Monday, 23 February 2015

Philippe Boesmans : 'Au Monde' in Paris, performance, program books and full score

Yesterday, I attended the first performance in Paris and in France of Au Monde, the last opera composed by Belgian composer Philippe Boesmans, with a libretto by Joël Pommerat after his own play. It took place at the Opéra Comique (Salle Favart).

After the world première of this opera in Brussels in March 2014, I had acquired the program book (2 volumes, including the complete libretto) published by the Théâtre de la Monnaie. The opera was subsequently broadcast by the Arte TV channel, and the full score was published by French publisher Jobert. I recently also bought the original play published by Actes Sud. Therefore, I was quite ready to attend this performance.

It happened to be a very enjoyable performance, though the subject has nothing of a comedy :
Behind closed doors, in a world as dark as an abyss or a belly, a family protects itself from outside light and life. The play begins with the celebration of the adopted daughter’s birthday and the return of the youngest son from the military. Old worlds living side by side with the women, the youth, the beauty, the love they do not express. Every character is obstinately in quest of his own truth, but as the quest progresses, the mystery fed with desire and trouble becomes obvious (own translation of the synopsis).
The opera lasts about 2 hours, with no intermission. There is a unique set, transforming the stage into a 'black box' with only a few props : couch, armchairs, table and chairs. The darkness of the set is from time to time disrupted with light coming from an opening in the back. Thus the audience is forced to focus its attention on the characters. Too bad the theater decided to use the back of the stage to project French surtitles which act as a rather disturbing element, considering parts of the libretto in English and pseudo-Basque (written by the actress herself) are not translated. As in most of Maurice Maeterlinck's plays, the characters' main occupation is to be waiting : first for the return of Ori, then for him to become blind. Though there is no ensemble as such, the composer manages to keep the audience awake (on the contrary of the characters : Ori and the father alternatively sleeping on- or off-stage) with an inventive score, though not as inventive as Levinas' for Le Petit prince. The accordion is wisely used as a timbre modifier rather than as a soloist. All singers were up to their jobs, and the conductor managed to keep the orchestra's level low enough so it is possible to hear every word, which as quite rare in this theater.
The orchestra is the following :
- 2 flutes, 2 oboes (II also English horn), 2 clarinets (II also bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (II also contrabassoon) ;
- 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 tuba ;
- harp, piano and celesta ;
- 4 percussions : timpani, glockenspiel, vibraphone, maracas, tam-tam, triangle, small cymbal, 4 tumbas, crotales, glass chimes, tubular belles, bass drum, 4 bongos, 4 toms, 2 cymbals, snare drum, tenor drum, marimbaphone, 3 wood blocks, tambourine, temple blocks, whip ;
- accordion ;
- strings.

The cast consists of 8 singers : the father (bass, Frode Olsen), the eldest son (bass baritone, Werner van Mechelen), Ori (baritone, Philippe Sly), the eldest daughter (mezzo, Charlotte Hellekant), the second daughter (soprano, Patricia Petibon), the youngest daughter (soprano, Ffur Wyn), the eldest daughter's husband (tenor, Yann Beuron), a woman employed in the house (actress, Ruth Olaizola). The Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France is conducted by Patrick Davin. Joël Pommerat, who wrote the original play and the libretto, directs.

The original program book (96 pages), published by the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, contains :

- In memoriam Gérard Mortier ;
- complete cast and dates of performance ;
- synopsis, by Christian Longchamp ;
- "Au Monde" by Joël Pommerat ;
- Propos de campagne... Sur la route de "Au Monde", by Patrick Davin ;
- Speculum mundi, l'étrangeté, du théâtre à l'opéra, by Cécile Auzolle ;
- De la famille au monde, by Dirk de Wachter
There are several pages of black and white pictures, several pages of quotes by various authors, several photos of sketches by the composer. The biographies of the singers are in another booklet. A separate booklet Another volume contains the complete libretto. The three volumes are bilingual (French and Dutch).

The program book (104 pages) published by the parisian theater contains the articles written by Longchamp, Pommeat, Davin and Auzolle for the Belgian performances, as well as :

- "À lire avant le spectacle", followed by "Argument" ;
- Background and synopsis (in English) ;
- color photos of the production ;
- biographies of Philippe Boesmans and Joël Pommerat ;
- excerpts of Pommerat's writings on theater ;
- excerpts of works by Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Maeterlinck ;
- complete libretto ;
- biographies.

It is written in French.

Shortly before the performance, I bought the full score published by Éditions Jobert  in Paris. It is a A3 size book of 350 pages with spiral binding, providing a safe and flat opening, with no risk of damaging it.

The reading is very easy : the music and text are printed in a very convenient constant size. The title page reads : "Philippe Boesmans / Au monde / Opéra sur un livret de Joël Pommerat / pour solistes et orchestre / Partition d'orchestre / Éditions Jobert / [...] © Copyright 2012 by Éditions Jobert". On the last unnumbered page before music starts, the complete cast for the first performance is printed. Unfortunately, this is the only information given on the work. There is no orchestral or vocal setting provided. Therefore I had to write down all percussion instruments used in the score while reading it, to get an accurate orchestral setting. There are also several inaccuracies about the name of the only character who has one : depending on the source (the original play, the published libretto, the score, the website of La Monnaie...), it is spelled 'Ori' or 'Ory'. I wonder if at some point it has not been confused with Rossini's Le Comte Ory.

There are several mistakes (including spelling) in the score that do not appear in the printed libretto :

- p. 22 : "TEXTE ??" is printed over over the 'La seconde fille' stave. Something might be missing there ;
- p. 46 : "Gde symb." over the '4. perc.' stave : probably a misspelling for "Gde cymb." ;
- p. 65 : 'Le père' : "dévastatrice", should be "dévastatrices" ;
- p. 180 : there are two identical and empty staves for "Vln. I 7-8" ;
- p. 202, measures 1390-1393 : the melodic line is ascending in the score and descending in the video recording ;
- p. 264, second system, 'La seconde fille' : "Elle ne fait rien de ces journées". It should be "ses journées" ;
- p. 267, measure 1945 : stage direction "Le Père sort". But the father is asleep (see p. 262). It should be "Le fils aîné sort" ;
- p. 270, stage direction : "Les deux sœurs le regardent sortir, pleine d'appréhension". It should be "pleines" ;
- p. 275, measures 1999-2000 : "ne dépérisse pas" in the score is replaced with "devienne meilleur" in the printed libretto and the video ;
- p. 291, last two bars : "répérer", it should be "repérer" ;
- p. 302, 'Tbne 1' : "sord. Hamon' should read 'sourd. Hamon' ;
- p. 309, first system, last bar : should be "ébranlées" as in the libretto, instead of "ébranlé".

Considering the price of the score, these mistakes are unacceptable, but the score remains very easy to read, despite its lack of information on the work.

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