The helicopters in this opera are more than just swift-flying emergency transportation vehicles. They're instruments, too.
The Birmingham Opera Company will produce the first complete performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's opera "Mittwoch aus Licht" as a part of the London 2012 Festival in August, a cultural festival accompanying the athletic events of the Olympics this summer.
Completed in 1998, the opera's six parts come together for a five-hour-long sonic extravaganza that has never before been performed in full. "Mittwoch" opens with an hour of electronic music, and is soon followed by an acapella choir singing in a made-up language.
"I'm as terrified of this as I can remember ever having been, but in a good way," "Mittwoch" director Graham Vick told the Telegraph.
But one of the most startling components of the opera is Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet, a part of "Mittwoch" that lasts about 20 minutes. The quartet involves four helicopters, each equipped with a pilot, sound and audio technicians, and the string quartet players, with the sound of the helicopter itself considered one of the instruments. The audio and video are then transmitted to the audience below. It was first performed in 1995. In the 2012 production, Radio 1's DJ Nihal will stand in for Stockhausen as a kind of moderator during the helicopter quartet, adding commentary and taking questions from the audience.
"Stockhausen's vision is utterly beguiling, seductive, irresistible and fabulous," Vick told the Guardian. "He is one of the great originals of all time: a dreamer, a visionary, a man who dared to believe that things were possible which I have no idea how to achieve."
Vick went on to describe some of the many difficulties involved in staging the opera, which, aside from its aerial component, will require two performance halls, two choirs, and more. The two performance halls are located inside a former chemical plant large enough to land the helicopters.
Music director and longtime Stockhausen collaborator Kathinka Pasveer told the BBC of "Mittwoch" that the composer had "longed for its premiere up to his death."
In addition to its live performance, the show will also be broadcast live on The Space, a digital arts and media service run by the BBC and Arts Council England, allowing anyone with an internet connection to get in on the action.