The Beauty of the World, by Michel-Marc Bouchard: Saving the Louvre from the Nazis

The Beauty of the World, by Michel-Marc Bouchard: Saving the Louvre from the Nazis

The director teams up this time with the composer Julien Bilodeau, who notably signed the music for the production Another Brick in the Wall Operabased on a concept album The Wall, by Pink Floyd. This opera, whose libretto was signed by Roger Waters, co-founder of the group, was presented at the Opéra de Montréal in 2017.

Bilodeau, who also signed in 2011 the work Let a cry raise our songscommissioned by Kent Nagano for the inauguration of the Maison symphonique, recently received the Richard-Grégoire prize from the Foundation of the Professional Society of Authors and Composers of Quebec (SPACQ) for his contribution to Quebec opera.

The beauty of the world will be presented on November 19, 22 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., then on Sunday, November 27 at 2 p.m. in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts.

Portrait of the two men

Composer Julien Bilodeau and playwright and screenwriter Michel Marc Bouchard.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean-Baptiste Demouy

Saving art to preserve the beauty of the world

The opera recounts the efforts made in 1939 by Jacques Jaujard, director of the Louvre, and the curator Rose Valland to quietly evacuate all the works that were in the museum and which were threatened by the Nazis, who had already stolen a Henri Matisse .

There is also a final heroine, Jeanne Boitel, who was an actress – the Mae West of the time in France – who, undercover, had the code name “Mozart”. She was one of the muses of the Resistanceexplains Michel-Marc Bouchard, who signs the show’s nearly 120-page booklet, divided into 3 acts.

Portrait of man from the 1940s.

Portrait of Jacques Jaujard, director of the Louvre Museum during the Second World War.

Photo: afp via getty images

These three heroes will risk their lives to save national treasures, but also, in a way, the beauty of the world, because we are not just talking about a theft, there has also been a lot of destruction .

Beyond this factual historical setting, the opera tackles several other themes, such as the more general period of the German occupation and the dispossession of the Jewish people, whose artistic assets were looted by the Nazis.

Some works were burned, some were resold and some were simply stolen to make up Adolf Hilter’s crazy ideological dream of a national museum in Linz [en Autriche], explains Julien Bilodeau. There is this question that is addressed: how is art used for political or ideological ends? It is a hot topic even today.

A colossal production threatened several times

Victim of COVID-19 like many other productions, The beauty of the world brushed with death twice before finally being able to be presented. It was really through perseverance and with a bit of luck that she was able to get back on track.

COVID-19 arrived a year almost to the day before the premiere, but you have to know that at the opera, a year before the premiere, it’s almost the day before, because all the singers are booked, the director on stage is reserved, the rooms are reservedexplains Julien Bilodeau.

Every time it’s cancelled, everyone has to be brought together again. The singers, for example, most have international careers and already full agendas for the next 3 or 4 years. […] We don’t have the same cast as originally, but it’s still brilliant.

Nearly 250 people worked on the production, a hustle and bustle rarely seen in Quebec, where operas are usually purchased ready to perform. To create everything that the public sees and hears from A to Z, from the sets to the staging through the costumes, a certain expertise was needed, which the Opéra de Montréal has been able to develop, according to Julien Bilodeau.

I’ve been there since 2015, so I witnessed this and participated in it. I think that today, opera has a certain maturity and that The beauty of the world […] is a milestone in Quebec operatic creation. It’s a huge source of pride for Michel-Marc and for me.

This text was written from interviews conducted by Catherine Richercultural columnist on the show 15-18 and by Penelope McQuadeshow host Penelope. Comments may have been edited for clarity or conciseness.

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