This is how the world ends. Not in a fireball or eternal winter, but on an exotic beach in the height of summer. With people reading books and scrolling on their phones, immersed in the trivia of the everyday while the planet disintegrates around them. After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2019, the Lithuanian opera Sun & Sea (Marina) is coming to E-Werk this weekend. Evocative and eerily relatable, the English-language production set on a perfect sandy beach is a subtle yet devastating portrait of human complacency.
“After I saw viewers weeping as the left the performance, I knew I had to bring it to Berlin,” says E-Werk’s artistic director Helen Turner.
Through its depiction of vacationers expressing their private thoughts through song, seemingly insignificant details build up to reveal global anxieties around climate and ecological breakdown. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, like the reminders to “get gas” for the family car or the fearful young twins lamenting the bees “falling from the sky”. But little by little, song by song, the audience becomes implicated in a tapestry of behaviour and attitudes that have put the planet in the state of ecological collapse.
“The way the melodies get into your head resonated with me for days afterwards and made me wonder what we’ve done for the last 100 years,” Turner says.
Despite its subject matter, the opera is not preachy, but simply holds up a mirror to our lifestyles. Showing the tragedy of how, Turner says, “in such a microscopic way we contribute to something which has a macroscopic impact. Like our easy expectation to fly long distances just for some sun.”
Composed by Lina Lapelytė with a libretto by Vaiva Grainytė and directed by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, the touring opera will be shown at an abandoned Bauhaus swimming pool next to E-Werk. According to Turner, the artists had dreamed of staging the performance a location that gave a visceral dimension to rising sea levels. “It is quite an apocalyptic scene,” Turner says.
To heat the pool to the required 27°C, pipes pumped full of eco-friendly warm water are laid beneath the sand.
E-Werk, a former Luckenwalde coal power station, has been converted into an exhibition space and an innovative green electricity provider that can power up to 200 homes. So far 20, institutions have signed up to get their renewable energy from their company, Kunststrom.
Does Turner believe Sun & Sea will have the same impact in Berlin that it’s had elsewhere? “I do believe that you will feel affected after you see this work,” she says. “We have a huge population of AfD supporters in Luckenwalde and there are loads of stickers on car bumpers saying ’Fuck You Greta’. It shocks me whenever I see it, and that’s why there’s a cheaper ticket price for locals (€6 concession / €8 standard) because I feel if they come it would have an impact.”
During the hour-long performance, the singers mostly sun themselves on towels, staying in their pods while barely interacting with each other. But the most beautiful part, says Turner, is when all the singers harmonise together. “For me that speaks of collaboration and collective action,” she concludes. “We have to do something about this together.”