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8.7.10

Boulez Planning 'Godot' Opera for 2015 at La Scala

Renaud Machart went to Brussels last month to see a production of Verdi's Macbeth directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski at the Théâtre de la Monnaie. The critic had hated Warlikowski's infamous Parsifal at the Opéra de Paris in 2008 and was surprised, given that his Macbeth was cut from the same directorial cloth, to find himself so impressed. As Machart describes in his review (Le "Macbeth" incandescent de Warlikowski, June 15) for Le Monde, much of the action was set in a hospital ward; for no apparent reason a letter from a soldier in Vietnam to his wife was read before the curtain went up; and in the last act, again for no apparent reason, two half-naked men danced together in one scene, before suffocating themselves together under a plastic sheet. Machart tries to pull the allusions apart (my translation):
Are the men the incarnation of the desperation of these long wars without women, or should we find in the subterfuge of a male friendship the expression of tenderness and sexuality? Are they nothing more than a Viscontian or Pasolinian memory (Ludwig or Salo), or simply the underscoring of the languorous balance of an aria in the form of a slow waltz? A delicious mystery. Warlikowski is decidely better when he suggests rather than imposes.
So, big deal, another nutty production that has little to do with the libretto of the work it is purportedly trying to stage. Then, near the end of the review, Machart drops an unexpected and unrelated bomb (my translation):
The director decided to remove the chorus from the stage and positioned them in the theater's highest balcony, the "paradis" -- it worked when they were portraying the witches. Too easy? Perhaps (directors from the world of theater generally hate the burden of choral crowds), but the decision had two happy effects: the female singers truly looked like sorceresses leaning over their evil cauldron; the sound thus obtained had a "spatialized" richness, which, without requiring any electronic aid, could be of interest to Pierre Boulez for the opera that, according to our sources, he will adapt from Beckett's Waiting for Godot, planned for La Scala in Milan in 2015 [emphasis added].
Boulez and La Scala General Manager Stéphane Lissner are apparently close friends, which could explain how he could convince Boulez to undertake writing an opera. I read somewhere that Lissner had plans for a Boulez opera at some point in the future, but this was the first time I have ever seen a reference to the subject and specific date. Machart's comment was reported in the Italian press and made the rounds of some French online forums, but I have not seen it confirmed anywhere else. Boulez turned 85 this spring and would be 90 in 2015, which happens to coincide with the possible end of Lissner's term in Milan: if it happens, there is little doubt that a Godot opera by Boulez would be one of the most important opera premieres in recent memory.

14 comments:

jfl said...

"...there is little doubt that a Godot opera by Boulez would be one of the most important opera premieres in recent memory."

So... I guess I know what we'll be waiting for?

Mark Berry said...

Whoever is chosen as librettist may want to take out life insurance. More than one earlier project has come to naught when the proposed librettist has promptly departed this world...

Garth Trinkl said...

Earlier, Boulez spent many many years contemplating his first opera to be on Genet's 'The Balcony', I recall. His teacher Olivier Messiaen trumped him with his Saint Francis masterpiece, and Robert DiDomenica (with Sarah Caldwell in Boston; initially composed without prerequisite rights) and Peter Eötvös for Aix eight years ago composed operatic settings of the Genet. I think that the Henze-Bond 'We Come to the River' may also have trumped Boulez's setting or there may have have been personal and legal issues with the author (who died in 1986).

Back in the 1970s, when 'no one' expected opera from Messiaen, Cage, Carter, Berio, Boulez, and Stockhausen, the whispers about a Boulez opera were shocking and intriguing. I hope that I like the Boulez Godot opera more than I like the Ligeti or Carter operas. I expect to. I also admire the short Morton Feldman Beckett opera.

William Osborne said...

I'm skeptical. Beckett was a stickler about allowing adaptations of his work. He left his literary estate in the hands of his nephew who has been even stricter than Beckett. Boulez’s age also makes the story seem implausible. In the last 12 years I think he has written only one work, and it is small. The Met’s current commissioning program illustrates how ephemeral rumors of new operas can be.

Henry Holland said...

It's an intriguing notion, but not likely to happen. Boulez hasn't written anything new since Anthemes 2 in 1998 (there might be a very short piano piece since), he seems content with orchestrating the Notations.

Then there's his infamous quote: "The most elegant way of solving the opera problem would be to blow up the opera houses". Does anyone know what the context of that remark was, I couldn't find anything on Google. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

OMG that play and that composer... worst of both worlds!

Anonymous said...

Isn't anyone surprised that the Beckett estate would permit any opera to be made of Godot? In the discussion prior to Neither, Beckett made it clear that he disliked settings of his texts and Feldman's agreement with this opinions convinced Beckett to go ahead. The estate is generally very restrictive about productions taking liberties with Beckett's text, so permission for an opera seems unlikely.

Joaquim Hock said...

I would be very surprised if it turns to be true. I've read the article in the original French and Machard says "according to what I've heard". It's therefore just a rumor and then Renaud Machard is famous in France for his scathing humour and his love for Broadway musicals and John Adams' operas. His not a conservative ctriic, but he's not always very kind with IRACAM-like european avant-garde and wrote a very mean article about Boulez's 85th birthday in Paris in March.
So I guess this could be a private joke or something.

Joaquim Hock said...

@Williman Osborne: several composers used Beckett's texts after his death: recently Dusapin for Echoe's bone(but he said the rights were very restrictive) or Kurtag (What is the word and a setting of several poemes in French and English). In a recent interveiw he even said he was interested in making three short "operas" on Beckett's short plays and Holliger with Come and Go

Seymour said...

Anything from Boulez is more than welcome. I will look forward to this work.

But it still surprises me that composers continue to write operas when for some of us the genre is moribund. Opera audiences are mostly conservative and many operas go unperformed. A composer of Boulez's stature will of course have a production, likely several of them. His opera will get the exposure it will deserve, but I still think more ears can be reached in the concert hall: more open-minded listeners than in the opera house, and with today's shorter attention spans, shorter works often have an easier time making an impact. If anyone can, Boulez can prove me wrong on all counts. So let's hope we get the chance to find out.

Garth Trinkl said...

Mr Holland,

I believe the context of the Boulez quote regarding opera houses was that his earlier work, prior to Bayreuth, was with a leading ‘progressive’ Parisian theater company, and that ca. 1960 was the early anti-establishment era of Darmstadt, Godard’s ‘Breathless’ and the flowering of the ideas of Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. Also, while I don’t recall off-hand the dates of the Boulez-Cage correspondence, but I can imagine that Cage clued Boulez in on Guggenheim Prize winning American iconoclastic composer music theater Harry Partch. Furthermore, I imagine that later Boulez was aware of the work that R. Murray Schafer and Robert Hughes did completing Ezra Pound’s experimental opera, The Testament of Villon (available from Other Minds). (I recall Birtwistle talking at length during our tutorial sessions about Artaud and the theater of cruelty. Artaud also highly influenced Rihm and others, as you know.) (I also don’t know of possible personal issues between Poulenc and Boulez or of the Boulez- Barraque [Death of Virgil] relationship.)

I’m out of time, but someone here correct me if I misremembered Genet’s The Balcony for Genet’s The Maids, as the subject of Boulez’s earlier contemplated opera. It nagged me a bit this otherwise pleasant weekend.

Charles T. Downey said...

@Joaquim Hock I've read the article in the original French and Machard says "according to what I've heard".

The phrase written by Machart, "selon nos informations," is rendered in my translation as "according to our sources." As I wrote at the end of the post, the story is not confirmed anywhere else, which makes it pretty clear that it may be just a rumor, or at least that none of the parties concerned have confirmed it.

joaquim hock said...

I'm pretty sure it's not a rumour but a joke by Renaud Machart. I've listen to a lot of his programs on France-Musique radio and it's his type of humour. I remember that one day he broadcasted a "fake" Lachenmann piece he did himself.

Denis Colin said...

In termes of modern music, Machart is not really to be trusted, he is more into Musical kind of thing and John Adams, or Glass. Useless music I would say.