(to 24 June 2014)
OPERA FUOCO COMMISSION – CONDUCTOR: DAVID STERN
With the support of the SACEM FONDATION
Co-production: Scène Nationale de Saint-Quentin en Yvelines
Music – Nicolas Bacri
Libretto – Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Director – Jean-Yves Ruf
Assistant Director - Anaïs de Courson
Set Design – Laure Pichat
Lighting – Christian Dubet
Costumes – Claudia Jenatsch
Dresser – Lucie Hermand
General Management and Lighting Management – Jean-Philippe Corrigou
Assistant General Management – Fabrice Barbin and Macha Iordanoff
Orchestral Management and Surtitles – Thomas Capron, Sébastien Hanon and Mickaël Bréant
Costumes produced by the Lycée Professionnel Marie Laurencin, Paris
Stage set produced by Art&Oh – Benoît Probst & ArtMétal
Soloists – Alexandre Artemenko, Pierrick Boisseau, Jennifer Courcier, Lea Desandre, Etienne Duhil de Bénazé, Natalie Perez, Julie Prola, Benoît Rameau, Sahy Ratianarinaivo and Sophia Stern
Orchestra – Opera Fuoco
Conductor – David Stern
Théâtre de Saint-Quentin en Yvelines Children’s Choir – Year 5 from the Pierre Brossolette des Mureaux primary school, and Year 5 from the Maurice Thorez de Trappes primary school
Children’s workshop leaders – Julie Fioretti and Kayo Tsukamoto for the music and Anaïs de Courson for the acting
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées Children’s Choir – Maîtrise des Hauts de Seine, directed by Gaël Darchen
Premieres 14, 16 and 17 May 2014 at the Théâtre de Saint-Quentin en Yvelines
Subsequent performances 2, 4, 5, 6, 10 and 13 June 2014 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
LA TERRASSE – JEAN LUKAS – 24 APRIL 2014
To celebrate its tenth birthday, Opéra Fuoco, loyal to the Théâtre Saint-Quentin en Yvelines where for six years it has been exploring 18th- and 19th-century repertoire under the baton of David Stern (son of the acclaimed violinist, Isaac Stern), has chosen to revisit Mozart’s last opera, to probe the enigmatic psychology of its six protagonists. “Cosi is one of the most psychologically complex operas ever written, which is why I’m still asking myself questions about the characters’ behaviour and motives. To try to understand the roles more fully, I often wonder what exactly led the characters to become the way they are, as presented by Da Ponte. My instinct told me we need to turn the clock back and try to discover who they were as teenagers and young adults,” explains Stern, who judiciously thought of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt to write the libretto.
“What happened ten years before the action of Cosi Fan Tutte?” the novelist wonders. “You can’t help wondering about the older characters: why has Don Alfonso turned into a sceptical, world-weary philosopher who no longer believes in love? Why does Despina think all men are the same? What wounds justify their cynicism? The young people raise questions, too. Why are Fiordiligi and Dorabella troubled when they find themselves confronted with each other’s fiancé? Why are the boys, Guglielmo and Ferrando, so confident in themselves and their fiancées? The libretto continues the Mozartian themes: ambiguous emotions, generalised flirting and exhilaration, naivety deceived, frenzied trickery …” explains Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who emphasises that he was keen to avoid pastiche but wanted to “try to establish a relationship between past and present like the music composed by Nicolas Bacri.” For his part, Bacri didn’t want to “remake Mozart” but rather, like Prokoviev in his Classical Symphony, “to enter the universe of the composer’s time and create a new work in which the aesthetic, over and above the language, would demonstrate most of the dramatic twists and turns at the time Mozart was writing his operas.” A captivating adventure.
CADENCES – No 274 May 2014
Saint-Quentin en Yvelines
Nicolas Bacri’s Cosi Fancuilli
From 14 to 17 May
Of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas, Cosi Fan Tutte is undoubtedly the one that triggers the most reactions: on the one hand, its critics point out the weaknesses of the libretto; on the other, its fans love it for a score which unquestionably includes some of the most beautiful arias Mozart ever wrote. The four men involved here evidently fall into the second category: librettist Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, composer Nicolas Bacri, conductor David Stern (the brainchild behind the project for his Opera Fuoco), and director Jean-Yves Ruf are all unconditional devotees of the work. In the wake of so many commentators, they hope to answer the questions that exercise Mozart fanatics: why are Despina and Don Alfonso so cynical: why are Fiordiligi and Dorabella so naïve, and why are Ferrando and Guglielmo so arrogant? Their combined talents are sure to bring us a “Prologue to Cosi” of incomparable verve but also of touching psychological subtlety.
OPERA MAGAZINE – MARGUERITE HALADJIAN – MAY 2014
Conceived as a prologue to Cosi Fan Tutte, Cosi Fanciulli will premiere at the Theatre on 14 May.
How did the Cosi Fanciulli project come about?
When David Stern, Opera Fuoco’s musical director, suggested composing a “Prologue” to Cosi Fan Tutte, I hesitated at first, because I thought: “Another pastiche!” There are actually only 20 of them out of the 130 works I’ve written, but as they’ve been well received, they tend to get revived … At the same time, given that the libretto was by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and the conductor was David Stern, I realised this was a unique opportunity to collaborate with an admirable team. After that, it was up to me to give meaning to the project and create a piece that was both about my music and about Mozart’s. The initiative came from David, who wanted to get to the bottom of the protagonists’ psychology in Cosi Fan Tutte. Cosi Fanciulli stays close to the original characterisation but sheds new light on the back-story before the curtain rises on Mozart’s opera. The work turns the clock back and unveils the curious experiences of four teenagers, who are not yet the fiancés we see in Da Ponte’s libretto. They know nothing yet of amorous desire, not, at least, until the end of the opera when they start to change. Meanwhile, Don Alfonso and Despina are neither cynical nor world-weary; Cosi Fanciulli shows how they end up like that.
Did you write this in the style of the Mozart opera?
My music revives the musical context of Cosi Fan Tutte but in today’s language in a kind of contemporary take on the 18th century. The plot made me write more rigorously, juxtaposing and parodying dramatic turns and references to Mozart’s times. It wasn’t an exercise in style or an imitation of the past but a pastiche in the strictest sense of the word: a kind of tribute to an admired musician, which helped me refine my own work as a composer, the better to affirm my aesthetic. But it also allowed me to acknowledge the heritage that contributed to the development of my personal expression. I’ve added a children’s choir to the six voices of the characters from Cosi Fan Tutte. Melodic motifs, and the tones and colours of a classical orchestra form a coherent and quasi-symphonic whole, which probes the enigmas of Mozart’s opera from this new perspective. Bear in mind that this is a “Prologue”, designed to be played during the same evening as Cosi Fan Tutte. That’s why I composed it to an Italian translation of the libretto, although the debut will be sung in French.
Interview with Marguerite Haladjian
3 REASONS TO SEE
To witness the encounter of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, one of today’s most sought-after novelists and playwrights renowned for his paradoxical plots, and Nicolas Bacri, one of the most prolific, talented and atypical composers of our time.
To get to know the heroes of Cosi Fan Tutte in their youth. We’d all like to know who Don Giovanni was in the nursery or what Tristan and Isolde were like at primary school; now, you can discover everything about Fiordiligi and Dorabella, Guglielmo and Ferrando when they were teenagers.
To understand how you get from a celebrated work of genius to a show for young people. What remains of the Mozart-Da Ponte characters in the Bacri-Schmitt opera, conducted by David Stern and produced by Jean-Yve Ruf in Paris?
CULTURE BOX / FRANCE TV – BERTRAND RENARD – 5 JUNE 2014
A lifelong devotee of Mozart, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt had the delightful idea of writing a prequel to Cosi Fan Tutte. But is the term Cosi Fancuilli the most appropriate?
From the age of nine?
Outside the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, children and parents wait in anticipation in torrential rain this Wednesday afternoon for a musical show for children. Take away the perennial Peter and the Wolf, The Nutcracker or Carnival of the Animals, and there aren’t many of them. But wait, lucky parents, be warned: it’s not obvious that this (delectable) Cosi Fancuilli is suitable for the youngest children. We think the bar should be set at 19 (no limit for adults …).
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt saved by Mozart
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has already explained, in My Life with Mozart, how, as a lonely, depressive teenager, he was saved at the age of 15 by Wolfgang Amadeus’ music. So, he has taken the most melancholy and the bitterest of the composer’s works, the opera most disillusioned about love, to imagine the roots of that bitterness. It’s better not to translate Cosi Fanciulli as “Like Children”, which would be “Cosi Infanti” in Italian, but rather as “Like (very) young people”.
Fiordiigi and Dorabella, the two sisters from Cosi Fan Tutte, and their lovers (who aren’t yet their lovers) are about 14 or 15, while the joint cause of their emotional turmoil, Alfonso and Despina, respectively the sisters’ tutor and their servant, are a bit older.
A wise and subtle libretto
But Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s acumen goes well beyond that. He has produced a wise and subtle libretto that fully captures the spirit of Mozart’s music and Da Ponte’s text. The victims here are Alfonso and Despina who are in love with one another, and they are victims, firstly of Dorabella and especially of Fiordiligi – the latter, a right little nuisance. The girls have set their hearts on Alfonso, their music tutor (cue for constant music), like teenage groupies swooning over a baby-faced “old” singer of 25-30. (Extract from the dialogue: “Ladies, have you no shame? A bit, but we’re used to it!”)
The first flutter of desire
This is a marvellous portrayal, not, of course, of love but of the beginnings of desire and of adolescent bodies in a Neapolitan summer when everyone is on the beach and the sunsets are scorching, with just a hint of melancholy floating on the evening breeze.
The two girls hatch a plot and enlist the help of two choir boys. The boys are a bit naïve and not very astute (more interested, Schmitt tells us, in games and sport) but they’re obviously fascinated by this mysterious female universe. That’s enough of a spoiler about the twists and turns of this deftly woven intrigue, except to say that it leaves a bitter taste with Despina and Alfonso (in the background is a class struggle: the two sisters can’t bear seeing their servant happy when they are not): the final image is of their silhouettes, backs to the audience, gazing towards the horizon where night is falling, while the four young people (the “fanciulli”) are overwhelmed by a nostalgia that finally resembles genuine feeling.
Nicolas Bacri’s music is charming, at first neo-Classical à la Stravinsky, before gradually working its way through Ravel and Poulenc to Bacri. David Stern is the musical director of a group of excellent young singers: Despina is sung by Nathalie Pérez – who has a pretty aria accompanied by the string section, “I say farewell to my 20s” – and Alfonso by Pierrick Boisseau. Julie Prola is an impeccable (and delightfully exasperating) Fiordiligi and Lea Desandre a paler Dorabella. The two boys, Sahy Ratianarinaivo and Alexandre Artemenko, are also superb. The point at which, flanking Despina, they sigh with love and she gets up so that Ferrando, who has his eyes closed, thinks he is kissing the young woman and kisses Guglielmo, nearly brought the house down – clearly appealing to the youngest audience members – with an innocence that suggested a felicitous distance from any controversy about marriage for everyone or gender theories…
The Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine children’s choir (transformed into little beach attendants in Jean-Yves Ruf’s modest but inspired production) are given arias that could easily enter the repertoire of other choirs: “If my voice had wings” (reprised at the end by the audience), or “Like an owl, love only goes out at night”. But, as you can see, this entrancing tapestry of the ravages of love or false sentiments is not really tailored for children. How will parents answer the question: “What happens next?” “Well, they fall in love, but as soon as the boys turn their backs, the girls cheat on them, and the ones to take revenge, Alfonso and Despina, become cynical and cruel”?
One wonders which is preferable: to enter the universe of Cosi Fan Tutte and take up all its challenges, or else to stay forever a child.
Cosi Fancuilli at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
5, 6, 10 and 13 June at 10am
2.30pm school parties only (bookings exclusively from teachers who may register their classes)
LA LETTRE DU MUSICIEN – JACQUES BONNAURE – 16 JUNE 2014
COSI FANCIULLI AT THE THEATRE DES CHAMPS-ELYSEES
First performed at the Théâtre de Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, Cosi Fanciulli, an opera by Nicolas Bacri with a libretto by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, has moved on to the Salle de l’Avenue Montaigne in Paris. It tells the story of the six characters from Cosi Fan Tutte a few years before Mozart’s opera begins …
Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando and Guglielmo are now teenagers and sing in a choir directed by Don Alfonso, who is hopelessly in love with Despina, the two girls’ servant. The sisters are fascinated by their tutor and enlist the help of their friends to try to break up the idyll.
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s skilful libretto and Jean-Yves Ruf’s masterful direction adroitly flesh out the psychological portraits of the two boys, still rough around the edges, and the sisters, who are rather contrary and flirtatious and aware of new stirrings in their hearts. All four already suggest the Mozart-Da Ponte characters to come.
A word of warning, however. Although several school classes took part in both series of performances of this short opera at the Théâtre de Saint-Quentin en Yvelines and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and although it involves a children’s choir (the superb Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine), this is not really an opera for children in the style of Benjamin Britten’s Little Sweep. The treatment of burgeoning love surely surpasses the understanding of primary school pupils, and the music would be unusually sophisticated for them.
All the underlying principles of Bacri’s compositions are present: classical polarity and controlled lyrical effusions are backed by a small orchestra and transparent score that support the voices without drowning them. Above all, the composer seems to have fully absorbed the melancholy and anxiety hinted at in Mozart’s Cosi. An unusual project calls for an unusual cast: while Despina (Nathalie Pérez) and Alfonso (Pierrick Boisseau) are already accomplished soloists, the other four roles were given to young singers who are still training. Their voices are sometimes rather delicate but they are interesting. David Stern and his opera company, Opera Fuoco, are obviously the cornerstone of the production and play with elegance and balance. (6 June)