@ Paul Leclaire

Tree of Codes

Liza Lim

Cut-outs in time, an opera

“An opera about bloodlines and memory, time, erasure and illumination.” This is how the Australian composer Liza Lim describes her recently finished work Tree of Codes (2013-15), in which she searches for the human essence of being, becoming and having become: “How do the inheritances of our genes, our stories and the unconscious beliefs passed down through generations, shape who we are, our desires, our curses?,” questions Lim in the introduction to the score.

This music-theatrical journey into existential questions is based on an unusual work of art by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer, the title of which Liza Lim used for her opera: Tree of Codes is on the one hand a book, but through a special technique of omission, is also a sculptural object. Foer took a text from the Polish author Bruno Schulz – a collection of short stories published in 1934 entitled The Street of Crocodiles – and cut out the majority of the words. In this manner, a cut-out was created in the truest sense of the word – a book where the deletion of words brings forth new narrative associations.

Liza Lim seizes on the idea of omission, creatively using the addition of emptiness and transparency in her composition. The subtitle of Tree of Codes is Cut-outs in time, which describes a fundamental element of her opera. Instead of following a linear narrative flow, the plot takes place in non-time: “during an extra day grafted on to the continuity of life.” The boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead are dissolved, the past, present and future fall into disarray, the transitions between reality and fiction become fluid. A peculiar world-between-worlds emerges: “Dead matter is animated and learns to dream, to speak, to sing…”

On the surface, Tree of Codes tells the story of a child who views his father in complete awe, sees his rise and subsequent fall, and finds itself in the end in the very same position. At the same time however, creatures with a hybrid shape or identity appear on the scene, most often musically represented by the double-belled brass instruments of Ensemble Musikfabrik. The stage design of the Swiss artist Massimo Furlan emphasizes this moment of simultaneity and mutability by seizing upon the style of Jonathan Safran Foer’s sculpted book: the stage is constructed out of transparent platforms upon which the singers, actors and musicians perform.

“Reality is only as thin as paper behind the screen saw dust in an empty theater,” is declared in the last act: Liza Lim’s opera Tree of Codes is the story about the ambiguity of an assumed tangible reality and the ephemeral essence of time.

(text: Michael Rebhahn, translation: Christine Chapman)

Tree of Codes is a co-production between the Cologne Opera, Ensemble Musikfabrik and HELLERAU – European Center for the Arts Dresden, in cooperation with the Academy of the Arts of the World, Cologne.



Skizzen des Bühnenbildes für "Tree of Codes" © Massimo Furlan
Skizzen des Bühnenbildes für "Tree of Codes" © Massimo Furlan
Skizzen des Bühnenbildes für "Tree of Codes" © Massimo Furlan
Skizzen des Bühnenbildes für "Tree of Codes" © Massimo Furlan
Skizzen des Bühnenbildes für "Tree of Codes" © Massimo Furlan
Sketches of the stage set for “Tree of Codes” © Massimo Furlan


Saturday, April 9th 2016, 7.30 pm | premier
Cologne, Oper Köln, Staatenhaus, Saal 3

following dates:
Tuesday, April 12th 2016, 7.30 pm
Thursday, April 14th 2016, 7.30 pm
Monday, April 18th 2016, 7.30 pm
Wednesday, April 20th 2016, 7.30 pm

Video interview with Liza Lim


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