In this video, follow Harold Noben during a workshop with three of our musicians, as he explores the full expressive potential of their instruments. Curious to hear the final result? The world premiere of Beyond, conducted by Music Director Alain Altinoglu, is only a few weeks away from 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.
Back to school!
And thanks to our educational programme MM Schools, opera is also on the agenda for many pupils this school year! Primary, secondary or higher education: at every level, our creations Cassandra and Solar are treated extensively during workshops, school performances and teacher training days.
Not a month, sometimes not even a week, goes by without a change in the way the puzzle of a new creation has to be put together. On purge bébé is no exception to this. Due to personal reasons, MM Ambassador Stéphane Degout sees himself forced to cancel his participation in this opera production. A few months from the premiere, we have fortunately quickly found a worthy replacement: the new Monsieur Follavoine is called Jean-Sébastien Bou, who had already appeared at La Monnaie as Don Giovanni. From performing one good family man to another...
Howard Moody – The composer’s journal
#2 Composer’s response to the synopsis
It was seeing Breughel’s picture in the Musée des Beaux Arts - Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - and reading W.H. Auden’s poem about it that first inspired me to write an “environmental” opera using this myth. As observed by Auden, there can be no turning away from disaster. I had my own ideas and concepts starting to form, however, I was looking forward to seeing how Anna would respond to the brief of the commission and create a full dramatic story.
When I received Anna’s full synopsis, I was blown away by its originality and sense of contemporary urgency. She has managed to reflect the environmental crisis of our times by re-balancing our perception of the Icarus myth.
Talus, (Icarus’ cousin) is put in the centre of the action, starting the opera with him being held over a cliff edge by his uncle Daedalus. Opening any stage show with fast dramatic music is a composer’s dream! Talus’ transformation into a bird is true to the original myth but in Solar, the character is elevated to become an urgent voice for change, a message that will be sung by a dramatic soprano. The audience will have no escape.
Anna decided to have the Children’s Chorus play the Sun. They take on a central role in each scene – interacting with and reacting to the human world. Brilliant trained young voices are sure to transmit the raging power of the Sun itself, importantly giving the next generation the loudest voice. The role means that the youngest performers can be fully involved in every scene of the action and invites energetic, rhythmic music that will really play to their vocal strengths.
Meanwhile the human action covers a such a huge range of emotions and complex relationships. The main characters reveal so many sides of themselves, which enables each aria to have a distinct mood and intention. I have my work cut out! Daedalus, who becomes trapped by his own invention as well as by his envy, has a complexity that is ideally suited to a baritone voice. In contrast, there is the more piercing timbre of a tenor voice poised to play the manipulative control of King Minos.
Anna introduces Icarus at a moment of utter sadness. Anna decided to weave in a close connection between Icarus and Talus which is another of her own additions to the original story. This makes the death of Talus all the more acute as Icarus must confront the fact that his own father has killed someone who was like a brother to him. The scene in which Icarus and ‘The Apprentices’ (played by the Youth Chorus), mourn the death of Talus will enable some virtuoso singing from the distinct countertenor voice of the soloist playing Icarus. The opportunity to layer this with the voices of the Apprentices and also the soprano playing Talus, immediately sparked musical ideas.
Solar has all the key elements that make a story deserving of operatic treatment, and the musical challenge to express the urgent message at the end of the opera will be a demanding one. Here goes...
On purge bébé will be opera number 8.5 for Philippe Boesmans at La Monnaie. It crowns an artistic collaboration of just under forty years. A brief overview.
#1 La Passion de Gilles
Former La Monnaie director Gerard Mortier laid the foundation of Boesmans’ opera career. He commissioned Philippe Boesmans for La Passion de Gilles (1983) in the early 1980s. Based on the story of the “French Bluebeard” Gilles de Rais, the opera was performed nine times to sold-out audiences. Then, unexpectedly, the decision was made to add one more performance. The interest in this dernière was so massive that the audience even occupied the side stairs – unprecedented for a new creation.
#1.5 L'incoronazione di Poppea
La Monnaie presented a new production of L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1989. All that has survived of this unfinished opera by Monteverdi are the sung passages and rough notes that give an idea of the harmony. La Monnaie asked Philippe Boesmans to create a new adaptation and orchestration. It is striking for its modern accents in baroque style. The harpsichord is even doubled with synthesizer tones. Working on Poppea had a profound influence on Philippe Boesmans’ writing. “I learned a lot from Monteverdi, especially the fact that each character has its own vocal profile, with its own intervals.” It also marked the start of a series of collaborations with Boesman’s own Da Ponte: director-librettist Luc Bondy.
The collaboration with Luc Bondy first continues with Reigen (1993), an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play of the same name. The story is one big love chain: the prostitute loves the soldier who is yearning for the chambermaid, but she loves the young man who is yearning for the young woman who loves her husband, while the husband is captivated by the little harlot who is in love with the poet, even though he is the lover of the actress who is having an affair with the Count who wakes up next to the prostitute one morning. The permanently erotic atmosphere of this opera was, according to Boesmans, responsible for a baby boom among the staff at La Monnaie. More verifiably, the piece has been one of his greatest successes. It is still being performed to this day, for example, in the reduction for chamber orchestra by Fabrizio Cassol.
Bernard Foccroulle, Gerard Mortier’s successor (and the composer of Cassandra), also approached the Boesmans/Bondy duo for a new opera. Shakespeare’s The Winter's Tale was chosen. The scenes on the Bohemian seacoast (forgive Shakespeare's limited geographical knowledge) are primarily in English and are accompanied by jazz-rock music. A challenge for conductor Antonio Pappano, who had to seamlessly fit the Belgian ensemble Aka Moon’s music into the orchestral parts.
Julie, created in 2004 with Luc Bondy and Kazushi Ono, is a new masterpiece based on August Strindberg’s Fröken Julie. In Julie, we experience the forbidden love between Julie, the Count's daughter, and Jean, her servant, both in the kitchen and on the fringes of an evening party. They are enraptured to the point of delirium by their dreams of escapism, social elevation and love. Kirsten, Jean’s cook and concubine, defends the social and moral order, which comes crashing down like a hatchet when the Count returns home.
# 5.5 Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne
In 2006, Philippe Boesmans stopped his residency at La Monnaie and retired the following year. His musical career, however, continued. He produced his last opera with Luc Bondy, Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne, in 2009. It was created at the Opéra de Paris but was performed at La Monnaie soon afterwards. Witold Gombrovicz’s absurd play of the same name, about an ugly, apathetic and taciturn princess, amused Boesmans greatly, and his ‘tragic comedy’ is permeated with the same black humour.
# 6.5 Au monde
Au monde, created at La Monnaie in 2014, is the first of two operas on which Philippe Boesmans collaborated with Joël Pommerat. He reworked one of his own plays into a libretto and also directed it. In the opera, which won the International Award for Best World Premiere, a wealthy industrialist is arranging his succession. He favours his son, a soldier, who is returning home. The atmosphere between family members is heavy and oppressive, full of ambiguities and unspoken opinions. Is the son the serial killer who is terrorising the region? And what is the role of the adopted daughter? With their words, the women - three sisters - ensure that the relationship between the protagonists remains intact and that the underlying tensions never erupt.
# 7.5 Pinocchio
A new theatre, a new opera! The newly renovated La Monnaie opened its doors in 2017 with Pinocchio. Once again, it was based on a piece by Joël Pommerat. His version bypassed Disney and went back to Carlo Collodi’s original story. Philippe Boesman’s music is very close to the plot: strangely atonal in the whale’s belly, dreamy when the fairy appears, frank and free during the circus scenes. And, a rarity in contemporary operas, the moving central theme is one of those immortal melodies that you can hum when you leave the theatre.