Tools from an Opera director

To direct an opera is certainly a mess! You have to deal with a “text and music” system, then with musicians, singers, light, settings, the past… all this with a vision, right?

I read an interview of Claus Guth who directed a La Bohème (Puccini) in Paris this winter. Here are his ways :

  1. Two years before the opera, he takes the book, reads it, takes some notes, and… put it back in the drawer for resting.
  2. He listens to the music in loop, for days. He’s happy to not understand the words (he’s German, Puccini Italian), and writes the ideas he gets : irrationally, emotionally, viscerally.
  3. Then he works : searches about the opera the composer the writer the historical backgrounds…
  4. After months of thinking about it, he gathers his team to talk around a table, to get ideas. A concept emerges…
  5. One year before the opera, they try things with scenery, settings.
  6. Then he retires, alone, for a few weeks.
  7. He begins to work with singers and confront them with what he wants to do. Some play along rapidly, some have to be guided… to be creative.
  8. According to him, the main thing is the music. If the text is good but he doesn’t like the music, he can’t do anything. But if the text is weak but the music good (which happens often in operas), he will work on it, on elevation…
  9. He likes to keep rehearsals secret, wanting the audience to be surprised at the premiere.

 

La Bohème is about poor artists in Paris in the 1830s. For me it’s the best opera ever! Therefore I’m never annoyed by directing transpositions in other styles, the fifties, or other countries, etc. It can be ugly, but it’s most of the time interesting. I really think that we can do anything with a masterpiece : you’ll never hurt it really. Playing with archetypes, putting’em into other universes, it’s often amazing!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_boh%C3%A8me

I have to say that I already watch dozens of La Bohème happening in the streets of Paris and in frozen attic rooms (2nd picture). Guth decided to put it in space (!) (1st picture), in a lost spatial station, playing with a game of souvenirs, double characters, etc…

As they say in Libération, the French newspaper, it was “sidereally staggering” ( http://next.liberation.fr/theatre/2017/12/07/une-boheme-siderale-et-siderante_1615146 )

“we were flabbergasted (under the scream and catcalls) because we were suddenly seeing the bohemian lifestyle, from 1840 or 2017), on stage, all naked : artistically battybonkers, suicidal, not looking for approval, desesperate and sparkling like in a dream plunge to escape the misery of life”…

 

It’s true that the idea of Bohemian life (being a poor artist, with casualness and freedom (and parties and alcohol) it implies) is a problem : there’s a lie, a too big differences between your ideals and the reality…

 

 

I wrote this article to throw a few tools on my little table :

  • In Art, one pleasure is to compare readings, interpretations of a same piece.
  • It’s maybe creative to take a long time to work on something, with weeks or months of rest between work. Simmering.
  • Explore a masterpiece casually – without holding all the cards, just to see what it triggers in you. Then explore, read, and watch how what you fiund weaves with what you imagined.
  • Collaborations and conversations : sources of ideas.
  • Strength given by pauses alone. Watch things grow into you.
  • Find from where you can grow things (here : music) when a system in not entirely satisfying.
  • Keep things secret to have more impact.

 

These tools are somewhat obvious. Where will we apply them? Poetry? Photography? Couple? Teams? Companies? Literature?

 

Thanks for reading, and sorry for my English…

 

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Should we know about the Masters?

I heard about an old French movies critic who was wondering about the fact that many cinema enthusiasts where like stuck in their time, knowing nothing about the Masters of the past.

That’s a good question, right?

It’s the same for other Arts. You can be a good photographer without knowing much about big photographers or movements in the 70s, or in the 50s, the 20s, whatever.

I do ask myself though. Who are the masters? What did they bring? What can we learn from them?

I do think it’s not really a problem, though. In Cinema, you can enjoy Nolan without knowing Kubrick, you can watch The Sopranos without knowing anything about Coppola’s The Godfather.

It’s a “me” thing, I beg.

It’s because I think that the main string in Art’s harp is this question :

“What newness is brought, here?”

Novelty is pulsing along the long course of human creativity. This is what I seek. As Zola says before Manet : “What I seek before all else in a painting is a man, not a painting.”

For example I love Stephen Shore‘s photographies, but I also love he’s a thinker, that he says that a photography has to be “solved”. I love to know what were his… concerns, and how he tried to find solutions, etc…

I’d say this is a trait. Thinkers. They like to do things with passion, but they also like to think about it, about the links with other arts, other eras, other times. Links. Links. Links. What grows. What dies. What moved, or rotated. Links. Links. Links. Words and analysis…

I like to know who are the Masters of the past, and who they were, how they were working, what they discovered and shared. Not necessarily to try to be better, my, oh no.

Just to have a map of the ground I’m walking on.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Supertramp, The Cure and Arvo Pärt : Where’s the new sound?

ONE

“Hey Arvo! What’s up?”

Today my colleague who is in her 40 pointed her finger at one intern next to her, who is in his 20 : “He doesn’t know The Cure!”.

I asked : “What about Supertramp?”. Never heard of it…

Well…

“History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody’s sleeping, the boats put out to sea”

Fool’s Overture : 1977. I was 11 and get out of here : it was AMAZING!

TWO

In a way I understand! And in another way, it’s a proof of non-curiosity, and it’s sad. You don’t have to love Supertramp, or Genesis, or Talk Talk, buddy, but you should know about these…

In the end of the seventies, I knew about The Beatles, and Beach Boys or Cream, or Led Zeppelin, or Doors. Not my music, but I… knew about them.

I loved Supertramp, and Breakfast in America was a hit, and I was in love with some inaccessible girl at this time, and today when I hear Hodgson’s voice, my heart is pinched : someone didn’t care much about me.

THREE

I said to the little guy : “Supertramp is a pop group who understood the tools of Progressive Rock and made hits with them. Long songs, complex arrangements and harmonies, fractured forms. It worked pretty well!”.

In Fool’s Overture, the voice begins to sing after… like almost 6 minutes of music.

I wanted to tell him about Dreamer. Or about the choir, Churchill’s voice, the harmonica, or the pulsing rage of the end. Or how Faith, by The Cure, was incredibly grey. And the bass! But… I said nothing. Shup. I just wrote a few names on a paper. “Explore YouTube it!”.

Yes? Close to the Edge? Later…

FOUR

Deleuze says, and I agree : in Art, the only real question is “What’s new here?”.

I’m 52 tomorrow. I heard some violins in the radio tonight and my brain said “Arvo Pärt?“, and I was right.

Arvo Pärt was a new sound. ECM…

Supertramp too (this voice!!). Like Sting in Police. Or Disco music. Saturday Night Fever was a great new sound. Moroder. Then Marrs, or Frankie Goes to Hollywood : Relax. All were like : Oh oh oh I NEVER FUCKING HEARD THIS BEFORE!

What’s NEW. This is what we need, right?

“Dreamer, you stupid little dreamer
So now you put your head in your hands, oh no”

FIVE

I have to say I kept the pattern. I was and stayed HUNGRY of the what’s newn-ess. Then I explored, trying to find what was NEW in the Beatles, Mike Oldfield, Weather Report, Stravinsky, Brian Eno and Art of Noise and others.

SIX

Of course I sound like an “old fool”!

Now I hear big groups and I ask every lover : “Well, listen to me : what’s new here? Radiohead? Björk? What??”. I understood about King Crimson, and Kate Bush, but I don’t get it about Arctic Monkeys or… Drake.

Real new sounds are rare. Royksöpp. St Vincent. Who else?

Salve! Thanks for reading!

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Vincent Giarrano

Bastien Vives, French comic book artist

Bastien Vives is a Type. I use his work here to talk about these artists, who are :

Fast. Talented. Minimalist.

Economy of means is fascinating. As you see, a hair (or a face) is made of a few lines. No need for eyes sometimes. It says something, it showsonly what is needed, it also shows also an attitude : let’s be fast, casual, and genuine.

I wonder who I’d put into this splendid basket : Musicians? Movie directors? Writers? Do you have an idea?

Thanks for reading!

 

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Artists Unawareness & Prolificity

The single idea of “How we all create” and invent in art is fascinating. It’s a territory, where we can discuss about genius, work, inspiration, ideas, seeds, growing, building, speed, movements, failure, discoveries and bliss.

I could invent a whole blog about this – but it seems I like my “constantly random” thing. My French Toolbox is not a blog about this or that, but a state of mind…

I just read a Simenon interview (he’s a Belgian writer) who talks about “states” he crosses when he’s about to write a novel. He says that the story and the characters grows and simmers in himself for days, weeks, until he can’t restrain anymore and has to write.

Then he has to stay in that state for days, without interruption. He says that he has to be the more empty possible. Not thinking. As if he had to “receive” the story, without using his intelligence.

Simenon is considered as a master of crime novels. He wrote almost 200 books, and was said to be able to write 60-80 pages a day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Simenon

Well, prolific artists (like Picasso or Victor Hugo) are maybe linked to this fast-non-thinking process, a trance. I have also often seen the other side : where “inspiration” is like a necessary wind which have to be used, criticized, canalized and judged during the whole process of creation. The critic inside the writing poet, says Baudelaire…

Also, we all confusedly know something else : there can be no start, in creativity, without a little burst, a little rush of EMOTION.

Thanks for reading!

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Herb List / Todd Hido

The “Triangle Words Expansion” method for creative writing

When you blog on WordPress, you have charts where you can see the number of visitors and what pages, what articles they visited. It’s funny because since a few days it’s very… like telling the story of who visited me : the visited pages draw something – and I ofter re-discover articles I forgot I wrote!

It linked some writings together, giving a sense into the form of structure, and I thought about Roussel and my Triangle Words Expansion method.

I know this technique from Raymond Roussel, a French writer. It’s awfully simple : Choose 3 words and draw a triangle – draw links from each word with all you need to use – cut them in pieces, use linked words, etc, until you get a light-bulb over your head, a seed, a story-idea.

OK. The method is simple : catch a book a magazine a dictionary, choose three words. These words must be a bit interesting, and apart from each other (if you choose farm, cow and horse, you won’t go very far).

Then use whatever you want to extend/expand your field.

One day I wrote a short story about a bottle in space, but… whatever.

I just did it and found “reminiscent“, “domesticate” and “solace“.

From this, staying in English, you cut words to find these : rem, scent, mini, dome, cat, tick, mess, solo, ace, solar or shoelace…

Tick gives clock, time, parasite, insect, disease. Dome gives glass (perfect for sun). When I’m stuck I use French : mess gives “messe” (a mass, which gives me religion and heaviness, right). Ace give me “carte” (a map, or a card to play).

 

I don’t have a story yet, but I know there’s a woman alone living in the future, under a glass dome, with a cat named Ola. She’s praying when she sees something frightening through (or on) the dome. She will need to escape (needs a map), and outside will be captured and her hands tied : all what she saw was fake, an illusion to make her out.

Hmmm. Any Sci-Fi writer around? I’ll do better next time, OK?

Thanks for reading!

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Edouard Manet Quote : “There is only one true thing…

There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again. All the rest is humbug.

Edouard Manet

 

 

“Il n’y a qu’une chose vraie. Faire du premier coup ce qu’on voit. Quand ça y est, ça y est. Quand ça n’y est pas, on recommence. Tout le reste est de la blague”.

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