- Reading time
- 13 min.
‘There is truth, my friend. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught.’
Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
For Plato, father of all philosophers, the Good, the Beautiful and the True exist, albeit as ‘things’ that are neither material nor intelligible to our world. In the ‘Platonic heaven’ these ideas exist as concepts in their purest form. From there they stimulate our desire to do good, to acquire knowledge and to set out on our quest for beauty. According to Plato, the seat of this desire for higher things is our soul, the immortal part of our being.
Only sporadically in our fragmented, imperfect reality do we come into contact with these emanations of ‘higher things’. Doubt, distraction and irony all too often overshadow our pursuit of ‘elevation’. We spend most of our lives having to rely on trying to establish a fragile balance between soul and body, between reason and emotion, and on reconciling the many other apparent dualities in ourselves. In German literature there is a nice word for the progression or development process that takes you beyond the antitheses and closer to your humanity: Werdegang. I cannot deny that I find this concept rather appealing. Learning to live by living is a constant challenge.
“Es gibt die Wahrheit, mein Lieber! Aber die ‘Lehre’, die du begehrst, die absolute, vollkommen und
allein weise machende, die gibt es nicht. Du sollst dich auch gar nicht nach einer vollkommenen Lehre sehnen, Freund, sondern nach Vervollkommnung deiner selbst. Die Gottheit ist in dir, nicht in den Begriffen und Büchern. Die Wahrheit wird gelebt, nicht doziert.”
Hermann Hesse, Das Glasperlenspiel
There are no ready-made answers or universal dogmas, but in his letters ‘On the Aesthetic Education of Man’, Friedrich Schiller gives us an inkling of the notion of ‘Spieltrieb’. He, too, believed that man has a dual nature that feels as well as thinks, a sensuous dimension as well as an intellectual one. But Schiller also refers to a middle state between two extremes, that of play. In this ‘aesthetic state’ of play, in the broadest sense of the word, man finds his equilibrium and he can be liberated.
One hundred and fifty years later, in his last full-length novel The Glass Bead Game, Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse introduces the idea of a ‘game of games’ in which the entire contents of our culture and all the laws of different disciplines are incorporated and recombined. We dare to recognize our own craft in it. Because if there is anything that approaches the idea of an all-encompassing, serious game with all the elements of hundreds of years of cultural history, then it has to be opera. Hesse’s supposition was that we live communally and should develop our talents and skills for the benefit of that community. Moreover, he aligns himself with great thinkers for whom the acquisition of (self)-knowledge is more important than material gain. And may that also be where we as a cultural institution feel very much at home.
Learning to live by living is a constant challenge
The glass bead game and the concept of ‘play’ as a way of pitting the dichotomies and discrepancies of life against each other seems to me to be a good framework for shedding light on our forthcoming programme. I hope that you will be inspired by the 2018-19 season’s spiritual panorama – a landscape of the soul, in deliberate contrast to the transient, fragmentary world that surrounds us – and that our incessant pursuit of self-knowledge may finally result in beauty and wisdom. Or, to quote the closing words of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte: ‘Strength has triumphed, rewarding beauty and wisdom with an everlasting crown.’
‘Masterpieces reveal new meanings when asked new questions’, wrote Jean Starobinsky. I can only endorse this. So you will not be surprised to learn that we intend to interpret Zauberflöte, a frequently performed and sometimes hackneyed title in an unconventional way. After his productions of Parsifal and Orphée et Eurydice, the visionary all-round artist Romeo Castellucci challenges us to look for the deeper layers in Mozart’s ultimate opera. What really fascinate him are the dualities which converge in this work: day vs. night, man vs. woman, reason vs. emotion, empathy vs. blind revenge. Or do they? ‘May the rays of the sun banish the night’, Sarastro pronounces, but isn’t the sun of his world vision as blinding as the ‘starflaming’ Queen of the Night? After his flaming Lucio Silla, conductor Antonello Manacorda returns to kick off La Monnaie’s season with a new Mozart production.
The Good, the True and the Beautiful are questioned and thematized in so many of our operas. Take, for example, the long-awaited world première of Frankenstein, which La Monnaie commissioned from the American composer Mark Grey. Unlike the films, Mary Shelley’s original novel tells the lamentable tale of a scientifically created creature that strives to do good, but nevertheless does evil and is repudiated by his maker. For his first full-length opera, Grey draws on this modern Prometheus story, a philosophical reflection on the human condition and the technological possibilities which give man control over life and death. La Fura dels Baus carries this theme through to the staging and set using advanced audio and video technology. The orchestra will be in a safe pair of hands: Bassem Akiki, the young Lebanese-Polish conductor has already demonstrated his talent at La Monnaie on several occasions and now sees his ‘Werdegang’ take an important turn. Furthermore, we asked the theatre collective Les Karyatides to present a new children’s opera centred around the figure of Frankenstein.
In concert performances two demonic pacts bring the choice between good and evil to a head. Robert le Diable is Giacomo Meyerbeer’s first French opera. This archetypal grand opera à la française with its impressive chorus passages and powerfully contrasting orchestration will be under the musical direction of Evelino Pidò, a regular guest at La Monnaie.
In association with the Klarafestival, we are also presenting a semi-scenic version of The Rake’s Progress. La Monnaie audiences have already had a taste of Barbara Hannigan’s phenomenal singing and acting abilities; now she makes her debut as an opera conductor with this masterpiece of Igor Stravinsky’s neoclassical period.
Italian opera dominates the winter months. Created exactly 175 years ago, Don Pasquale is now one of the best loved comic operas of all times. In this lighthearted work, Gaetano Donizetti drew on the stock intrigues of commedia dell’arte, but managed to lift the farce with timelessly catchy music and characters whose narrow-mindedness still makes them recognizable today. Right up director Laurent Pelly’s street, you might say! Together with Alain Altinoglu, Laurent Pelly and a cast of bel canto specialists will bring 2018 to a joyous close. Opera permeated with buffo tones.
Arrigo Boito, a composer the centenary of whose death we are commemorating in 2018, was best known as the driving literary force behind Verdi’s last operas. He also wrote the libretto for Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, in Italy the most successful new opera between Verdi’s Aida and Otello. These days we may still be familiar with the ballet music ‘La danza delle ore’, but the complete work is certainly worth revisiting. Director Olivier Py has the task of evoking the full glory of the plotting and scheming, seventeenth-century Venice, while Paolo Carignani nudges the grande opera all’italiana in the right direction musically. As one of the few operas with a big role for each of the six voice types, La Gioconda is extremely demanding. With two outstanding casts, we hope to be on track to meet up to Ponchielli’s expectations.
From Venice to Richard Wagner is an easy transition to make. Not only was it in Venice that Wagner died, the German composer also wrote the second act of his Tristan und Isolde in the City of the Doges. This opera is perhaps the greatest monument ever erected in memory of an impossible love. As the apotheosis of the metaphysical romance, it is so internalized that little actually happens in the here and now. For the most part, the monologues and dialogues look back, recount and peer into the beyond. To turn this into enduring images, we are bringing together film director Ralf Pleger and the artistic universe of Alexander Polzin. It gives Alain Altinoglu plenty of scope to engulf us in this cosmic combination of text and music.
Leoš Janáček’s From the House of the Dead and the community opera Push form a third cluster. The one title expresses the hopelessness of a prison camp and the other the sense of having escaped its most inhuman form. Janáček wrote his own libretto for his last opera, after the semi-autobiographical novel in which Fyodor Dostoyevsky recounts the time he spent in a Siberian prison camp. The prisoners’ lives and stories are cruel and harsh, but for the most part the Czech composer’s music unleashes deep compassion and an irrepressible vitality. With the pantomime these outcasts perform in the second act, Janáček seems to suggest that through ‘play’ man can regain a form of personal freedom even in the most desperate and hopeless circumstances. Director Krzysztof Warlikowski has taken on the challenge of measuring up to his previous memorable La Monnaie productions and to that end is joining forces with the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla who is making her debut at La Monnaie.
Push is based on the story of the Brussels-born Holocaust survivor Simon Gronowski. In 1943 he was transported from Dossin barracks to Auschwitz, but with a ‘push’ from his mother he escaped the fate awaiting him in the camps. In this creation by composer Howard Moody historical facts commune with the experiences of other prisoners and refugees. As was the case with our previous community projects, he will work closely with both professionals and amateurs of all ages and from all communities.
We open the season with Die Zauberflöte and also round off in a magical vein with The Tale of Tsar Saltan, a fairy-tale opera by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. The Russian composer was inspired audibly by the popular legend he had found in a Pushkin poem and produced a colourful score, with earworm – ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is enough to send us buzzing into the summer! Just as he did in The Golden Cockerel, Alain Altinoglu will be able to shine as orchestra magician. We also look forward to welcoming back Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov following his extraordinary Trovatore a few years ago.
Opera, an all-encompassing, serious game with all the elements of hundreds of years of cultural history.
La Monnaie is very much a team player, as the numerous new and collaborative projects with cultural partners in Brussels demonstrate. The start of the season speaks for itself: with the Belgian National Orchestra and Bozar we are organizing a new edition of United Music of Brussels, at the request of Bozar, Romeo Castellucci is curating an exhibition on the Citroën site to complement Die Zauberflöte, and a new cooperation project with the KVS and Théâtre National has been sealed with the coproduction of two music theatre shows.
L’Homme de la Mancha, an American musical in the French translation by Jacques Brel, was premièred at La Monnaie on October 4th 1968. The worldfamous Belgian chansonnier died on October 9th 1978. Could there possibly be a more fitting tribute fifty and forty years later than a new production of this Don Quichotte revisited? The KVS and La Monnaie are jointly preparing to reintroduce Brussels to this emblematic musical in a production by KVS director Michael De Cock. His counterpart from the Théâtre National, Fabrice Murgia, will revisit the diaries and the poetry of American poet Sylvia Plath in Sylvia, in which he stages a layered chronicle of her tragic life with music by An Pierlé.
Dance at La Monnaie: a mixture of modern classics and innovative choreographic research.
La Monnaie’s regular choreographers will also be in attendance. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker will present the Belgian premiere of her new choreography to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. We are also supporting the Rosas repertoire at the Kaaitheater. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is bringing the long-awaited revival of Sutra, in association with young Shaolin monks, while another Belgian choreographer, Damien Jalet, makes his debut at La Monnaie with his successful, Japanese-inspired production Vessel.
The synergy with the federal institutions Bozar and the Belgian National Orchestra (BNO) reverberates in the Beethoven cycle which will largely dominate our concert programme. In June 2018 Alain Altinoglu will kick off the complete cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies with a performance of the Ninth Symphony. The other symphonies will then be performed over four further concerts. In each of those concerts a contemporary creation will conduct a dialogue with one of the two billed Beethoven symphonies. Bozar will contextualize these concerts with word and image, while the BNO opens a parallel window on Beethoven’s enduring musical influence.
Bruckner, Musorgsky, Wagner and a large amount of Beethoven
For its part, La Monnaie will make a contribution to the Bruckner cycle which the BNO initiates, with the large-scale Te Deum conducted by Hartmut Haenchen. Alain Altinoglu will open the season with Modest Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and, building on the success of the previous edition, he will give another family concert. Fellow Music Director from the BNO, Hugh Wolff, will be in charge of musicians from both federal orchestras and round off in style with highlights from Wagner’s Ring.
The 2018-19 season is infused with all the elements of a multifaceted glass bead game: in Mozart’s opera Enlightenment ideas combine with algorithmically generated 3D sculptures; a medieval love saga goes beyond Novalis’ nocturnal poetry and Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism to Wagner’s ‘endless melody’ and contemporary installation art; librettist ‘Tobbia Gorrio’ based La Gioconda on a play by Victor Hugo; ethical dilemmas and emotional confrontations lie concealed behind the science fiction of Frankenstein and the sorcery of Tsar Saltan; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos perform a postmodern dance move; Janáček’s frenetic swipes whip Dostoyevsky’s prisoners into life in Warlikowski’s theatrical universe; in the recitals and Concertini celebrated soloists react to the moves of the concert and opera programme… It’s all happening, at La Monnaie!
The cards have been shuffled. And yet the possibilities for play are endless. It’s all about joining in and finding out more about ourselves through play. I hope it brings you huge pleasure.