The Opéra de Montréal will present its creation on Saturday The beauty of the world, a work by Quebec composer Julien Bilodeau to a libretto by Michel Marc Bouchard. This world premiere, already postponed twice, is also carried by a beautiful friendship, that of the composer and the conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni. We met them.
The case of The beauty of the world is almost unique in the annals of recent operatic creation. “For us, the opera that is going to be created is like a repertory opera,” agree in unison Mr. Bilodeau and Mr. Zeitouni. This familiarity with the score was born of pandemic circumstances: a creation three times postponed, since The beauty of the world was to be presented first in the spring of 2021, then in the spring of 2022.
A valuable step back
We wanted to know if this delay had an influence on the work. “Absolutely, notes Jean-Marie Zeitouni. We had the chance to perform, in October 2020, a complete reading of the work with orchestra and singers. The recording of this first contact with the score gave rise to fruitful discussions and allowed the composer to make adjustments and dramaturgical tightening to improve its effectiveness.
For Julien Bilodeau, it’s a bit strange to live with a work in suspense in this way. “The score has been fixed with its adjustments since the spring of 2021”, but returning to it today – because the second postponement of spring 2022 had no effect on the creative or interpretative process – gives the accomplices a mastery of things and a precious height of view. “It’s very reassuring for musicians to evolve in this context”, notes Mr. Zeitouni. A modification was, however, unforeseen, including for the composer: The beauty of the world had been composed for Philippe Sly and Julie Boulianne, but their calendars are incompatible with these new dates.
If the chef is so familiar with Bilodeau’s work, it’s because he’s known him since 1999. “I was a young lecturer, at 23, at Laval University. Julien was a graduate in composition at the Conservatoire de Montréal. He needed a lift. We did Highway 20 together. He was doing his counterpoint homework in the car, we were talking and we became friends. »
In The beauty of the world, Jean-Marie Zeitouni recognizes stylistic features of his friend’s language. “Two sections ofThe beauty of the world repeat the harmonic progressions of theSlow opening composed for I Musici in 2017. And in 2019, Julien composed the Scenes from family life when he was writing the opera. So, there too, there are related rhythmic motifs or arrangements, because these are contemporary works. »
Julien Bilodeau, to whom we owe Another Brick in the Wall Operaand Jean-Marie Zeitouni display, before the event, a serenity that can be attributed to their intimate knowledge of all the workings of The beauty of the world. It is true that, very rarely, a creation has been able to take place under such conditions.
A war drama, the work also marks Michel Marc Bouchard’s return to opera, after The Feluettes in 2016. The story, which takes place during the Second World War, is inspired by the clandestine rescue of works from the Louvre by Jacques Jaujard, director of the museum, and Rose Valland, the curator. We owe, to these two major figures, for one, the securing of many masterpieces of the Louvre and, for the other, a work of consignment of works of art stolen in France by the Nazis, which then enabled their repatriation and restitution.
“A few years ago, shocked by the destruction of the Temple of Palmyra, by the ransacking of the museum in Baghdad and by the destruction of the city of Aleppo, I discovered the glorious story of the rescue of the Louvre in 1940”, declared recently Michel Marc Bouchard, who attributed to these events the spark that prompted him to choose this subject. He does not fail to add today: “Witnesses to the destruction of part of Ukraine, our opera has never been so necessary. »
Directed by Florent Siaud, this world premiere awaited for 18 months will be provided by Australian bass-baritone Damien Pass, in the role of Jacques Jaujard, and Canadian mezzo Allyson McHardy, in that of Rose Valland. They will be surrounded by Matthew Dalen, Rocco Rupolo, Layla Claire, John Brancy, France Bellemare, Isaiah Bell and Emile Schneider.
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