I am a human being ; nothing human is strange to me
The nature of our social contacts has changed drastically in recent decades. A handwritten letter has become a rarity ; it is quicker to send messages on the Internet than by post. An iMac keyboard or a touch phone are now more commonly used in the way we communicate. The World Wide Web has completely taken the place of our contacts in the public space or in the home.
Martin Giles recently stated in The Economist that social networks only flourish if they focus on one or more of the seven deadly sins : celebrities chatting about their achievements out of pride, politicians ‘tweeting’ to berate one another out of wrath, investors following and predicting financial trends out of greed. Teenagers use www not just to harass each other but also for sexting (lust), TV junkies send text messages while lazily watching their favourite soap (sloth) and a lot of people share on Facebook pictures of the elaborate meals they prepare and devour (gluttony). The envy the providers of these online services generate through the huge profits they make by means of our weaknesses can immediately be catalogued as the seventh deadly sin.
But are these human failings really so abhorrent ? What is so wrong with protecting what you have acquired, with enjoying a good meal or a well-filled glass ? By occasionally overrating yourself and presenting a picture that is different from how the world generally likes to see you ?
Without wishing to give a definitive answer to these ethical questions, we could say that the concept of sin has been one of the most fundamental ideas in the last two millennia of Western culture. Christianity has in this way greatly influenced our thinking. The Old Testament defines five sins of the spirit and two of the flesh. In the biblical interpretation we are weighed down by the original sin and therefore from our birth predestined to do wrong. Only through atonement can we achieve paradise. Thomas Aquinas already expresses this clearly and from his Christian perspective suggests that only the deed is a sin, not thinking about it.
Dante’s more philosophical approach also condemns us to purgatory or hell, but he does allow us a choice : he views sin as the result of love that has ‘gone astray’. Consequently, through a lack of love we sin, but the knowledge of love arms us against sin. Insufficient love from others thus leads to self-love. This is the essence of the first deadly sin, pride, but then with a more positive interpretation.
‘All sins are an attempt to fill gaps’, says Simone Weill. We can also regard our little weaknesses with some empathy. Indeed, there is no effective remedy for all our human instincts. According to Nietzsche, although we will never win the ancient battle with our instincts, it is important to be aware of and recognise our failure. You may realise that you are guilty of sloth, but you do everything in your power to overcome it. You can also see lust in relation to chastity, or covetousness in relation to generosity. So jealousy may also indicate admiration or love for something or someone.
Amor Fati – a love of fate, and therefore for our human condition – is the concept of the man who loves himself, with all his flaws, and because of this is able to grow and become better : we have to learn to live with sin and virtue to understand and accept ourselves. And searching for this dichotomy makes it all much more interesting.
The seven deadly sins represent the dark continents of our human nature, but also emotions and instincts that can be turned to the good.
The coming season at La Monnaie has thus been compiled in the belief that nothing human is strange to us, or to put it differently, that sin is an overdose of virtue, an exaggeration of it, as it were.
Superbia Avaritia Luxuria Invidia Gula Acedia Ira
The names of the seven deadly sins sound poetic and archaic in Latin, are slightly more distant from us in that language, and are also more abstract, less threatening and even more nostalgic. In this brochure they come in the form of written text and in images specially created for this season by the Belgian fashion photographer and video artist Pierre Debusschere.
In their operas, Mozart and Handel played inimitably with the contrast between virtue and sin. Is Don Giovanni not the prototype of sin ? But he is not alone, all the characters around him represent some sort of shortcoming. Elvira is enraged by the rejection she has endured, Leporello is greedy on all fronts, Anna is a little too lustful, Ottavio is clearly too indolent to really take action, Zerlina is vain in her dream to transcend her class, Masetto is simply jealous and the wealthy Commendatore can be regarded as greedy... And then there is Giovanni himself, who exploits all these human weaknesses. He is more than just a seducer, he is a combination of all the deadly sins and they reflect on everyone around him. Superbia is undoubtedly the most applicable to him – the compulsion to be attractive, an extreme form of narcissism that leads to indifference and arrogance, the worst of the seven sins and also the first in line : it generates all the other sins. Our new Don Giovanni with the team of Ludovic Morlot and Krzysztof Warlikowski will certainly offer further food for thought...
Handel’s Alcina is modelled on the legendary sorceress who, like Giovanni, is a combination of many sins, especially Invidia – hedonistic, manipulative and later also a victim of her own machinations, lonely and abandoned by her loved ones. His Tamerlano however, is an historical figure : a belligerent, power hungry, selfish dictator who exudes plenty of Ira and thus corresponds to the image of the aggressor, the instigator of conflict. We present both works as a diptych on two consecutive days, directed by Pierre Audi and under the musical direction of Christophe Rousset.
We shall be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss in 2014. Which has prompted us to present his Daphne, which has never been staged in Brussels before, in a new production by Guy Joosten and Lothar Koenigs – the same team who previously presented an excellent Elektra here. With this project we take a critical look at the indolence of modern society. Acedia is a sin that fits perfectly into our ultra-digitalized world – a lazy society that no longer has vision and is allowing the planet to deteriorate. ‘Hipster’ Daphne is an eco-conscious teenager who unfortunately only thinks in slogans rather than in deeds – she is so ‘green’ that she eventually becomes absorbed into nature and turns into a tree.
Giuseppe Verdi will also be on the programme, following his anniversary year, this time with Un Ballo in maschera. This is a dark story, once again about adultery, jealousy, betrayal and murder and therefore full of high emotion and, unfortunately, very little virtue. In this project, the conductor Carlo Rizzi will be working for the first time with Alex Ollé and La Fura dels Baus.
Music lovers are still unaware that Sergei Rachmaninov also wrote operas, which we will present as the first project in our ‘extra muros’ season starting in June 2015, due to the renovation that will commence in our theatre at that time. Dante was the inspiration for what is probably the best known of the three one-act plays on the famous love story in the Purgatorio – that of Francesca da Rimini and her affair with her brother-in-law Paolo, for which she is punished and banished to hell. This metaphysical work we would like to link to the more naturalistic Aleko, the first of the three in which Zemfira also cheats on her husband with a young gypsy. The centrepiece, The Miserly Knight, is about human avarice, Avaritia, the desire for power and money. The crimes resulting from his infidelity, betrayal and theft are themes that are conspicuously present in this trilogy. This is the first time an opera house has ventured to present these works together. The direction is in the hands of the Danish artists collective Hotel Pro Forma under the guidance of Kirsten Dehlholm – a guarantee for a true visual theater experience.
This season the programme includes no fewer than two opera creations in which the main thread is Ira – anger, wrath, rage and revenge and in both cases, also war.
In the autumn on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ‘Great War’ the project Shell Shock, A Requiem of War will premiere to music by our compatriot Nicholas Lens, who invited Nick Cave to write the lyrics for this composition. It will be an intense meditation on the consequences of war, of any military conflict. We persuaded choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to take on a large-scale musical-theatre work for the first time, with symphony orchestra, choir, soloists and dancers.
In spring it is the turn of the French composer Pascal Dusapin, whose latest opera was inspired by Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea, the story of the warlike Amazon who falls in love with her enemy and plays the complex game of attraction and repulsion until it leads to her death. Our principal conductor Ludovic Morlot will be working together with Katie Mitchell, who is making her debut in La Monnaie.
The German composer Detlev Glanert has realised a completed version of Mahler’s Wunderhornlieder : he has written nine new orchestrations which, together with the ‘Lieder’ Mahler himself orchestrated, makes a total of twenty-four, and we shall be giving them their first performance together with a ‘historicising’ film specially designed for the occasion. This is an initiative by one of our best-known in-house artists, the baritone Dietrich Henschel, who will, of course, also perform the cycle.
His compatriot Wolfgang Rihm is on the programme with his chamber opera Jakob Lenz. This poignant story of a mad soul is sometimes described as ‘the expression of an obsession in sound’. We are proud to present a new production, directed by Andrea Breth, of this masterpiece by today’s most important German composer.
Fierrabras, one of Schubert’s best-known operas, is set in the time of Charlemagne (who died 1200 years ago) and also has conflict and struggle as its backdrop. At the same time it has a compelling humanist message : the libretto does not mention the warring Franks or Moors, or the Christians and Muslims, but on the contrary, praises the nobility of faith, of any faith or belief, as the only hope for reconciliation.
The concert performance of the work under the direction of Àdàm Fischer has also led to a whole series of Schubert’s music, a true cycle of symphonies, in our recitals and in our Friday chamber music series : indeed Kazushi Ono conducts no fewer than three concerts in which he pitches Schubert against Sibelius (whose anniversary it is this year). Robert Schumann too gets full attention with the complete symphonies conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The great ‘Lieder’ cycles of Schubert and Schumann will be presented by such interesting interpreters as Nathalie Stutzmann, Bo Skovhus, Georg Nigl and Pavol Breslik. We shall also be presenting Schwanengesang, in a scenic interpretation by Romeo Castellucci. In Sasha Waltz’ mesmerizing dance performance Impromptus, Schubert once again plays a central role.
You can also look forward to a revival of Cherkaoui’s Babel(words) and several evenings with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas, who were inspired by Brian Eno for their new creation. Apart from him and Nick Cave, Björk is the third name from the pop scene to appear on the programme this year ; they inspired La Monnaie’s first intergenerational project, Medúlla (‘an ancient spirit that is passionate and dark, a spirit that survives’). This is a project that sets out to find the basic ingredients of our cohabitation, in the conviction that this is only possible through solidarity between cultures and generations, regardless of colour, language, nationality or religion... with the human voice as the purest expression of our emotions.
We invite you to enjoy yet another introspective season at La Monnaie – an exercise in the development of our soul. If we do not take on the challenge to philosophise, if we do not allow ourselves to think differently and perhaps colour outside the lines of social conventions, we will indeed remain incomplete.
The seven deadly sins are reflected in just as many paths to paradise, paths we have to discover with a unique combination of our bodies, hearts and minds : that of our humanity. Let us then celebrate this together, based on an intense passion for life, for our profession, for creation, music and theatre.
Peter de Caluwe