Shell Shock[1][2] is an opera by Nicholas Lens set to an English-language libretto by Nick Cave.[3][4] The opera has been published by Mute Song, London.[5]

The protagonists in this opera are besides the terrifying Angels of Death ("We drink breath") mostly the silent victims of war like the mother, the orphans, the unknown soldier, the colonial soldier, the fallen, the missing, the deserter, the survivor etc. The characters mutate into different characters and help each other in telling their individual story.[6][7][8]

With Shell Shock it is the first time that the artist Nick Cave writes the libretto for an opera.[9][10] The libretto has been described sometimes as highly explicit with in opera highly unusual text phrases like (in Canto of the Mother) 'Fuck God - Fuck the Flag'.'[1][11][12]

First performances

Shell Shock received its world premiere on 24 October 2014.[11][13][14][15] The work was commissioned and first produced by the Royal Opera House La Monnaie[16] in Brussels. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Konzertmeister Saténik Khourdoian, was conducted by Koen Kessels. For the first stage interpretation of this opera, the stage director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, with set design and video by Eugenio Szwarcer, did use contemporary dancers of his own company Eastman, sometimes forming a heroic statue, but in general absorbing, underlining and accompanying the vocal soloist characters in their role to focus on the traumatic effects war has on individuals.[17]

The version of this world premiere has been broadcast on the French-German Arte television.[18]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 24 October 2014
(conductor: Koen Kessels)
The Mother, The Angel of Death, The Wife mezzo-soprano Sara Fulgoni
The Colonial Soldier, The Survivor bass/baritone Mark S. Doss
The Unknown Soldier, The Soldier, The Deserter tenor Ed Lyon
The Missing, The Soldier, The Deserter counter tenor Gerald Thompson
The Nurse, The Angel of Death coloratura soprano Claron McFadden
The Orphans, the Child-Soldiers, The Children Boy soprano Gabriel Kuti, Gabriel Crozier, Theo Lally
The People, The Mass, The Soldiers, The Deserters, chorus


These singers perform with an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (one doubling on piccolo, one doubling on alto flute and bass flute), two oboes (one English horn), 3 clarinets (one bass clarinet), three bassoons (one bass bassoon), two horns, three trumpets (one flugelhorn), three trombones (one bass trombone), one tuba, timpani, three percussions, harp, piano and strings. The work also requires a four-part chorus.[4][19]


  • I. Canto of the Colonial Soldier: A un ritmo moderato marcia, reale cerimoniale / Anthem del soldato coloniale - Con solennità quasi religiosa / Con una tensione ansiosa quasi costante / Anthem del soldato coloniale - Con solennità quasi religiosa
  • II. Canto of the Soldier: Rapidamente e ritmicamente - come una respirazione rapida / Marciale grazioso / Attacco di sorpresa! - come un turbine che passa / è di nuovo calmo
  • III. Canto of the Nurse: Largo di tristezza e grande passione interiore
  • IV. Canto of the Deserter: Minuetto macabro / Violenta marcia / Piu aggressivo / Molto violente e caotico /Al ritmo di una brutale marcia/ Movimento fragile / Movimento con passione incontrollabile / Movimento fragile
  • V. Canto of the Survivor part 1: Largo movimento con passione manifesta
  • VI. Canto of the Angels of Death: A un ritmo moderato marcia, reale cerimoniale
  • VII. Canto of the Survivor part 2: Danza della tragedia / Largo movimento con passione manifesta
  • VIII. Canto of the Fallen: Danza turbolenta e macabra / Lirico, con tristezza poetica / Con splendore regale
  • IX. Canto of the Missing: Tempo comodo con una tensione latente / Meditativa, come se fosse stato intossicato dalla marijuana un pochino piu veloce (qualcosa dal nulla nulla)
  • X. Canto of the Unknown Soldier: Senza misura (la durata e determinata dal Direttore d'Orchestra)/ Calmo, ma con una grande tensione latente / Piu grande / Con una falsa tranquillita con una grande tensione latente - Esaltate e grande
  • XI. Canto of the Mother: Atmosfera narcotica/ Tranquillo e quieto, ma con tensione di fondo
  • XII. Canto of the Orphans: Stato di trance / Un pochino più veloce (qualcosa dal nulla)[19]


  1. ^ a b Robert-Jan Bartunek, "Shell Shock opera brings trauma of World War One to stage" on
  2. ^ " video: Nick Cave en Nicholas Lens over 'Shell Shock. A Requiem of War'". Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "Shell Shock: Nick Cave en Nicholas Lens schreven een opera" 20 October 2014 on (in Dutch)
  4. ^ a b "La Monnaie ¦ De Munt ¦ Opera ¦ Shell Shock". La Monnaie ¦ De Munt. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Website publisher of Shell Shock
  6. ^ 'Shell Shock de Nicholas Lens et Nick Cave' by Caroline Alexander French)
  7. ^ in GDM, Il Giornale della Musica: 'SHELL SHOCK": DOLORE CHE DANZA'by Alma Torretta Italian)
  8. ^ Brussel News the Opera Shell Shock
  9. ^ Els Van Steenberghe, "Opera Shell Shock: Adem drinken, bloed likken en pijn zien Els Van Steenberghe" 27 October 2014 on (in Dutch)
  10. ^ Klassiek Centraal, 'Shell Shock' Lucrèce Maeckelbergh Dutch)
  11. ^ a b Shell Shock Overwhelming beauty' by Berta del Olivo
  12. ^ Roel Daenen in Agenda Magazine Dutch)
  13. ^ Rosita Boisseau, "Shell Shock fait éprouver le traumatisme des tranchées", on (in French)
  14. ^ Guy Duplat, "Shell Shock, comment la guerre marque les corps"', on, 24 October 2014 (in French)
  15. ^ Antonio Cuenca Ruiz, Shell Shock, in MMM (Munt Monnaie Magazine), Issue #26, September 2014
  16. ^ Source to paragraph ISSN 0779-9713 Antonio Cuenca Ruiz in MMMMagazine Sept-Nov. 2014
  17. ^ BRF Kultur 'Shell Shock: bewegende Urauuührung by Hans Reul German)
  18. ^ ARTE. ""Shell Shock" d'après un livret de Nick Cave au théâtre de la Monnaie à Bruxelles". ARTE Concert. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Program book D/2014/5974/8, Département Dramaturgie & Ligne éditoriale La Monnaie, Shell Shock 2014-2015 (2014)