This opera was adapted from Danish author Janne Teller’s award-winning novel by composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell. It was performed by Glyndebourne Youth Opera and a professional cast in 2016.
On the first day back at school one September, a boy called Pierre walks out of the class, climbs a plum tree, and declares that ‘nothing matters’. His classmates try without success to bring him down from the tree. Desperate to prove him wrong, they give up their childhood possessions to a bonfire, ‘a Pile of Meaning’, so their tears will prove things matter.
When this makes no impression on Pierre, they decide to force one another to give up whatever is most important to each of them. This starts with toys and clothes, but soon escalates monstrously: one girl’s hair – the national flag – the corpse of a pet – a figure of Jesus – until finally, with Pierre still claiming life is pointless – the children give up body and soul in a terrible spiral of sacrifice.
Finally, Pierre comes to see the ‘Pile of Meaning’. He climbs it, crying out that life is beautiful – because it means nothing. In rage and regret the children set upon him. He is never seen again. Years later at Christmas, the children, now adults from all walks of life, gather by the plum tree to hang purple baubles on its branches, in recognition that whatever it was they went through together, the life and death of Pierre meant something, and cannot be forgotten.
Nothing is a story of lost childhood, the getting of wisdom, and the madness of crowds. The children are forced to confront the darkest answer to the question of existence, yet somehow find love and humanity in their responses. They absorb the horror of this communal experience, and move on through life, sadder and wiser, ever searching for truth and meaning.