No! Nej! Nein! HET! Non! Não! Nee!
‘Something is rotten in the state of…’ At the present time we can apply this famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to many nations, peoples and even whole continents. It is clear there is something not right about this world, and not only in ecological or economic terms; there is plenty that could be improved in the moral and humanitarian foundations of our global society.
Bourgeois morality started to falter about a century ago; the nineteenth-century romantic ideal that had prevailed until then was knocked off balance by revolutions. The extent to which we are still indebted to this development is a matter for contemporary reflection, but it seems to me that the approaching anniversary of ‘the Great War’ should make us meditate on it. My idealistic conviction that now, many decades later, we are once again closer to the rational ideals of the Enlightenment than to those of the bourgeois reformation is becoming shakier than ever.
Emancipation, secularisation and universalism, a few of the essential achievements of the eighteenth century and until recently still an inalienable part of our physical and mental worlds, are turning out to be decreasingly effective as an antidote to conservatism, social inequality and bigotry.
The thinkers of the Enlightenment considered man to be by nature good, autonomous and independent; they argued for a universal morality that could apply to the actions of all people and was independent of religion and political systems. Education, culture, mutual respect and tolerance were elevated to a supreme good, for the advancement of the individual’s own development. How different things are today. The value of culture is openly doubted, the resources for education are being reduced, and social emancipation has more or less come to a standstill.
Add to all this the sense of unease caused by a financial and economic crisis and you automatically come to the conclusion that the Western world is suffering a slow decline in popular democracy, an evolution which a small group of people is directing and of which the rest of the population can feel a victim. It is precisely against the background of this recurring tendency that rebellions have taken place, both then and now.
It is unfortunately only too human, and is nothing new. Mozart had already alerted us to this pattern; in his opere serie, and especially La Clemenza di Tito, he refers to universal values that could offer both a mirror and a lesson for today’s leaders. Gluck, in his reform operas, also aspired to a purging of the extrovert baroque opera and wished to stage symbolic myths with an essential simplicity; his utterly human Orfeo ed Euridice was truly revolutionary at the time. Mozart wanted to stimulate change through content, Gluck through form.
We are delighted to be able to offer you substantial projects by each of these enlightened contemporaries: Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito will appear in a new production with our chief conductor Ludovic Morlot, staged by Ivo van Hove and Jan Versweyveld. To mark the tercentenary of the birth of Ritter von Gluck we are presenting a two-part project in which the Wiener Festwochen will be participating alongside La Monnaie. This will make it possible to show audiences two versions of Gluck’s Orfeo/Orphée (the Viennese version and the Paris version) in the time span of one month, shaped by the indubitably controversial vision of Romeo Castellucci. It promises to become a metaphysical quest that examines the mystery of the transition from life to death.
In a new production of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet – conducted by Marc Minkowski and directed by Olivier Py (the successful team that provided us with our ‘2011 Production of the Year’, Les Huguenots) – the titular hero exhorts us to be true to an ideal. Hamlet, who is invariably portrayed as a rebel, in fact is only opposed to treachery and his mother’s alliance with the brother of his murdered father; he is unconditionally loyal to the father figure, refuses to accept the double morality, and rebels.
Just as in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito – in which his advisor Publio says the wise words: ‘He is late to notice betrayal who has never known what it is to be disloyal. It is no wonder if a true heart, full of honour, believes all other hearts incapable of disloyalty.’ – it appears that here too humanist thinkers, despite all their magnanimity, are often disappointed or stabbed in the back. Unfortunately life prepares some unforeseen twists and turns for them too, for which, in the case of Emperor Titus, a pardon is given in an inimitable fashion. Like Sextus, Hamlet is a noble soul. We cannot but feel empathy for what they do, wrong as it may be.
Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse was the basis for Verdi’s Rigoletto; in this instance the jester is the channel for the unveiled criticism of the court: ‘Your mothers prostituted themselves with the footmen; you are all bastards’. It comes as no surprise that this play was banned and that it prompted Verdi to compose an opera of it, the first in his popular trilogy whose two other parts – Il Trovatore and La Traviata – we presented in previous seasons. Because of the censorship that prevailed everywhere, he too had to change the setting from the French court to the entourage of the Duke of Mantua, which by that time no longer existed. Rigoletto is to be conducted by maestro Carlo Rizzi and directed by Robert Carsen.
The letter Hugo wrote after his Roi s’amuse was banned by the authorities reminds me of a very recent controversy : ‘I have been informed that the generous youth of our schools intends to go to the theatre this evening to support Le Roi s’amuse and to protest loudly about the arbitrary act of censorship to which it has been subjected. I beg these friends of artistic liberty and free thought to refrain from violence which could well end in a riot, a result the government has long been hoping to provoke.’ Thus was it always so – theatre, a cause of rebellion or, at the very least, a forum for discussion.
Theatre is at the same time the basis for participatory democracy. Involvement and a sense of solidarity are created in theatres; the sense of community one experiences there is able to motivate one to be more tolerant and, on the basis of this feeling, once again to work little by little for greater harmony.
This programme is a call, somewhat facetious, it’s true, to rebel in a congenial and peaceful way against everything that prevents us from evolving, growing and learning from our own errors and those of past generations. We can, after all, only move forward by facing up to things together, not leaving problems undiscussed because of one or other morality, religious conviction or sociopolitical vision. History shows us more than ever that we become bogged down in these ways of thinking – the pedantic, convention-bound pointing finger only creates frustration, religious fundamentalism turns people against each other, nationalism forces us to be on the defensive against everything that is different, a lack of education and instruction creates generations that have neither roots nor history. My wish is that art in general and opera in particular may stimulate our critical attitude to history as one of the basic principles of a healthy democracy.
So the watchword is one of resistance. NO! In whichever language you like. No to everything that limits us, to everything that compels us, to everything that forces us into boxes, to everything that discriminates, belittles and disinforms us. And we do this by means of works, composers, librettists and interpreters who for the same reasons wish to raise their fists. Verdi, Mozart and Gluck, of course, also Shakespeare and Hugo, but also today’s performing artists. Alain Platel, for example, who in his phenomenal production C(H)ŒURS wants to give a voice to the indignados and to this end pays the most perfect tribute imaginable to two geniuses who were born exactly two hundred years ago: Verdi and Wagner, both great revolutionaries in the history of music, but also in their conception of the power of music.
As in every season, we are introducing a new director to La Monnaie. This year it is Alvis Hermanis, who, together with Ludovic Morlot, will stage Jenůfa, one of Janáček’s most-loved works. It is about a young woman who stands up against social isolation and moral narrow-mindedness.
This season, Au monde, Philippe Boesmans’ sixth opera, is the work commissioned by La Monnaie that will be premiered on our stage. This time he collabora ted with a new partner, the French author and director Joël Pommerat, whose play forms the basis for the opera. It tells of a family with dark secrets and deep rifts, which are all raked up again on the return of the rebellious son Ory. To coincide with the premiere of this new opera at La Monnaie we are also presenting Pommerat’s original play at the Théâtre National.
Unadulterated revolution is also a theme in Rossini’s final opera Guillaume Tell and in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Concert versions of both works will be performed, conducted by Evelino Pidó and Jérémie Rhorer respectively. The latter also opens a very powerful concert season with Beethoven’s Egmont, about the rebellious count who was executed on the Grand’Place in Brussels. There is a particular focus on Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Britten, whose great War Requiem is in the programme; it is both an indictment of all wars and a tribute to its composer’s centenary; Britten’s work is also prominent in the recital programme.
I would also like to draw your attention to our Concertini series, which are for the first time included in the season brochure, and in which our musicians perform every Friday in chamber music formations.
When it comes to dance, we are upholding our reputation, with amongst others a new Sacre du printemps by Sasha Waltz for the centenary of Stravinsky’s best-known work. We shall once again be joined by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (four productions, including a new creation), Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the students of PARTS.
We have also chosen two charismatic figures for our youth projects: the feminist Thérèse in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias (a joint venture with the European Opera Academy in a musical adaptation by Benjamin Britten) and the legendary Sindbad in our new Community Project, Sindbad, a Journey through Living Flames, the world premiere of this creation by the composer and librettist Howard Moody.
You can read more about all this in the brochure, the upbeat to an intense commitment to the coming season. Originality and creativity are after all still the best form of rebellion! We guarantee this together with our staff, our now impressive family of performing artists and of course our loyal audience, which is growing every year and continues to ensure enthusiastic full houses.
Peter de Caluwe