The beauty of the world | Save what we have left

The beauty of the world |  Save what we have left

When the playwright Michel Marc Bouchard learned about the episode of the rescue of thousands of French works of art during the Second World War, he immediately saw material for opera. This Saturday, at the Opéra de Montréal, we will be able to hear the final product with the creation of The beauty of the worldwhose music was written by the composer Julien Bilodeau.

“I found that there was something practically pharaonic, very operational in there”, says the one who confides to having been upset, a few years earlier, by the destruction of heritage perpetrated in Palmyra and Mosul by jihadists from the armed group. Islamic State.

The story of the director of the national museums of France, Jacques Jaujard, and of Rose Valland, a former attaché at the Jeu de Paume museum who documented thousands of spoliations carried out by the Nazis, mainly against Jews, is not so far from our present.

When we look immediately at what is happening in Ukraine, we are in the same situation, with the desire of curators to empty their museums, to ensure that their heritage is protected. We are still talking about 200 museums, libraries, institutions and historical monuments that have been destroyed.

Michel Marc Bouchard

Even though The beauty of the world recounts a historical event, he wants to avoid making it “a Wikipedia opera”. It is a question of “making these characters heroes who will go towards an operatic excess in their will, their mission and their destiny”, he relates.

Michel Marc Bouchard is not his first experience at the opera, he who had adapted his famous play The Feluettes, transposition premiered at the Opéra de Montréal in 2016 to music by Australian Kevin March. This time, the institution’s artistic director Michel Beaulac surveyed Julien Bilodeau, who had signed the music forAnother Brick in the Wallpresented in 2017 under the same banner.

The composer admits to having learned a great deal from this project, which he describes as a “luxury laboratory”. “All the experience has been put to good use [pour La beauté du monde]. I saved a lot of time, I got to the point,” he summarizes.

“What is also fascinating with Michel Marc is that the architecture of his writing, the way in which the themes recur, is extremely musical. There is a kind of form with variations within the text,” adds the musician, who claims to have been inspired by composers from the time of the Occupation to suggest certain moods.

The composer also points out that some choristers will be installed right in the orchestra pit, speaking of “an instrumental vocal presence, a bit like in Sirens of Debussy or in Ravel”.

On the vocal level, Julien Bilodeau was able to get to work with the names of specific singers in mind: “I try not to write generically. I work a lot in collaboration with the singers. »


The Franco-Australian bass-baritone Damien Pass embodies the main character of the opera.


Even if the initial distribution has changed according to the postponements caused by the pandemic, the composer remains attentive to the needs of the artists. “I always have an openness for changes, among other things to find comfort for a soloist at a crucial moment because his body demands it. Opera is not about an interval or a note,” he explains.

This work is made possible by the flexibility offered by the Opéra de Montréal. “They gave us a little more time than usual. They were aware that it was new material”, informs Michel Marc Bouchard, who these days also attends the rehearsals orchestrated by the director Florent Siaud.

The two main characters, played by the Franco-Australian bass-baritone Damien Pass and the Ontario mezzo-soprano well known here Allyson McHardy, will be surrounded by a handful of young singers in the other roles, most from the Atelier lyrique of the Opera de Montreal.


A shocking scene from The beauty of the world

The character of Hermann Göring, one of the architects of the Nazi regime played by tenor Matthew Dalen, will attract particular attention by coming to Paris to “shop” for works of art for his personal collection in the second act. “At this time, we have this famous discourse on what is degenerate art as it was considered by the Nazis, warns the playwright. And you see the importance of the State in determining what Beauty should be. »

“I am from my time and if I use this material, I have to tell my contemporaries something that is happening now. We do not destroy paintings, but we destroy our heritage day after day, whether it is built or landscaped heritage. We speak in the opera of the destruction of beauty and I can say that we are going briskly in this direction at the moment”, the writer is alarmed.

At Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on November 19, 22, 24 and 27

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