Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Adventurous Ligeti in Lille

Adventures, New Adventures [by György Ligeti], Opéra de Lille, November 20 2010

Charlotte Nessi ..... director
Denis Comtet..... conductor

Jody Pou ..... soprano
Katalin Károlyi ..... mezzo-soprano
Paul-Alexandre Dubois ..... baritone

Miyoko Shida ..... dancer

Comedians: Max Delor, Nicolas De Peretti, N’Gwamoué Diabaté, Norbert Rocher
Children Choir of the Conservatoire de Wasquehal

Splendid show in Lille last Saturday!  First I was positively surprised by this city that I've visited only once and that was nearly 10 years ago for one (gray!) afternoon. Lille now looks very modern, well maintained and pleasant. The snag of this modernization is that the downtown pedestrian area is immersed in an enormous shopping mall -- which (like any shopping moll) looks characterless, with all the hyper-consumption driven post-modern sub-culture that erases all the architectural, historical or even folkloric peculiarities. The other half of the downtown area is preserved though, and looks really good. You could see various cultural influences that this city had absorbed through its rich history:  there's a lot of resemblance with Dutch culture, it absorbed lots of "Englishness" too, but in its foundations it is very French. As a result you get a peculiar charm that at moments can be quite irresistible. Like any medium-size or large city in France, the touristic offer of Lille benefits from its Palais des Beaux Arts which shelters some of the most beautiful pieces of art: it goes from Bosch and Bruegel, to Picasso, Monet, Vuillard.... or Rodin.

In that 'nicer' downtown is their opera house -- yet another positive surprise for me: in size and shape it looks like Opéra Comique in Paris, only it's brighter, cleaner, overall better maintained. Young people working there are extremely helpful and it all looks fresh.

This post is not supposed to be about Lille, but about this rarely performed "opera" by Ligeti and this production that was created in 2004 by Ensemble Justiniana and now revived. I guess the revival of this work was a consequence of the fact that money is tight, but after having seen I believe this is what every theater should be doing to educate the younger or open-minded public. It is a vector to discover theater and opera.

Ligeti apparently composed the piece as his response to two standard problems encountered in most (any!?) opera: (a) in order to follow the action on stage you should at least study the synopsis of the piece before the show begins, (b) to follow the details of the show you focus on the text which is  hardly comprehensible - especially when sung by a soprano. In such a configuration the role of music is to exacerbate the emotional and dramatic moments, but at the same time it impedes the oral communication.

So what Ligeti did is to take the opposite route and give the music a dominant role. Operatic side of the piece gets infiltrated via spectator's imagination: the singers produce various sounds to express their emotions and to accompany their gestures, but there is no spoken/definite language. The story is imaginary too, and it is left to a director to build a convenient story which would fit well with the score and resonate with a given public. It's Regie-101 for you, if you ask me! ;)

So you can only imagine my pleasure as it exactly illustrates what I'm raving about since forever... Opera is not only about good singing. Its richness is in good theater, good acting, subtle gestures, clever sets... but where the spoken theater cannot penetrate emotion-wise, opera can via music and singing... And here there was a wonderful example how the music plays to give depth to theater and not to make it vulgar as it is regularly the case with the verismo repertoire.

The story is a dream of two kids who open the show in pajamas by falling asleep in one corner of the stage. Seven big frames are then being lit (like 7 big paintings) with one musician in each one of them ready to play on his instrument. Center-stage is occupied by a long dinner table where a family is supposed to receive friends. It becomes all funny as it is a typical bourgeois dinner where everyone comes well dressed, hungry  but tries not to eat as little as possible because that's "how you should behave"; when they dare to tae more, the platters are already taken away; they would like to drink but
are afraid to drink too much... But since it is a dream the irrational things start happening and the guests start behaving weird.
 The operatic voices produce all sorts of sounds to make characters communicate among themselves and to accompany their gestures showing exasperation, hospitability, kindness, embarassment, anger.... you name it! To make it all extra-theatrical, there is a dancer, who actually never dance but only through her gracious grand gestures underlines the propos of what the singers/actors are mumbling.

Since the piece "Adventures" would be too short, the production team decided to add "Musica Ricercata" (also by Ligeti) and a small choral piece "Miniwanka" by Raymond Murray Schafer.
In that latter piece ~20 other kids appeared on stage, all wearing pajamas and in fact representing replica of the two kids who fell asleep at the beginning of the show. They explore the dream and  through various (now more melodic) sounds communicate their vision of the world.

As for Musica Ricercata, it is a beautiful exercise by Ligeti which shows a dramatic value of simple/pure tones. It is build like a geometric progression of notes: it starts from 2 tones, then goes to 3, then 4, and so on until you arrive at a short dodecaphonic piano piece. "De-li-ci-ous!"
Apparently Stanley Kubric loved these simple, pure, sounds that he knew hoe to use to underline the peculiar moments in his films. As an example you certainly remember of this part of Musica Ricercata in "Eyes Wide Shut".

In this 50-60 minutes long dream everything is just impeccable. It's amazing how it works with us, among actors, and how the music flows - just amazing!

I was thrilled to see the theater full with lots of children, visibly happy to have discovered something new, responding amazingly well to what they were given to see (better than what their old peops would expect them to!)

Huge props to Charlotte Nessy, for creating a simple but extremely eficient drama and to show why theater should exist: this sort of theater and emotions you cannot live through TV shows, TV, or any other media -- it's theater! BRAVO to Opéra de Lille.

Jody Pou, Paul-Alexandre Dubois, Katalin Károlyi

Jody Pou, Paul-Alexandre Dubois, Katalin Károlyi, Denis Comtet, Charlotte Nessi

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