourself and your music.

I will leave you here because it is written on this gate:

Leave all hope, you who enter.



And Orfeo is all alone.


No, not all alone. Caronte is there.

The Ferryman is a man with the eternity on his shoulders and adamant darkness in his eyes. He hasn’t slept for thousands of years. Always on guard.



Who are you, you fool, who comes here, to this river? It is not permitted for living souls to be here, and it is not allowed for you to cross the river in my boat. 

You cannot be with the dead! Go!



Orfeo sang, and the song sounded as if it was the last song and the first song in the universe. All the songs he had ever sung, all the songs ever sung by anyone. The strangest song. 




Powerful spirit and terrifying god… No, I am not living, my heart is no longer with me. 

I am Orfeo - following Euridice.

Only the look from her eyes can give me my life back. 

And you, you are the only one who can help me. 



So, you are trying to charm my heart with your airs and your tears, you poor singer, but compassion does not reside in my soul. 



Orfeo believes it is over. His magical powers have abandoned him!

But, no, that is not true. Caronte is affected. The tense muscles, the eyes always on guard, the heart that won’t stop beating and beating and beating, the vigilant mind are suddenly starting let go. The old man who hasn’t slept in a thousand years is melting into a rest. He sleeps.


Orfeo understands that the sleep of Charonte is of a magical kind, and he will quickly wake up if the music stops. So Orfeo climbs into the boat, takes the rod and sings, and sings, and sings.


”Give me back my love, you gods of Hell.”



Act four 

In which Orfeo pleads to the King and Queen of the Underworld - Proserpina, and Plutone. 




Pluton and Proserpina, King and Queen of Hades, sitting on their thrones, watching over the mighty kingdom of shadows and wandering spirits - Death.

She was a nymph, dancing barefoot with the winds. 

He saw her, he wanted her, he took her. 

And here, in the Underworld, she is The Queen. 


She hears Orfeo. His song echoes through the stone pillars. Echoes through her bones. 

Her body understands the beautiful mourning lament. Her heart…is melting. 



My lord, my master, have you heard him? He is calling for his love, for Euridice.

Your powers can Help him. Please, let Her go back.

I promise you I will make you love me even more.



Pluton looked at his wife, and for a moment, he felt the purest love. The kind of love that is not governed by a desire to own, but for the one, you love to be happy and free. He remembers why he wanted her to be with him. He remembered the first time he saw her. He remembered how she laughed and danced.



I have also been moved by his music. My heart is also weakening. Orfeo will have his Euridice back! But, he is not allowed to turn around and look for her until they are both up in the living world. If he does, Euridice will be lost. Forever.



How can thank you, my husband, and master? I bless the day when I lost the sun, for that day I won you.



Thank me by no longer desire the sun. 

Thank me by staying in our marital bed.




Orfeo was no longer a half-god – He was God. He was the one who had conquered death with the power of his music. He had won his Euridice back.

Now, all they had to do was to go up, up, up to the woods, the light, the sun, the wind, and the birds to live happily ever after. Just this walk. Just look ahead. Just walk up, up to life. They went up, up, up, and the darkness got lighter and more tender with every step.


While they are walking, Orpheus sings. He sings about his music, and he sings songs about life, about the woods, the sun, the heaven, the winds, and the birds. About love.

Now they are almost up… Orfeo can practically see the sky. He sees a bird, a white bird. It flies as if it were life itself. Death is so far, far away now.

But he suddenly doubts Euridice’s presence. Is she really there? How can he be sure?

How can he believe that she has not been taken by one of Plutons guards? 

What if she is no longer there? Didn’t he hear a sound? 

The panic is overwhelming, and the doubt is gripping his whole existence. 

She is what makes him being alive. 

Without her, he is no one. 

Without her, his voice is a whisper. 


He turns around.


And there she is. Standing there with her dark hair. She is so beautiful. So pale.




The sweetness of seeing you. And the bitterness.

It was your love that made you lose me. And I lost my life. 



And she disappears into the shadows. 

She melts into the Nothingness, a memory, and Orfeo is left alone with nothing.

He cannot follow her now. All the doors are locked. His music has lost its powers. 


He turned around. He walks up alone.



Act five 

A short act in which Orfeo is back in the forest, now full of bitterness, sadness, and rage. 




Euridice, you were the only one. If not, you - no one. 

Other women disgust me. 

I’d rather die than fall in love with another. 




We will leave Orfeo here. The story of Orpheus and Euridice is over. 

The myth of Orfeo has many endings. In one, he is beaten to death by furious Bacchantes. In another, his father, Apollo, comes to bring him up to heaven, to the sun and the stars. 

We will end the story here. 

Let us leave Orfeo alone. The half-god who could defeat death, tame beasts and make people’s souls more significant and more important, was also just a human being.

The end.


Do you go between different roles when you first play (the musician) and then tell (the narrator)?

Definitely. For my personal part, there is a big difference between musical / instrumental vs. verbal communication. But let me also point out that my primary role in a performance situation is always the musician. I never stand in a situation where the narratives have to carry my entire performance; they are always supportive of the music.

No matter how expressive, virtuoso and outgoing I interpret a piece of music, it requires me to turn most of my concentration inward. It may not look like that on stage, but the more I can mentally shut out, the stronger the communication of the music becomes. As through a small but very concentrated beam.

Quite the opposite because it sticks with my verbal communication. Here I must be open to all channels, transform my communication from the concentrated, almost introverted, to an embracing extrovert. The story is found inside me as in a single point and must come out almost like an explosion, where the music is found around me and is conveyed just as strongly (hopefully) in an artist's implosion.

How do you relate to the differences (if any)?

It takes both practice and great mental fitness to go from one role to another in split seconds in a performance without the magic disappearing. In the middle of the two roles is the concentration and contact that arises between me and my audience. It must be constant, and it is the one that guides me in a way that almost unconsciously or improvisationally makes the music and the words balance in each concert / performance.

What do you, as a musician (who I mainly know you as) get out of the stories?

They give me a sense of security in my dissemination of that which is the musically abstract. This is to be understood in the way that I often play and convey music that is unknown and foreign to most audiences. The stories help to create images that not only support the tones, but almost set in motion a personal mini-opera inside each individual listener. It thus creates an expanded understanding without me having to turn off or on the poetic stream through a performance by having to make tedious factual breaks. And if I am sometimes encouraged to "tell about" the music, then I make it a story.

Do you act when you tell stories?

Of course. Like most storytellers, I use first and foremost what I want to define as “my own voice”. That is, my voice without major distortions. After all, this is my main instrument when I narrate, and just like with my other instruments, I make use of the whole spectrum of my voice, sonorous as well as dynamic and with pitch tempo. Some rare and carefully selected times I can then introduce a "different" voice to break the pattern or for extra attention, but it must be done very sparingly, as I do NOT act, but tell MY story.

Do your voices come as a consequence of how you stand when you tell them, or do they come from history? Characters?

Yes and yes. I have stood in a room with 6-800 listeners and had to tell a story in Danish, Swedish, English or German. In such cases, the situation will provide very special conditions for the rear listeners to be able to understand every word without the ones in the front being blown over. My nuance possibilities are narrowed, but within the new boundaries I must then be able to differentiate so that the magic is kept throughout the story anyway. An intimate cafe concert of course offers completely different possibilities and challenges.

But the story can also set the tone for your voice. Is it a sad story? A beautiful poet? A bizarre and comic story? I will always use my voice to create an instant mood for the upcoming narrative. But I can also choose to cheat the audience and break a mood…

Last but not least, the audience also means the world to how you can and should cast your vote. Are they children? Young hormone bombs? Grey-hairs? Or a discreet mix of all types?

How do you make a story your own?

Many of the stories I choose to tell are simply handed down in a rather raw and scaled-down form. The main features of the legend exist, the plot, the moral. A skeleton. If these stories are to be poetic and relevant in a concert situation, they need poetic filling, images. Fill that makes the story slow down and made more understandable in the specific live situation. These pictures are completely my own, and I can also change them for any situation and audience. The more times I tell the story, the better I can juggle pictures. Eventually I will be able to start anywhere in the story and still get both beginning, course and end in one poetic course. Then the story has really become mine.

How do you find them (the stories)?

I am first and foremost a musician and I have made it “my thing” to find and narrate old myths and legends, where music is part of action and plot. These I find, among other things, in translations of medieval manuscripts, records of ancient folklore collectors, in shelves of books with retellings of stories from different times or countries and simple and rare walk from a person in a foreign and exotic country.

                    On the train to Copenhagen 2/10-2018


Dear artists and friends!


Thank you so much for participating in my experimental project, ”musical croquis.” It’s part of my Ph.D. at the Norwegian Academy of music and will, hopefully, be both informative and ”aha-y” for me.



 I have worked a lot as a croquis model in art schools. Every time I am struck by how different my body is interpreted and perceived by the students around me. That it appears and comes across different, depending on where in the room they are standing or sitting; that the result is different if the student is sketching her/his first croquis, or experienced, and has a lot of tools and techniques; that I always see the person who has made the sketch of me in that drawing, of me.

Can it be, that it speaks of how it is to be human, and how we understand each other from our point of view?

Do we perceive what we hear in the same way? That is what I want to examine with you.


The Task:

You will be given four clips with music, where I am the leading performer. Each musical clip is about 5-10 minutes, and I aim to chose as different examples as possible. You will not get any information on what the musical materials are.

I want you to sketch/paint/draw what the music makes you feel like (like in kindergarten. Remember when the teacher put on music and gave you free hands? I loved that.)


You chose yourself  how much you want to work on each piece, and which technique you want to use. I just ask you to be as intuitive as during a croquis session. If the result is intellectually comprehensible is not essential - I want to See what you Hear. 

I am your auditive model.


The music you will get to use will be sent to you in separate emails in the coming week.


Mark each sketch/drawing with the same number as the music, so I now which belongs to which and scan them and send them to me. Or send them by standard mail. Or meet me.


I will look at the drawings myself and see I can hear something new with the help of your gaze. After that, I will use them as part of my reflection it you give me your permission to do that. It will be clear how and why I have asked you to do this. You are free to be anonymous, but it’s, of course, very cool if your names are part of it.


Is something not clear? That wouldn’t surprise me… Just ask, and I will try to be more precise.