As mentioned briefly a few weeks ago, the 85-year-old director Peter Brook is stepping down from the leadership of his ground-breaking theater troupe, which rejuvenated the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. As feared, the French government has taken advantage of his departure to make some substantial cuts to the theater's government subvention. Michel Guerrin has a report (Aux Bouffes du Nord, la bataille derrière le succès, November 30) in Le Monde (my translation):
Brook and his theater used to receive 1.3 million euros from the State, which supported the place itself and the Centre international de recherche et de création théâtrale, the artist's laboratory from which its productions are created. In 2011, the State will give 300,000 euros for Peter Brook and his center, and 400,000 euros to the theater. In other words, that is 600,000 euros lost for Les Bouffes, and as much in savings for the Ministry of Culture, something never heard of for such a prestigious institution.The theater's overall budget is somewhere between 4 and 6 millions euros, and the government has defended its cuts because the theater is not a state theater but is in private hands. Supporters, however, largely see it as a public institution because it is small, in an unglamorous neighborhood, and sells tickets at affordable prices. All of this is happening while Brook's farewell production, Une flûte enchantée, an adaptation of Mozart's Magic Flute, has sold out the theater through the end of the year. Marie-Aude Roux penned an extremely rare unabashed rave about that production (La "Flûte" de Peter Brook rendue au nu des origines, November 16) for Le Monde (my translation):
[Brook's successors] Poubelle and Mantei were expecting, upon the retirement of the great Englishman, to receive 800,000 or 900,000 euros from the State rather than a million. "But to go from that to little more than half... We have created an ambitious program but we cannot maintain it, which is a big waste," they complain. Some are worried about seeing Les Bouffes "go commercial," suffocate, or worse, become a night club. These fears are made worse since in the 130-year history of the place, of modest size at only 500 seats, it has known failure more than success.
Roux gives two examples. After the Queen of the Night's Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, the scene with Monostatos is removed, leaving Pamina alone in disarray, to the sounds of the beginning of the D minor fantasy, K. 397. This gives the arrival of Sarastro and In diesen heil'gen Hallen "a magnificent dimension." The first time Papagena appears as an old woman, the dialogue is cut, but Papagena terrorizes Papageno even more by singing to him the "castrating" song Die Alte, K. 517.
No more nymphomaniac Three Ladies or Three angelic boys. On the stage a single piano, in a corner against the wall, played by Franck Krawczyk. The voices are those of the seven protagonists needed for the action: the princely couple worthy of being initiated (Tamino and Pamina), their low-class corollary saved by the impulse of life (Papageno and Papagena, the vengeful Queen of the Night, Sarastro the Wise, and Monostatos, the evil angel. Peter Brook adds to them two black actors (William Nadylam and Abdou Ouologuem), the incarnation of the very spirit of the low-brow genre that is the Mozartean Singspiel.
Instead of the German dialogue of Emanuel Schikaneder, Marie-Hélène Estienne has substituted French texts: the dramaturgy is so vivid and intelligent that one forgets what was cut. Even moreso because the score also plays its own part: the composer Franck Krawczyk could have simply reduced the orchestral score for the piano, but he went further, introducing into the opera other pieces by Mozart.