“An opera choir singing ‘assholes’? Something isn’t right”

Nick Cave arrived in Brussels to see the results of his first opera. ‘Shell Shock’, a war requiem, premieres next month in Belgian opera house De Munt in Brussels. Nick Cave wrote the lyrics at the request of composer Nicholas Lens. “The hardest thing I have ever done.”

West Flemish composer Nicholas Lens, who planned on writing a World War I opera, wanted to collaborate with Nick Cave. The Australian rockstar was quite intrigued by this request and contacted the Belgian composer himself.

Nick Cave wasn’t very familiar with the genre, he admitted during a press conference on Monday. “My father was really interested in culture, but he hated opera. While there was an abundance of classical music at home, there wasn’t any opera. I felt no real connection with the genre.”

This ‘ignorance’ proved to be helpful while Cave set out to write the twelve cantos, long epic poems, that were going to be sung by the twelve characters featured in ‘Shell Shock’. “As I wasn’t familiar with the genre or how these pieces ought to be written, I felt free while doing so.”

Inspired by uncle’s prisoner of war-past

The first two cantos were finished quite rapidly, and were just like Nicholas Lens wanted them. From then on, the writing process nearly came to a halt. Cave realised at that point that he was clueless about the Great War. “It became painfully obvious that I wasn’t qualified to write a soldier’s story. How could I know what it was like to pick up a weapon and kill someone?”

Cave started reading on the subject and drew inspiration from his uncle’s story, who was a prisoner of war during World War II.

Nicholas Lens was reportedly pleased with the end result and thought the cantos to be ‘very musical’. Cave himself was almost shocked when he heard them sung for the first time. “Nick Cave singing ‘assholes’ seems right, but an opera choir?”