A Deep Black Sleep

A new opera in development for tenor, six instruments and 10 masked characters
By Alan Mauritz Swanson, Tyrone Landau, and Constantine Koukias
Film sequences by Slavisa Drobnjaković

Photo by Pablo Lavino

A new opera for tenor, six instruments, and 10 masked characters.


A composer caught between artistic values and political expediency in a threatening authoritarian climate.
An opera about the creation of an opera.

Libretto – Alan Mauritz Swanson
Voice – Tyrone Landau
Music Director – Vera van der Bie
Direction – Constantine Koukias
Choreographer – Ilija Surla
Film Sequence Director – Slavisa Drobnjaković
Director of Photography – Aleksandar Mijailović
Technical Director – Ivan Paitre
Film Sequence Editor – Mihajlo Jevtić
Wardrobe / Mask Fabrication Supervisors – Elizabeth Ralston, Lithal Yosef
Surveillance Camera Mask – Eva Wegman
Headless Coat Costumier – Srećko Dimitrijević, Irena Djukanović
Clock Head / Bird Beck Mask – Lithal Yosef
Cable Mask – Elizabeth Ralston

We meet T, a composer, as he hears good news about a recent performance of one of his works. He also hears that a new commission, which he greatly desires, might be forthcoming.

Unknown masked figures visit him, creating unease and uncertainty. T works fitfully on a song he is composing but finds the words meaningless. He picks up a libretto to an opera he has promised his dying comrade he would set to music, a libretto with deep meaning for him. A masked figure enters and gives T a large envelope, which turns out not to be a musical commission but some documents he does not understand. T puts them away and goes back to his song, still hoping for a commission.

More masked figures enter demanding the documents, which he insists he does not have. Another gives him a ticket for travel. T finally opens the large envelope and reads its contents. The documents are about ‘the cause’, and a telephone call sends him off to meet someone to discuss it.

T begins to question his understanding and purpose with music. He agrees to act for ‘the cause’, but demands his price: the commission for the opera he promised his dying comrade. A masked figure brings him a contract, tears it in two, and gives T one half.

For ‘the cause’, T undertakes a strenuous journey to a strange place. He is met by new masked figures, all of whom want the documents, which he denies having. Two figures beat him up. Finally, a figure helps him up, reveals the other half of the contract, and leaves with the documents.

T has succeeded and now has the opera commission. He takes up his comrade’s libretto but finds he cannot compose. He faces the realisation that acting for ‘the cause’ has cost him his ability to keep the promise he made. He is left only with silence.

Tyrone Landau


Having started out as a pianist in a dance school in Covent Garden, Tyrone became Musical Director of Dance at Clwd Theatr Cymru, Wales, before moving to Australia. He worked there for a number of years before returning to London. Tyrone has enjoyed considerable success as a tenor in traditional repertoire (with a focus on Rossini, Mozart, and Donizetti) and also has extensive experience in contemporary music and opera. His recent operatic productions include Friends Like The Rain and Alt Om Min Familie for Bergen Nasjonale Opera, Norway; The Owl and the Pussycat for Royal Opera House, London; Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda for Melbourne Arts Centre, Australia; and Anti-Midas for the Beckett Theatre, Dublin.

Other recent performances include Messe un Jour Ordinaire for Cité de la Musique, Paris; l’Hôtel Chelsea for Kings Place, London; La Partenza for the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Tonos Humanos for the Recital Centre Melbourne, Australia; À l’Agité du Bocal with l’Ensemble Ars Nova, Poitiers; Passio Olavi for the Kirke Autunnale Festival, Bergen; and Praxitella, for the re-opening of Leeds Art Gallery.

Alan Mauritz Swanson


Alan Mauritz Swanson is an American composer and academic who lives in the Netherlands.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1941, he took his BA (1963) and MA (1965) at Indiana University and his PhD at the University of Chicago (1973). In between he studied at Stockholm University. As an academic, he taught at Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois), Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah), and the University of Groningen (the Netherlands), and came to specialize in the theatre and opera of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Alan trained as a singer and many of his early compositions are for voice, but recent work has tended to be varied in form: string quartets, a viola concerto, a partita for piano, and other works. In 2006, he was honoured for his academic and community work by being appointed Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau.

Photo by Désirée Hofland
Styling by Melanie Wirz

Ilija Surla


Ilija Surla, born in Serbia in 1985, discovered dance at a young age through performing with traditional folk dance groups, eventually dancing professionally for two years at the Theater Terazije and the Opera Theater Madllenianum in Belgrade. Modern dance came into his life much later. Through a scholarship from the Pierino Ambrosoli Foundation (Zürich, Switzerland) he came to the Netherlands to further his career in modern dance at the Amsterdam School of the Arts.

He has danced in the work of Damien Munoz, Kenzo Kusuda, Kenneth Ludden, Rosie Heinrich, and Muhanad Rasheed and has participated in workshops at the Batsheva Dance Company and Club Guy and Roni. He has also danced for Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras, Foltz + Company and, the Internationaal Danstheater and for productions of De Nederlandse Opera and Edan Gorlicki. He was also a physical actor in the production Macho Macho, directed by Igor Vrebac.

At the moment, he is to be seen in productions of the Dudapaiva Company, with which he has worked for some years, involving puppetry as well as modern dance. He is also currently involve with collaboration work between Ulrike Quade Company and Jo StrØmgren Kompani, and is to be seen dancing and acting in children theater performances with Plan-d/Andreas Denk.

Slavisa Drobnjaković

Film Sequence Director

Slavisa Drobnjaković commenced his acting studies in classical theatre at the age of 14 in Yugoslavia. Further study took him to the Art Academy and Cultural Anthropology in Belgrade.

After moving to Amsterdam in 2001, he has been involved as a performance artist at Das Arts Amsterdam and Amsterdam Cyber Theatre, and in other artistic collaborations.

He has written several commercial scripts for ComradFilm in Slovenia and worked as a creative assistant in the films of Heidi Vogels. He assisted the director Boris Todorovic in the theatre piece U cara trojana kozije uši.

In recent years, he dedicates himself entirely to film, with an outcome of two long features for Sluzer Film Productions that he has signed as a film director and scenarist.

Presently, he is in pre-production as director of the short film Eros and Thanatos.