In late November 2011, Ragnar Kjartansson’s twelve-hour operatic performance Bliss, at the Abrons auditorium, saw audiences cheering in the aisles, crying in their seats, struck dumb and lifted high by the transforming hallucinatory power of the rococo and the amazing sight of an artist earnestly, even desperately trying to cut through 21st-century irony. The performance started at noon, when ten Icelandic opera singers took the stage in eighteenth-century folk costume, including Kjartansson himself dressed as a peasant carrying a stuffed dead hare. Then all began to sing the ravishing, almost ecclesiastic five-minute finale of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” This divine refrain consists of only three lines. A philandering count begs his wife’s forgiveness, singing, “Countess, pardon me.” She responds, “I am gentler. And I grant it to you.” Hearing her, everyone fills with joy and sings together, “Ahh, all will be now be happy.” That five minutes repeats, cycling over and over — for twelve hours.
Bliss received the Malcolm McLaren Awards at the Performa11