Abbé Perrin (Director of...
As part of the Opera's anniversary year, "Octave" and the "Les Mots" school have joined forces to propose a writing workshop inspired by the Opera. Created in 2016 by Alexandre Lacroix and Élise Nebout, "Les Mots" accompanies all those who wish to progress in the art of writing, through contact with recognized authors. Supervised by Émilie de Turckheim, the participants in this special session were invited to the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille in order to plunge in the atmospheres of both theatres and slip more easily into their characters' skins. Be it through short fiction, essays or documentary works, it is the authors' turn to take to the stage. This work, which lasted several months, has given rise to seven contributions that "Octave" has chosen to share, starting with the team's favourite.
Illustration : Mathieu Pajot
Granny at the Palais Garnier
By Léonie D.R.
« The two lackeys on stage please ». The smiling voice in the loudspeakers recites the calls.
I warm up my voice in the Messager Hall. The acoustic is such that when one turns a page or merely taps something on a cell-phone, the noise can be heard at the other end of the room.
“Abdou is needed with the glasses for the fountain stage right”.
My sister sends me a message, she’s through the entrance and didn’t get searched. Phew ! I imagine her climbing the steps, her heart beating, saying to Granny,
“You see how grand it is? Don’t you feel a bit like Sissi all of a sudden?”
And she gets an eyeful of the whirlwind of stone and marble, the vast scrolls that draw one up to the summit. Her eyes no longer know quite what to alight on, the legs of a statue turned to burnished gold, fingered by thousands of furtive hands; on the salamanders hidden behind the colonnades; or on the toffee coloured veins in the marble. The music begins with the grand staircase; the curves of the steps change as one climbs up, and make one want to run and throw oneself into the auditorium. If she could speak, Granny would not fail to indicate that she had known all along that I would end up here.
The radio was rasping away in the kitchen, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. With my big sister it was always pop music, disco and the top forty, and never, ever had I heard a song like it. The voices soared out of the transistor and bounced in all directions, before cascading onto Granny’s red formica table. In the tiresome heat of the afternoon, something had happened and I had goose pimples everywhere. My childish voice hung onto the notes in an attempt to reach the high ones. I loved pretending to do karate yells. I was short and skinny but I could easily burst all the eardrums in the room, Karate Kid style, with nothing but my reedy little voice. But this left me standing, it was so beautiful! And I understood nothing of the lyrics: just an explosion, that bursts from the body and transports you somewhere else, far away. Granny must have shouted, “Shut your trap, will you!” and I didn’t even hear her. I was at the summit of my voice. Then the electric guitar gave me the impression of an alarm clock that slices into a dream. I asked my sister who was singing, she said, “Forget it, you big idiot, it’s rubbish, it sounds like opera”. She didn’t know who it was either.
In the crummy apartment on the eleventh floor where Granny raised us, we didn’t listen to opera. Granny herself listened to the radio and her old record player just for her LPs of Saint Claude François. One day I did decide to have a listen and it was then that, hidden between the albums, I eventually came across La Callas. I was stunned, it was all I listened to. Maria and me, tête-à-tête in The Very Best of Opera.
Granny couldn’t stand listening to me bawling any longer. Granny was very religious, the sort that makes a cross on the bread, not much of a church-goer, but she said to herself that at the church choir, they’d know what to do with a kid that sings at the top of his voice all the time. I certainly sang a lot of hymns, Nearer my God to thee, and Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty and such like. That’s what it took to sweeten the pill of the confirmation classes. And however loudly we warbled, our voices remained somewhat imprisoned in the parish hall, with its mottled brown tiles and salmon-pink and lavender walls that made you want to throw up more than to praise God. That didn’t stop me continuing my vocal acrobatics with Maria at home. Her unrequited passions in Italian were lost on me, so I accompanied her in mumbo-jumbo with all my heart. I envied my sister who was in a rock group. I even prayed to Jesus for them to let me join, because the priest said that thanks to my voice I could talk to him directly. I must have been on the wrong frequency: they didn’t want me. Even when I sang Bohemian Rhapsody at the right pitch, they said it was too old fashioned. With my voice we decided: might as well stick with music that’s more than two hundred years old.
“Audition Paris Opera Children’s Choir”. I had torn down the poster, read it and reread it, folded and refolded it in my jeans pocket until I’d worn away the ink. Granny had to use her magnifying glass. She just sighed and asked herself what she’d done to deserve to be on her own with kids like us, who were a law unto themselves. And that’s when my sister did something nice for the first time in her life and took me to Paris on the train. I must say she was a dab hand at filching money from handbags lying around. She said to me: “I really hope they take you, like that I’ll see less of your ugly mug”. I hadn’t been back to Paris since I was five years old and we went to see the window displays in the department stores with Mum. My throat felt tight in the itchy scarf Granny had knitted for me. And then, more than anything, I prayed silently, in the light, grey rain, not to Jesus but to Maria, because I’d noticed that my voice had a bit of a will of its own these days.
I thought this was something that only happened to other boys and that my voice would never do such a thing to me. I prayed for it not to let me down. We got a bit lost in the area around the opera house, we were so busy looking in shop windows that we had trouble spotting it, with its big golden hat. I didn’t think it would be a palace to that extent. We climbed the steps, me all trembling, my sister saying that it was really ugly, this big, pretentious palace, really tawdry. Straight off, they sent us packing – it wasn’t by the main entrance you were supposed to go in. “Obviously,” my sister grumbled, “we’re not toffs, we go in the tradesmen’s entrance”, and the door-man shrugged his shoulders.
We walked right round the huge building, it took so long it seemed like a lifetime. Finally, we found the door and, after several grotty corridors and some narrow steps, a queue of well-dressed kids. The décor wasn’t really grandiose, it was like some old school building and we were all going to see the deputy head because we hadn’t done any work this term, again. We all waited nice and quietly, the others flanked by their mothers, trembling mothers, over-fussy mothers and really uncool mothers. There were loads of mothers everywhere in that corridor... and my sister who was listening to her Discman and humming a song by Nirvana. One mother asked me “Which conservatoire do you go to?” just to make conversation. The son tried to pierce me with his stare like a hyena with neatly combed hair. I didn’t answer. I wanted them all to disappear, but I didn’t really dare try my karate yell.
When it was my turn, my sis hissed at me “Don’t screw up” and all the kids and the mothers gave me a funny look as I went into the hall. I’d taken off Granny’s scarf but my throat itched all the same, on the inside, as if I had ants in my voice. All through my childhood I’d been waiting for something like this, but I had surely waited too long. I’d grown too quickly, like a weed Granny used to say, and now I felt dizzy. The hall was light and in front of the window there were three people sitting so straight you’d have thought they were going for the world championship in well-aligned backs. I took a deep breath, here goes, me and my voice, we’ll get their eardrums vibrating. At the first notes from the piano, my voice hid and refused to show itself. In the carousel of my racing blood, I strained and strained and finally my voice came out, raucous and awkward like a wounded animal. The very straight people raised their eyes to the ceiling. I asked to start again and it wasn’t great, my voice was really struggling. One of the ladies said to me in a very severe tone:
“It’s all very messy”. And the others politely confirmed.
“A bit academic...”,
“Your voice dominates you, young man, you must work harder”.
My vocal chords tightened, ready to strangle me, and I thought I would never manage to breathe again. On the way home, my sister kept on asking me how it went, but my voice wouldn’t come out. She said:
“You’re a real pain”. I threw a final glance at the Paris Opera, very big and puffed up, through the mist of my eyes.
“He’s been sending us all deaf ever since he was born and now he won’t talk anymore, what is this kid’s problem?” Poor Granny, she had really no idea what was going on.
I thought about the Karate Kid. I just had to find a place, a conservatoire like the hyena’s mother said, to learn to stand up straight and dominate my voice. Poor Maria was all scratched from all the private lessons she’d been giving me. The regional conservatoire was a white cube a bit lopsided plonked down in the middle of some blocks of flats by some architect who was probably drunk at the time, an hour by train plus two bus rides from where I lived. My school marks continued to plummet but as for my voice, it roamed the octaves freely.
“The extras are wanted on stage”.
Everything is in place, in the mirrors in the corridors I take a lingering look, long enough to dissolve into my costume. My features have disappeared under the make-up.
“Last call, on stage”.
We pass behind the painted backdrops. In the darkness, Act l is still sleeping. Ghostly props hidden under sheets hold their breath. Nearly two thousand people are squirming in the red velour seats. Some of them cough, embarrassed by the silence. I don’t really know where my sister is, what I do know is that she hasn’t got her Discman anymore. I imagine her, hugging tightly what remains of Granny, in ashes in her little urn. I salute them mentally, as I do the host of my good fairies. All my teachers at the conservatoire, Mme Rosado, Mr Pacholski, Mr Nikolic ... and of course Freddy Mercury, Jesus and Maria... they all disappear in a puff of smoke to leave me on my own with those who are going to live the opera.
The instruments fidget to begin. I open my mouth in an O, like the statues holding up the boxes. My voice is ready to soar, to bounce off the gilding of the statues, to caress eardrums and red velour and to fly up into clear sky of the dome. My voice dominates me and I let it lead me, in the perfect abandon of the music.
The Angel of the Opera
By Violaine J.
My mother is there. In front of me. On the station platform. So many days of waiting erased in a smile. She hugs me with her scent of marshmallow, smothers me in her frail arms, swallows me with her fragile love. That night, I sleep pressed to her heart, with a happy smile, lulled by her whispered words recounting her days, her perfumed hair tickling my face: the Paris Opera, the audition, her selection, the places that I don’t know, those that make me dream – the fly tower, the Grand Staircase, the Foyer, the Rotonde du glacier. And then the man from a poetic-sounding country, his request for her autograph that turned into a proposal of marriage. She can’t accept: her heart belongs to me, her miracle, her Alceste with his so fragile, transplanted heart! She laughs with regret, continues with the cute sailor she met backstage. They come in groups from Brittany on the same train, once the fishing season is over. They follow it with a season of knotting and cabling behind the scenes at the Opera. They are much needed as they are the only ones to master these ancestral skills, artisans with fingers primed to pull on ropes and haul up backdrops.
I drift, lulled by the sea and the songs of unknown sailors. My frail body dances in the middle of the cables, the sets and corridors, the gilding and the lights, the splendours and pleasures. My mother lights up everywhere, her smile, that special beauty she has, like a butterfly graciously fluttering. Buried in her arms, I dream that she will not go away again, that her engagements will be limited to a triangle comprising Chambéry, Lyon and Geneva, that she will stay and live with Grandma and me, and then I see us, the two of us, and the vast stage of the Opera. The two of us, happy, floating in a dream in which all is permitted.
In the morning, I wake up alone in the bed. Through the French windows leading to the garden I hear her counting, breathing and see her repeat the same movements, tirelessly. Barefoot in the grass, she is so fragile, so beautiful. Angel of beauty, I am your guardian of beatitude. I tremble, I want to fly with you.
In the kitchen. Before my bread, butter and jam made with strawberries from the garden, staring at the red chequered waxed tablecloth, my “Mummy, teach me to fly like a dancer” bangs up against the silence of her empty, wandering gaze: warm-up rooms, aches and pains, hours of rehearsal, hours of waiting, moments of joy followed by vast emptiness, so many meanders and doubts.
“Only angels fly, my Alceste. You are so delicate, so skinny, so little. You have to be careful with your transplant. A puff of wind would blow you away. You are my little miracle in Chambéry. This time her smile effaces nothing of the fissure she has just opened!
She peals me an apple. Meticulously cuts it into quarters. The point of the knife pierces my seven-year-old heart, turns relentlessly as I hear her “you’re fine here with Granny, the mountain air is so good for you, the doctor said so, you’ve got to get your strength up ... the travelling, the competition is exhausting... I’M... withstanding all the jealousy, NOT LISTENING ... the injuries... ANYMORE !
By Diane T.
I am face to face with Hector and I have something very important to tell him. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. Except that what I want to tell him, I can’t remember anymore. It rumbles inside me like anger that won’t come out. An indifferent, intangible, casual anger. Hector is here, in front of me. He too is indifferent, intangible and casual. He looks at me, imposing. His eyes silently challenge me. Behind him, the moving silhouettes of the other pupils flit agitatedly in the playground, threatening. Hector is waiting. He has no idea what I am going to say.
Neither do I.
I take a step towards him and my legs seem to float inside my trousers. Clumsily, I straighten my glasses.
Go on, Quentin, be brave. Tell him. After, it will be too late.
But how to say words that escape me? Perhaps if I throw out the first word the rest will follow in a stream? I take a deep breath.
My voice is breaking and I don’t like it. It rasps and wavers like an old lightbulb that one has forgotten to change.
“...I’ve something to say to you...”
He looks at me with disdain.
At this point, breakdown in the system. General dysfunction. Cerebral blip. I find myself transported into a total blackout. Everything is empty and silent. Dizziness. Am I inside myself, in the outer void of my words?
No. Little by little, I perceive words pronounced in a low voice. I feel a presence. There is murmuring, whispering, joyous movement. In front of me. Right in front of me. There are hundreds of them. The blackness is teeming with life.
Suddenly, I am dazzled. I remain transfixed for a few seconds, half blind. Then my eyes get accustomed little by little to the light. I struggle to believe what they discern. Hundreds of little heads surround me: thick curls and shaved heads, young faces and taut features. They are all looking at me in silence. They are waiting, their curious little eyes fixed on me. What is it they expect? Where am I? I narrow my eyes. In front of me, purple seats, a cosy atmosphere, chandeliers, wood panelling and gilding. Above me, Chagall’s colourful creatures observe me curiously, suspended from a majestic dome. Just then a few notes of music break the silence. Below I perceive dozens of musicians bent over all kinds of marvellous instruments. A whirlwind inside me. I am at the Opera. On stage. I tread clumsily, dumbfounded. These trousers still feel too big. The glasses still seem to want to fall off my nose.
How do I get out of this? I take a step backwards. The old wood creaks beneath my feet in response. And something surprising takes place: the majestic echo from the old parquet sounds beautiful. I emerge from my dizzy state. I look at these faces turned towards me as if I had only just noticed them. All these people have come to listen to me.
It all comes out of my mouth. In a single stream. I am possessed by a strength and determination that I didn’t know I had. All these words held back for so long. The humiliation. The anger. The rage. The bitterness. All those time I swallowed the lump in my throat that seared my heart. All those times I obligingly remained silent whilst my guts were shrieking. All those times I said yes when deep down inside me, I was yelling no. The flood of words flows without hesitation, with courage, vehemence and aplomb. I don’t recognise my own voice. It no longer wavers. It no longer rasps. It sings! It dances in harmony with the notes of music! My anger emerges, mounts, culminates and explodes in a heavy fracas.
Relief. They are all looking at me, with shining eyes. And I feel proud of my role, of the character I embody, of who I am. For the first time.
Through them, Hector has heard me.
The Phantom of the Opera
By Marion L.
I am standing right in the middle of the stage at Opera Garnier. The curtain rises and here I am facing hundreds of spectators who are all yelling in my direction but I can’t hear what they’re saying. The orchestra is there too and all the musicians are looking at me. The conductor has turned towards me. He’s waiting for me to do something, brandishing his baton and rolling his eyes. His face, like that of a clown, is painted white. In a corner of the stage, on the left, I discover Giselle’s little house with its thatched roof. It is half in ruins and I can see inside where my dog Hercules, placid on a big yellow cushion, is asleep. I am all alone on stage, apart from my dog and an old lady in a peasant costume with the face of my paternal grandmother, but that is all they have in common: the old lady is short and plump. She is sitting at the back of the stage in an armchair of crimson velvet. She is shrieking with laughter. She is missing two of her front teeth, which does not stop her smoking a cigarette. Now the audience are stamping their feet and shaking their fists. They are dressed in the style of the Napoleonic period. The women are wearing long dresses in the pastel shades fashionable during the First Empire, pushing up their enormous and abnormally round breasts that look full of silicone. Their hairstyles are of the period, but the curls framing their faces and dyed red, blue, green or yellow. The men wear outlandishly large ruffles and have kept their top hats on their heads, which gives them, amid their inaudible shouting, an even more menacing air.
I am wearing Giselle’s costume, the skirt and pinafore from Act I. My excess kilos have evaporated. On my feet, I have not shoes but clogs, Swedish in style, the type we wore in the seventies. The conductor starts to get irritated. He makes broad gestures with his baton. I realise that it is up to me to calm down the riotous mob and the exasperated conductor. So I sketch out a simple but courageous dance step: suddenly the choreography of Giselle has come back to me, when the young girl goes mad. It is this moment that my dog Hercules chooses to bark and run about the stage like crazy. He metamorphoses into a terrifying beast, with immense wings, and flies towards the audience, wreaking panic everywhere. The top hats come to life and rise towards the ceiling or zoom towards the orchestra. The heads of the men are revealed to be bald. In their flight, the women in the dress circle, unbalanced by the weight of their monstrous breasts, topple over the balustrade and land heavily on the spectators below. One man strangles himself with his shirt ruffles which are stuck in the back of a seat; his wife tries vainly to free him and runs off towards the exit. A young girl sitting in the front row weeps. She looks like Giselle with her long hair loose; her make-up has run; she holds a daisy, all wilted, in her hand. The flute player from Chagall’s ceiling floats lazily in the air in big concentric circles. In the orchestra pit, it is chaos. The conductor is sitting cross-legged on an immense grand piano and, smiling beatifically, playing the triangle. The musicians pile up their instruments in one big pyramid. Then they all disappear. The old lady has also eclipsed herself. The monstrous dog has scarpered after driving away all the spectators. I find myself abandoned amid the silence.
Nothing is moving anymore, except the big chandelier which seems very close. It is swinging as if to give me a sign. From the back of the stalls, in the central row of seats, a ghost advances towards me, doubtless the Phantom of the Opera. I am fascinated by the spectre, both frightened and excited at the idea of meeting it. The best known personage of the Palais Garnier! But as it approaches, I realise that it is clearly just someone dressed in a white sheet with holes roughly cut out in place of eyes. It is now right next to me, and my face comes into contact with the white sheet, a slight sensation of suffocating takes hold of me, I try to detach myself, I move aside the oppressive fabric...
Fully awake, I hear my daughter laugh at her merry prank. Sitting on my bed, a great weight lifted from me, I join her in her gentle euphoria.
By Julie R.
Darkness descends, a deep-sea obscurity that plunges the auditorium into silence, an impatient silence. They know it will soon be broken so they all make the most of it: always, in this moment of suspense, the spectators sniff, fidget and cough. These intimate noises disturb me. It is as if triviality invited itself into this glitteringly aristocratic hall. I find them somewhat vulgar and I think of the dancers, more specifically the ballerina, over there, at the back of the immaculate stage. Does she hear these emanations from the bodies sitting in front of her too, emanations which finally fade away, dissipated by her spectral entrance? It is as if our breath were suspended by her evanescent silhouette, her steps, slow at first, then quick, amid the flakes of polystyrene that fall onto the stage. The snow smothers the sound of her feet arched on their points, and the breeze generated by her gestures chases away the flakes in little flurries. She is not alone, but this is how the magic of the étoiles works: their very presence draws all eyes, unless it is the flimsy fabric that swirls with her, underlining each of her movements. Here, it caresses her arm; there it froths out, jostled by her leg. Close to her body, it too dances.
By Laure L.
My parents were always keen for us to discover music, from Georges Moustaki to ZZTop. Then there was school – primary school in a suburb in the Paris area. A school as public, as simple and as republican as they come. School is often decried but it made me love classical music, and that’s a fact. Every week, a cassette player was passed from class to class with a piece of music; every day for five days. We had to do research on the performer, research that meant having a dictionary. During the nineties, there was no internet, just the Larousse or the Petit Robert and above all a search under the letter M for the great Mozart. Then the projection of the film Amadeus, the story of his life – animated this time – fascinated me. My one desire was to be old enough to travel, to play the detective and unearth him so that he would no longer be in a pauper’s grave. An absurd idea, you’ll say! But at nine years old, I felt within me a certain injustice: in spite of his genius he was buried as a nobody. Even if Mozart was less fashionable than Scorpion, I took an interest in his career: he had perfect pitch at the age of three and wrote his first composition at six years old. A prodigy, and so little, he couldn’t have been aware of it. I certainly did not have his qualities as a composer but it was my dream to dance, a slightly vague reverie, until the day the cassette player came round and music traversed me. I knew neither my talent nor my genius but I was perhaps a little like him, a prodigy ignorant of her capacities.
At the “advanced” age of nine – not even into double figures, just a single digit, but a bit too close to the number ten! – joining the Paris Opera Ballet seemed like a whim, a sort of surrealist delirium, a pious wish straight from a Christmas wish-list. At the start of the new school year, the usual half-page form had to be filled in with “career option: Paris Opera Ballet”: this wasn’t the classic response they expected. Better to put fireman, hairdresser or doctor: dancer didn’t look serious enough. “Sporting activities: dance; number of hours: 20 hours per week”. The teachers were alarmed: when would I do my homework? Would I often be absent? Would I be sufficiently concentrated to follow my classes and maintain a satisfactory level?
I shall never thank my parents enough for their uprightness. As eccentric as the project may have seemed, they enrolled me at the Paris Opera School of Dance, without getting their hopes up, I imagine. I was the right height and the right weight, I was shortlisted and took my first steps on stage... steps trembling with emotion at first, but then more assured once I was focussed, and finally, convincingly determined by the end of the audition: I officially became a little “opera rat”.
An Air of Torment
by Pénélope L.
A beach in Greece at the end of the day. On the right, luxuriant vegetation. On the left, a theatre.
Adieu past Loves that I always disappoint,
Adieu future Loves that I shall never know.
Noble though you be,
That is not for you to decide.
You have driven me mad.
Why throw me into the arms of others,
Then make me desire to escape,
Though they hold me ever tighter?
Noble though you be,
That is not for you to decide.
You have driven me mad.
Why give me a mission to accomplish
Then prevent me from succeeding
And with each passing day, let me play the seducer?
Noble though you be,
That is not for you to decide.
I no longer wish to laugh. Out of pity for Peace,
And let me work.
Noble though you be,
That is not for you to decide.
Enter the chorus singing and dancing on the beach, the lights dim and darkness falls.
Here you are, my friends,
You who always remain,
You to whom I have nothing to prove.
Dance with us,
Let us intoxicate ourselves,
Leave your torments to the declining day,
And move on to carolling evening.
ANGEL emerges from the theatre in a toga; she comes out of her performance laughing, arm in arm with a man and a woman (Chorus 2). Oracle looks at her with a loving but anxious air.
Who then is this?
You do not know? But it is Angel!
Who then is this?
You do not know? But that is Torment!
ANGEL (arriving before Torment, hold out her hand)
Angel, how enchanting.
TORMENT (kneeling and kissing her hand)
Torment, at your service.
What marvellous feeling invades me! Would this then be life?
In a single look he has seized me.
In a single look he has understood me.
At last here is meaning! At last here is clarity!
Enjoy it my angel, you deserve it well.
Enjoy it, for alas.
Alas, but you will find out soon enough. Enjoy it.
Torment, my handsome Torment, what joy to see you again!
Angel, my beautiful angel.
I come to tell you that I must depart.
Depart? But when will you return?
I do not know.
What a strange business!
On the matter of sentiment, could I have been mistaken?
Have you not also felt that destiny...
I have no business with a destiny that renders me useless,
Leave me, Angel, and forgive me.
If your destiny is strong enough, we will be united.
Angel departs, defeated and misunderstood.
Shall I always meet you on my way,
Love who wants only my defeat?
Torment, Torment, what do you seek?
Must I break my heart a thousand times,
Until at last it becomes devoid of feeling?
Torment, Torment, where are you going?
Must I myself break a thousand hearts,
Until at last I am beloved of no one?
Why do you weep?
Do you not see that I am not ready,
That of happiness I would rather renounce my part,
To be one day worthy of Angel’s heart?
Of what do you speak?
It is too little to have her heart,
I wish to deserve it.
A single happiness is too small a part,
I wish to offer her thousands.
If she is what she believes herself to be,
Then Angel will understand.
Back to life
Already several years have passed,
And I cannot live without Torment.
I cannot but laugh at myself,
I have seen him so few times!
And in spite of all, it was so true!
Angel, we have been looking for you!
Will you join our procession?
To the goddess Europa
We shall pay homage.
Let us render you yet more beautiful!
We have faith enough to follow you,
We have courage enough to defend you,
We will see it through to the end for you.
Alas, this courage which animates you I believe I lack.
But Angel, you are weeping?
Ever and always Torment.
Why did the Fates send him to me,
If to take him away they were so hasty?
The years go by,
And still Angel ruminates.
Is that all!
That is all!
Do you not hear songs all around you?
Do you not hear clamouring, hautboys?
I hear them only too well,
But what are they to me without Torment?
I know that they are calling me,
But my heart is so frail.
I can leave no heart shaken,
Take my arm and let yourself be guided.
Are you not married to Justice?
My heart is great!
And it happens that I have a little space within it that is free.
How droll you are, Ambition.
Let us dream then!
If things are as simple as you say,
Then let us profit from the present day!
From Charybdis to Scylla, my Angel will fall.
Worse yet than those who doubt,
Are those who believe they master all.
Angel and Ambition at a market.
Then Athens shall be yet more fair!
Do you never doubt
The goodness of the world,
The will of the Gods?
Many times, the Gods
From me the flame of life have wished to take.
Have I offended them? Are they evil Gods?
Or have they not given me the most beautiful of gifts?
For what we cannot take for granted,
More than all else, fills us with joy.
Is everything a matter of point of view?
Can one never attain the absolutely true?
So many question you ask me!
The absolute is an idea,
Men are but men, inevitably limited.
Without being the dupe of their purity,
I believe that in men
Lies the best that I have seen.
(A cart goes by quickly, Angel loses her balance and falls in the mud.)
Angel! Is all well?
ANGEL (laughing loudly)
What a chump I look!
From ideas of the absolute to steaming manure,
The descent is more rapid than one might believe.
And suddenly I displease you?
They embrace in the mud.
But what is happening to me?
What is this trouble spreading through me like a vile thing?
You frighten us! Come to your senses.
I do not understand, I had foreseen all.
Why before Angel do I feel naked?
You frighten us! Come to your senses.
Angel is a pure being, I wished to save her.
But to cover her with mud, that is what I do.
You frighten us! Come to your senses.
Justice is my guiding star,
Could I ever leave her?
The thought never crossed my mind.
You frighten us! Come to your senses.
Everything leads me back to Justice. She is my clarity.
She knows me by heart, she is like a sister to me.
You frighten us. Come to your senses.
My heart is torn apart,
Between what I wish to be,
And what deep within me,
I feel without being able to distinguish.
JUSTICE (unveiling herself)
You must choose, Ambition!
Ambition, I accuse you!
By an oath were you bound to me,
But that oath, in your flesh, in your heart
You have betrayed!
I never meant to betray anyone,
But I feel stirrings
In the depths of my soul,
And if I betray you not,
It is myself that I betray.
What are your feelings for Angel?
Angel, with her innocence,
Her trust and her vulnerable air,
Revealed within me, a complexity
I had not known was there.
Do you love her?
It is a part of me that is in her that I love,
That is her revelation.
She sees things in me
Whose existence I never suspected.
Do you love me ?
You are my foundation,
Without you I am uprooted.
My new branches,
Towards other skies would fly.
Do I dare?
Angel, what have you to say in your defence?
If trouble came,
I did not seek it.
I love a part of Ambition,
just as I see his weaknesses,
And I fear to fall
And never to arise again.
For in my heart of hearts, I cannot share him.
(Addressing herself to Ambition)
I would so love to tell you
To entrust yourself to me and together, fly!
But my intuition tells me not to lie.
After a spell of sweet folly,
Together into the abyss we would sink.
Torment, what have you to say?
Can honesty be brought to trial?
In my heart I feel that I am not ready.
I would rather flee while there is time,
Than find myself in that quagmire for a while.
Love is a complex thing,
And how can one enjoy it
If of one’s own nature one has no idea?
Can one dream of a world,
Without ever telling oneself lies,
And first attain self-knowledge, and then oneself despise?
You resent me for not having compromised myself.
Would you have wished me to make promises
that I would one day break?
A part in this game I do not think I wish to take.
You may flee Torment but there will come the day
When you will lose your way.
You all believe yourselves strong,
But fear strikes you.
I feel the fear running down your spines.
On your ribs I feel the tingling that will not release you and rises to your heads,
And your anxiety and the tightness in your hearts.
How are you to be judged?
It is against yourselves that you struggle.
You take a step forward,
Then you recoil.
You think to conquer love
As if it were a certainty
You think that stability is your due
Love is a conquest
That must be striven for every day
To take the risk of loving
Is to risk being abandoned.
You would rather abandon yourselves
For thus you believe your destinies to be mastered.
I do not judge you, but I condemn you.
I condemn you each to remain alone,
You, who, to gain all
Think that of your desires
None should be relinquished.
The day will come
When your fear will cease,
When you will learn trust.
And let us hope for everyone,
That you will then find deliverance.
We wish this for you,
But more importantly for us all.
This article is published in collaboration with Les Mots
Partners of the Paris Opera’s 350th anniversary
Sponsor of Opera's Battle
Sponsor of Les Indes galantes
With the generous support of
Sponsor of the Emperor box restoration
IT Mobility & User Experience Partner
Mécène Services IT
Sponsor of the Paris Opera Academy
Institutions associated with the 350th anniversary