Urgent questions, illuminating perspectives and at times robust discussions. But above all: lots of engagement, both in words and music! A photo report of the second debate evening in the run-up to Cassandra.
Director and video concept
Premiere: September 2023
DEBATE AROUND CASSANDRA
ARTISTS VS. ACTIVISTS: THE SAME FIGHT?
FEB 13 - 20:00 - La Monnaie
In the run-up to the creation of Cassandra, La Monnaie launches a series of debates dedicated to the urgency of the climate cause.
This second evening focuses on the relationship between artistic practice and ecological activism. In what ways can art and activism complement or reinforce each other? What is the role of artists in the fight against climate issues? And what if ecological efforts and creative freedom come face to face?
Intriguing questions that we want to put to "artivist" Chantal Latour, dramaturge and writer Martha Balthazar, choreographer Michiel Vandevelde, soprano Sandrine Mairesse (Youth for Climate), as well as activist Wouter Mouton and theatre-maker/writer Sébastien Hendrickx, both members of Extinction Rebellion.
And since we will be at La Monnaie, no better way to end the discussion than with music, and a performance by the Chœur Cassandra Koor.
Bees at the opera
Bernard Foccroulle: "One of the first ideas put forward by Matthew [Jocelyn, the librettist], right at the beginning of our discussions of this opera, was to devise three moments (not very long ones) when one would only hear bees. There would be plenty of them in the first scene, around fifteen in the second and only a few would remain in the last one. It was a way to evoke nature and the work of these precious insects whose extinction we now fear. It was also a way to connect with the mythological era, when bees were already considered as essential, almost magical beings, linked to the worship of Apollo. To “compose” these bee scenes, I listened very carefully to the bees in my garden in Brittany."
"At the beginning of 2021, there was a very useful work session with the orchestra: under the direction of Ouri Bronchti, the strings of La Monnaie sight-read the three bee scenes. I also wanted to check the writing in the sixth-tone system, which would enable me to evoke these glissandi that are typical of these insects’ flight. I became aware of the need to space out the musicians’ parts to avoid the risk of cramp, given the speed of the tremolos. Here is a fragment of the first and last of these three scenes, recorded at this rehearsal at La Monnaie in January 2021. The strings are by themselves - they most often play at the bridge, to produce this typical bee sound."
The composer Bernard Foccroulle
"This morning, Wednesday 28 December 2022, I sent the publisher Ricordi the orchestral score for my opera Cassandra. Four hundred carefully etched pages, which I’ve attentively proofread and corrected. By doing so, I wrapped up a job I started in spring 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, in close collaboration with Matthew Jocelyn, author of the libretto and Louis Geisler, the dramaturge. Over time, the team has been enhanced by the involvement of stage director Marie-Eve Signeyrole and conductor Kazushi Ono, as well as the singers who I’ve talked to in person or remotely. I’ve sent them excerpts of the score and gradually, I’ve tried to adapt the score as closely as possible to their vocal qualities.
The pandemic and lockdown enabled me to dedicate myself immediately to the project’s development, and to start composing from summer 2020. Six months later, I had a first fruitful work session with Katarina Bradic, who is playing Cassandra. I had already seen and heard her at work during my tenure as Director of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, where Katarina sung the role of Bradamante magnificently in our 2015 production of Alcina.
These workshops during composition are extremely useful, because they enable you to make more in-depth contact with the performers, to check certain aspects of the vocal writing, in a nutshell, to start making the essentially solitary work of musical composition concrete."
On November 21, La Monnaie is launching a series of conference-debates dedicated to the questions raised by the climate case. The first of these evenings will combine a screening of the documentary Sœurs de Combat – which recently won the Audience Award at the FIFF Film Festival of Namur – with a debate about activism led by RTBF-journalist Gwenaëlle Dekegeleer. What is the place of activism in our society? How effective can it be in the face of climate issues? Does it have the potential to inspire our leaders and lawmakers? The film’s director Henri de Gerlache, climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Thérèse Snoy (Grands-Parents pour le Climat) and Adélaïde Charlier, the French-speaking coordinator of the Youth for Climate movement in Belgium, will try to answer all these questions.
It was impossible for the Cassandra Choir to miss the Climate March today. Along with more than 25000 other participants, our choristers made their voices heard to urge ecological ambition on our national and regional governments ahead of the Sharm-el-Sheikh International Climate Conference (6 to 18 November).
It's a wrap for the first rehearsal of our Cassandra Choir! United by their shared passion for singing and the desire to raise public awareness of the environmental cause, a hundred amateur choristers practised together for the first time in our rehearsal rooms. For if Cassandra in the myth and Sandra in the opera are struggling to be heard, the Cassandra Choir will resound in all its strength, starting during the March for the Climate on October 23.
On Saturday 3 September, 300 people from various backgrounds responded enthusiastically to La Monnaie's call to form an amateur choir, which will perform alongside the creation of Bernard Foccroulle's first opera, Cassandra, in September 2023.
The launch of this extraordinary project took place in the best of moods over a friendly drink, followed by a guided tour and a first singing workshop led by Laurence Renson.
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.
After the presentation of the Cassandra maquette, General Manager and Artistic Director Peter de Caluwe provides an update on the project:
'Between the presentation of the concept for Cassandra and the world premiere scheduled for September 2023, our workshops have sufficient time to turn the designs into a functioning set. The artistic team has done an admirable job of keeping to our specifications, i.e. integrating La Monnaie’s Green Opera policy into the theme of the new composition and into the realisation of an ecological set design.
The opera is about the tragedy of not being heard. At the same time, the work looks at climate change, which we are all aware of, but seem relatively unconcerned about. Like Cassandra, who warned of the impending destruction of Troy, we see the danger coming but we cling to our old ways, thereby contributing to the further melting of the icebergs and the extinction of the bees. This theme inspired the team to create a set made up entirely of recyclable materials. A good example of this are the large number of second-hand books symbolizing the library of Troy, but their gradual disappearance from the stage also references the current fate of the glaciers and rainforests. Next season, in order to achieve this, we will invite our audience to leave a meaningful book at La Monnaie, which will then take its place in the set.
Meanwhile, composer Bernard Foccroulle has managed to complete seventy-five percent of the score. Bees are an important element in his composition. At four different moments in the opera, the buzzing of ‘les abeilles’ audibly diminishes, leading us to conclude that an initially large swarm is reduced to just a few solitary bees… This, of course, symbolizes the loss of one of the most important organisms that so mysteriously helps maintain the delicate balance of the earth’s ecosystem.
So as well as being a philosophical reflection on where we stand as human beings, as ‘users and abusers’ of our planet, Cassandra is also a production made according to the rules of our Green Opera strategy. Or how theory can also be practice. Who knows, it may prompt us to give more serious consideration to the subject. For far from being an individual problem, not being heard hangs like a catastrophe over the whole of society.
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!
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.