Six years after skillfully adapting The rollsMichel Marc Bouchard is back at the Opéra de Montréal with The beauty of the world. For Julien Bilodeau, to whom we owe the music ofAnother Brick in the Wallthe author signs a first original libretto, a drama in three acts inspired by the rescue of the works of the Louvre during the Second World War.
The first act takes place in the Louvre in 1940. Jacques Jaujard, director of the museum, and Esther, curator of Jewish origin, do everything in their power to protect the works. As the Nazis threatened to destroy paintings deemed degenerate and to ship those of value to them to Germany, Count Franz von Wolff-Metternich unexpectedly declared: “I will not let this despot decide the meaning of humanity. I understand what you are doing. And I will help you. You have done well, Jaujard. Well done to have sheltered your museum. »
The second act takes place at the Jeu de Paume in 1943. Rose Valland, superintendent of the museum where the works stolen from the Jews are cataloged, photographed and evaluated, tries to memorize everything she sees, a task of recording which will prove crucial . In the third and last act, which takes place a few days later in a Parisian cabaret, the resistance organizes to prevent the departure for Germany of a train filled with works of art: “The captive train laden with treasures. Will not whistle his departure. »
What’s the point of living if art disappears? This is the question placed between the lines of all of Bouchard’s opera, if not all of his work, a vibrant celebration of the restorative virtues of poetry, fashion, painting or theatre. As a common thread, the librettist chose the Woman sitting by Matisse, a painting executed in 1924 from which the Rosenberg family was dispossessed in 1940 and which was only returned to them in 2013.
In this plot, just as in that concerning Jacob, this boy suffering from cerebral palsy whom Hitler’s right arm will humiliate before having him assassinated, we recognize the talent of the playwright when it comes to bringing an individual dimension to a collective history. In his allusions to the ransacked world heritage, from the Enclosure of the Sun of Hatra to the city of Mariupol passing by the Great Mosque of Aleppo, we detect his concern to give a timeless scope to a one-off event.
It must be admitted, however, that certain formulas are clumsy—“Fury against Führer! or even “Paintings do not scream when you tear them up” — and that repetitions tire, especially when you enumerate ad nauseam the names of painters whose works are threatened with destruction. The story also has some rhythm problems, especially in the second act, where some scenes stretch. Florent Siaud’s staging is generally effective, making sober use of video projections and changes of scenery, but the circulation of the many members of the choir could be more flexible, and some scenes, such as that of the “liberation” of the masterpieces, would have deserved more inventiveness.
As for the music of Julien Bilodeau, in which we feel the influence of French composers of the 1940s, such as the great Poulenc, it is enchanting. Even before the curtain rises, the splendor of the choirs seizes us. In the role of Jaujard, bass-baritone Damien Pass pulls it off very well, but the voices that elicit the strongest emotions are those of mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, who plays Rose Valland, and soprano France Bellemare, who camps Esther.
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