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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Musetta is a pest in La Bohème (Puccini)

Don’t go, it’s about opéra but it’s short and there’s a pest!

La Bohème is this Puccini opera happening in Paris. Let’s make it quick :

Rodolfo is a poor writer living with a few pals (Marcello the painter, Colline the philosopher, Schaunard the musician) in the Latin Quarter (Paris) in the 1830s. He meets Mimi, who lives in another room in the building. They’ll become lovers (of course).

In the Act II, the four friends+Mimi are in a restaurant within a great crowd. Comes Musetta, “formerly Marcello’s sweetheart” with an elderly admirer. She’s hoping to reclaim Marcello’s attention, and Marcello is furious, jealous, and… in love. All this in songs!

OK.

We all have our comfort food, comfort film, comfort anything.

My COA (Comfort Opera Act – YESSS it can beeee) is Act II of La Bohème.

It’s fast, rich, crowded, full of surprises (lovers, drama, plenty of fun, kids, a Parpignol (who sells toys to kids)) and there’s a happy fanfare at the end!

Musetta is the bigger than life pest-and-pretty. Opera is exaggeration? Musetta is bigger than crazy, and the singers who play her have obviously plenty of fun.

Colored, pest, adorable and extraverted, Musetta is also visibly a delight for costume designers

Push the levers, Jane!

There are hundreds of ways of playing this character. Some days, I compare (YouTube is your friend) and I laugh a lot : Poor Marcello!

Have a nice day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game : Find Musetta in this finale :

act-two-boheme.jpg

 

Keep a part for later – Masterpieces from Masters

If you’re an explorer, you sometimes discover an artist you… adore.

It’s so good that you can’t resist : here you are exploring the whole chest, pigging out the whole thing. We are all lost souls, craving for…

But sometimes you climb “one more degree”. It’s so good that you decide something.

Keep a part for later. More in reserve. Some gas left in the tank.

This is what I did with a few masters : Puccini, Chekhov, Faulkner, Borges, Jünger. Who are yours?

I know Manon and La Bohème by heart, and pretty well some of other Puccini’s operas, like Tosca or Butterfly, and one third of Trittico. Each time I listen to a part of Turandot I’m floored… but I keep it for later!

Chekhov wrote hundreds of short stories. I have shelves of that guy! But I never read “everything”. It’s the same for Jünger or Borges, or Faulkner.

  • Keep the pleasure to discover something new from a Master you love.
  • One day it’s maybe to late : you’re dead. Or you’re not interested any more.
  • You sometimes don’t remember if you read this or that. Even better, right?
  • There’s a middle choice : listen or read once, and then wait for years.
  • Years after, you read or listen… another way.
  • Choose an infinite area. Restaurants in Paris for example. Hmmm?

Thanks for reading!

hallieartwork_-__everything_about_you_sparks-_if_they_stuck_you_in_the_dark__you_d_glow___

 

 

Instagram : hallieartwork

What does Manon Lescaut want?

Manon Lescaut is an Italian opera composed by G. Puccini in the 1890s, from a French novel named “L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut“.

Act 1 : Des Grieux is a melancholic student, outside, with friends, in France. A coach arrives, bringing Manon, a young woman on her way to convent (forced by her father), and Géronte, an old man who wants to abduct Manon and live with her in Paris. Des Grieux understands what’s happening, falls in love, and Manon and him escape in Géronte’s coach. Voilà !

Act 2 : Curiously, Manon has already left des Grieux and is living a relatively luxurious life with the old Géronte. Etc… Yes, etc !

There’s a huge, gap, an ellipsis, between Act 1 and 2 : what happened to the young couple ? Why did Manon choose Géronte, quitting her young lover ? Money ? Bore ? Stupidity ?

Pappano on Manon’s Music

As a Puccini lover, I watched many versions of this opera. And I found out something, a question appeared :

What does Manon Lescaut want?

So I began to explore books and the web to find out. Kiri Te Kanawa (with a marvellous Placido Domingo as Des Grieux) is a splendid, crystal innocent Manon. She floats onto what life brings to her, like a little cork on the sea. Elsewhere, Astrid Weber plays an upstart woman, mocking secretly and using Des Grieux as a purpose to escape her fate.

These are two very interesting ways to interpret the character. Because you will fill the blank (ellipsis) in VERY different ways !

From this to that, I saw many ways to put Manon to life. Is she a punk ? A feminist ? An idiot ? Does she choose anything ? What do you think ?

Manon and Des Grieux in Act II

Manon is a blurry character. We often don’t understand her. Her behavior is complex, living, changing all the time : she is a weathercock !

In Act I, she’s a sad, frightened country girl sent off to a convent. In Act II, she’s the consort of a wealthy old man, sarcastic and bored. This activity doesn’t address Act III, where she’s in prison for allegedly stealing from that old man, but Act IV finds her experiencing the consequences: wandering helpless, full of regrets, in a vast American desert.

Yes that’s sad ! Yes She’ll die ! Who was Manon Lescaut ?

Libretto in english

 

Tool : Ah c’est tellement passionnant when you don’t have all the keys. When a single glance can change all the story ! Who’s evil ? You don’t know. What if in your work you didn’t give “all the keys” to the audience ? Chop one or two, just to see…

 

Tool : One of the pleasure of Classical Music is to compare versions. You can have days and days of pleasure.

Dial : Another article is needed : “In Love with a Project”. Soon.

 

 

 

Reason & Pleasure : An Interesting Braid

Why, and how does music bring us pleasure?

I understood one day that human beings love music for very different reasons.  Melodies, the energy of dance, or the voice of a singer, nostalgia of an era or personal moment, to feel part of a community, for solos or the virtuosity of an instrumentalist, for a “sound”, or a production work.  Some people stay stuck their entire life on the Beatles, or Yes, or a single singer – Callas and everything around her. Why not?

Today I wonder, and I turn down the dial, or one of the cursors on musical pleasure.

1 – At the beginning of this dial you’ll find pure simple pleasure. You listen to Brahms‘ German Requiem and you feel bliss: “That is beautiful” bravo, and good for you.

2 – In the middle of the dial, reason and culture begin to become important.  You know where Brahms is in the historical timeline of classical music (say, between Mozart and Ravel), and you know a little of what’s happening in the music (here’s a soprano, there, woodwinds are playing a fascinating part with the horns…).

3 – At the end side of the dial, there is the connoisseur listener.  He is knowledgeable in the other works of Brahms, reads the sheet music, and understands what forces are in play (articulations of the different movements of the Requiem, what is said in the texts, how the instruments work together, etc…).

One could say this dial moves “from pleasure to reason,” but it’s not that simple. Why? Because the specialist, who is plunged into analysis and reason, is feeling pleasure as much as the amateurs.

More: I think that his pleasure is multiplied tenfold.

Tool: What is this strange way to mix reason and pleasure? Can we apply this to other territories (seduction, poetry, warfare ?), and how would this look?

What is this pleasure? Who knows the mechanisms of its birth?

How do we weave the braid made from different forces?

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Fury Road

Some say that movies are the operas of the 20th or 21st century, but just how does this work?

Many times I’ve read that Mad Max Fury Road is an “opera of” (push-in a word you want: violence, barbarity, or metallic barbaria of violence 2000). You try to watch the movie trailer to get the point but – Ouch! It hurts!

Movies are a mix of many Arts: sound, music, stories, etc; the “Big Show”… you know? (insert trumpets and horns here please)

Here of course, this expression is also used to say that G. Miller madly pushes the levers much further than what you would usually see in these kinds of films. Some parts are fast, violent, mad, or well…madly, violently, and hysterically fast… so there!

It’s Operatic !

But this movie has another common feature with the opera world.

Critics, opera singers, music lovers, and everyone will say the same thing: opera is a totally extravagant Art. It’s so impossible that it is almost… stupid. You just have to choose any random scene from an opera to see the similarities.

So for example: There’s a lady near a cardboard castle, she has problems, so she sings these problems. LOUDLY!  And there is a man in disguise elsewhere on bended knee , yelling at an indifferent moon – which is merely a lamp in the back of the theater – but he yells of his despair with passion. Impossible!

To truly appreciate opera, you have to accept that it’s a really silly thing. An extravagant extravaganza! You have to pass over the fact that it’s exaggerated, idiotic, and an incredibly dramatic artform, but a tremendous theatrical performance!

And you have to admit Fury Road stands in this category. The evil character is a big, funny, ugly puppet named Immortan, huhu, the ladies are surrealistic top-models in white veils – white veils in a barbarian futuristic desert? Of couuuurse! Plus the story is so simple. We escape, then we come back, then you think about how comical it all is.

So here we are. The audience is in bliss despite the conditions it allows to pass over the craziness of the storyline. Yes, there’s a red guitar guy throwing fire from his instrument. Yes, Furiosa is in fact Charlize Theron playing furious, but once you accept the craziness, the next step is pleasure.

Tool: Think about it when you encounter Puccini, or any other kind of extravagant nonsensical art of any kind : Once you accept the craziness, the next step is pleasure.

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