Theatre review: Exploring the meaning of human existence in ‘Intet’

by Milada Bendtsen, photos by Kåre Viemose

‘Intet’, an opera based on the book of the same name by Danish writer Janne Teller and performed at Musikhuset Aarhus earlier this month, is part of the broad programme for Aarhus’ year as European Capital of Culture. I was part of a full auditorium for the final performance on February 8th.

Is everything meaningless?
‘Intet’, which translates directly as ‘Nothing’, was adapted as an opera by contemporary British composer David Bruce. It is the story of schoolboy Pierre who, upon returning from his summer break, believes that there is nothing that has meaning in life. His classmates try to persuade him that this is not true, that there is meaning in everything, but he keeps repeating his new mantra: “Nothing”.

Agnes has to loose her hair.

The students give up what is important to them to show that there is meaning in life

The story keeps the spectator’s attention until the last moment. The scenes change from lyrical ones in which Pierre, sitting on a tree, preaches his rebellious mantra of “nothing” and refuses to come down, to dynamic ones, in which his classmates are acting.

Unity over individualism
The strength of the unified group, the students, is underlined by the music as well as the choreography. Pierre’s classmates resemble soldiers, thinking and acting as a group; there are no individuals.

The costumes strengthen this impression of a crowd and its horrifying power: they are very simple – all the pupils wear grey school uniforms, and all look and think the same. Unison is the rule, and it makes them strong. But who is carrying the burden of responsibility? No one. “We were not there, we don’t know anything,” sings the choir.

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An excellent cast of talented young actors

A convincing performance, with talented young singers together with an intriguing and thought-provoking story – no wonder the opera hall was full and the audience stood to applaud at the show’s close.

I stood with them, my head full of thoughts about the moment when children become adults and how much they are affected by the group to which they belong or want to belong. How difficult it is to feel responsibility as an individual, and most of all how I will bring my own children up so that they do not become invisible members of a crowd, but individuals that are proud of being themselves.

Performed in a magical way that successfully bewitched the entire audience, ‘Intet’ is an opera for everybody, young and old alike. It is a story that explores the need for meaning in our lives, provoking us to think about where we find value in our existence. After all, what is a life without meaning?


‘Intet’ was performed at Musikhuset Aarhus as part of a collaboration between the Danish National Opera and Aarhus 2017, one year after the opera’s premiere at Glyndebourne Opera House in Great Britain in February 2016.

To find out about more performances at Musikhuset, visit their website.

Find out more about the Danish National Opera’s collaboration with Aarhus 2017 here:

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