For many teams at La Monnaie, Cassandra begins today! In the Grand Foyer, director Marie-Eve Signeyrole, set designer Fabien Teigné and dramaturg Louis Geisler presented their staging and set design concept to the house. We can already make one prediction (you better believe it!): Cassandra will be an opera project like no other. In its ambition to work out almost every aspect of the creation process in an ecologically responsible way, to actively involve the audience of La Monnaie and Brussels and to give a place to the voice of today's Cassandras, it challenges us to do things radically differently. Opening night is on 10 September 2023, but already throughout the coming season we are organising numerous activities and workshops around this production. Because Cassandra, that's now!
For more than three centuries, new operas have been born in the heart of Brussels, a tradition we are proud to continue in the 21st century. Because we firmly believe that The Great Repertoire is not a closed book, but a story to which each era can add its own chapter, full of exciting music, relevant themes and innovative writing. Our era too. That is why we will present one or two brand new commissioned works every season until 2025. You can follow the preparations for these unique productions on this blog.
The calligraphy behind the music
Composer Harold Noben's manuscripts for Beyond.
In Cassandra, Bernard Foccroulle’s first opera, the young climate activist Sandra struggles to make her voice heard, clearly mirroring the original Greek myth of Cassandra. But how exactly did that story go?
Who is Cassandra?
In Greek mythology, Cassandra is the daughter of King Priam of Troy and his wife Hecuba. Cassandra is so beautiful that even the sun god Apollo falls head over heels in love with her. In a bid to seduce her, he endows her with the unique gift of prophecy. However, she spurns his advances and an aggrieved Apollo retaliates by ensuring that nobody will ever believe her predictions – not even her own family.
When her mother falls pregnant with Paris, Cassandra predicts that the child will signify the end of Troy, so her mother keeps Cassandra’s younger brother out of the city for a while. Later on, when he is allowed to return, Cassandra warns him that on his expedition to Sparta, he will abduct Helen, the wife of King Menelaus, thereby unleashing a bloody war between the Greeks and the Trojans. When Paris does bring Helen back from Sparta, Cassandra is the only one to predict misfortune; the Trojans are all stunned by the young Greek girl’s beauty.
For ten long years, the Greeks try to secure Helen’s return by holding the city of Troy under siege. They then come up with the idea of offering the Trojans the famous horse that will lead to the destruction of Troy. In vain, Cassandra warns that the horse is a trick to gain entrance to the city.
The more accurately Cassandra predicts the future, the less she is listened to. She begins to foretell horrors in such a frenzied manner that she is declared insane and everyone gives her a wide berth. Cassandra is the archetypal cursed prophet, condemned not to be believed. She even has a vision of her own death (she will be murdered by Clytemnestra, wife of the Greek commander Agamemnon), but makes no attempt to prevent it. After the Trojan massacre in which so many of her family members lost their lives, she loses the will to live.
The Cassandra syndrome
The ‘Cassandra syndrome’, an extension of this myth, refers to a person’s legitimate warnings or concerns not being believed and therefore ignored. The term is still used in a variety of fields: from medical science, through the media and psychology to politics.
Solar is based on the myth of Icarus, which, among many other things, is also a story about a strained father-son relationship. Strikingly enough, this new creation is the result of the collaboration between a father composer and his daughter librettist: Howard and Anna Moody. It is not their first opera project together: in 2019 they already presented Agreed, a piece about love, loss and divided lands, at the Glyndenbourne Festival. And this season, they created Lunar Lake, a children's opera for the Opéra National du Rhin, in which the moon's reflection suddenly vanishes from the surface of the Lake of Dreams...
I name the piece: Beyond.
"I often choose English titles. Perhaps because they are widely understood, but here specifically also because the French equivalent 'au-delà' has a double meaning that does not fit the piece at all. The word 'beyond' simply expresses the idea that you have to undergo something to discover what it entails. And that idea is embodied in this composition. The idea that sometimes you have to face up to something and confront your fears in order to move on. Rather like a small child who is about to jump into the water, but doesn’t dare. The child has to overcome its panic if it is to experience both the sensation of the water and the joy of conquering its fear. We are faced with these sort of experiences throughout life; they can resonate in each of us in a thousand different ways. That’s why I kept to one word. Initially I wanted a longer title, but that would have been too explicit and reductive. I believe it is better that everyone perceives the piece in their own way and according to their own experiences."
Tonight is the premiere of our concert performance of Parsifal. On purge bébé too contains a tongue-in-cheek musical reference to Richard Wagner's final and most mystical work. For composer Philippe Boesmans, an ardent Wagnerian in his youth, still had to square his account with the Meister of Bayreuth...
In just a few days, Bassem Akiki, conductor of On purge bébé but also a composer himself (see Amor fati), wrote a new piece for the memorial service for Philippe Boesmans: PhiPhinomaenon - a musical ode to the phenomenon of 'Phiphi', as the composer was affectionately called by his closest acquaintances. Two cellos (La Monnaie musicians Sébastien Walnier and Corinna Lardin) represent respectively the composer and the conductor of an opera, engaged in their artistic dialogue. Offstage, clarinettist Paolo Poma plays excerpts from various operas by Philippe Boesmans - from Reigen, Pinocchio, but also from On purge bébé...
IVO VAN HOVE NEW INTENDANT AT THE RUHRTRIENNALE FESTIVAL
Today, it has been announced that Ivo Van Hove, director of Fanny och Alexander, will become the new intendant of the Ruhrtriennale for the 2024-2026 term. On November 1, 2023, he will succeed current artistic director Barbara Frey. Van Hove will also continue his directorial and management duties at Internationaal Toneel Amsterdam.
The Ruhrtriennale has been held since 2002, when former La Monnaie director Gerard Mortier became its founding artistic director. For four weeks during summertime, this prestigious arts festival transforms the Ruhr area into a place where international music theatre, theatre, dance and concerts are staged in former factories and industrial buildings
Ivo Van Hove: 'I am honoured to become the intendant of this fantastic international arts festival, which within a short period of time brings together so many artists from all over the world. For me personally, it means going 'back to my roots' to the early 1980s when I was producing theatre with Jan Versweyveld in unconventional places such as harbour warehouses, an old laundry, a cellar and even living rooms. The Ruhrtriennale offers me the opportunity to put music theatre and theatre in particular at the heart of the programme. Each year, I will be directing a production with the ITA ensemble that will have its world premiere during the arts festival.'
Think 'composing' and many people picture a man or a woman, all alone, in the silence of a study, scribbling notes on large sheets of music paper. A state of fever, of deep concentration, perhaps only interrupted to try something out at the piano. However, for many musical works, and certainly for 'concertos', the creative process is much less solitary. Harold Noben, too, does not write his new composition in total isolation from the musicians who will perform it. He met some of our orchestra's soloists - harpist Agnès Clément, clarinettist Antonio Capolupo, trumpeter Rudy Moercant and percussionist Pieter Mellaerts - to explore the possibilities of their instruments together. A few impressions.
Today La Monnaie bade farewell to Philippe Boesmans with a moving commemoration in our Main Auditorium. Musicians and artists with whom Philippe had worked closely throughout his glorious career brought a selection of his compositions or recalled his memories. Composers Kris Defoort and Bassem Akiki, who will conduct On purge bébé in December, had even written a new work for the occasion.
The tension is rising! With only a few days to go until the performance series, all the pieces of the puzzle are slowly falling into place during the first dress rehearsal. Check out our photo series here.