To end the season at the Academy, Paul Balagué, director in residence, was given carte blanche and now offers a workshop structured around 20th century American music. After a year’s immersion at the heart of the Paris Opera, the time had come to put into practice his observations and the lessons learnt from this apprenticeship. And to explore, with the singers of the Academy, the difficult situations that can be engendered by loss and the porous boundaries between dream and reality. Encounter.
What was your starting point for the composition of this workshop?
directing workshop is the culminating point for the director in residence at
the Academy. It takes shape gradually throughout the year. At the beginning of
the season, there was a death in my family, which confronted me with sensations
and colours I had never before experienced. I found myself face to face with
highly contrasted, almost contradictory emotions. I swung very rapidly from
sadness to joy; the desire to cry but also to laugh. Even if it’s not a matter
of autobiography or of therapy here, I encounter some of these emotions in
certain scenes. Paradoxically, the stage, the place where we are most exposed,
allows us to portray the most intimate feelings. That state of
self-questioning, loss, melancholy, it was in music that I felt it the most. My
work can be summed up in one word: saudade.
A Portuguese word that is very difficult to translate and refers to a
delicious nostalgia, the tension between absence and desire. It’s doubtless the
richest emotion that one can feel. A way of being present in the past or past
in the present.
Your workshop is structured around American music from the second half of the 20th century. Why?
Academy doesn’t impose any rules or instructions. However, I wanted to give the
production a unified structure. I started from three pieces: Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti which I first heard at
the beginning of last year; the song, I’m
Coming Home by Clifton Chenier which has been a travelling companion for a
long time and Mad Rush by Philip
Glass which I listened to a lot while I was reflecting on this project. Three
works that exemplify the eclecticism and the richness of American music. So I
wanted to continue exploring this musical universe. With the exception, quite
deliberate, of the piece by Queen, Somebody
to Love, with that Baroque extravagance that I love and which isn’t that
far from opera. Moreover, the English language allows one to conjure up poetic
images that are seemingly simple but of great profoundness with an economy of
words that I find very pleasing. Like a style of cuisine employing few ingredients
but all of them carefully chosen.
The project brings together operatic extracts and pieces of American popular music. How did you articulate the two?
There are fifteen extracts in all: six from opera, one from a children’s song by Bernstein, two extracts from musical comedy, five from pop songs and a piano piece.
Access to downloading has profoundly changed the way we approach music and associate different genres. In my playlist, Mahler’s Lied, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen is followed by I FINK U FREEKY by Die Antwoord.Mixing genres has almost become the norm for our generation. I wanted to take this particular cultural phenomenon into account. On the other hand, if you mix it too much, there are no more colours. And the entire balance relies on the choice of universe and tones in which one gravitates. The only constraint is the strange-coherence, the agreeable-dissonance of the whole.
What narrative thread have you constructed between the extracts?
production tells the story of a young man who returns to his home town to
complete the sale of his parents’ house. Whilst packing boxes, he says good-bye
to the life that is now behind him. The recent loss of his mother has left him
highly sensitive and when he steps into the house where he grew up, memories
coming flooding back: his parents, their arguments and their love. He also sees
his childhood friends and is confronted with past desires and present failings.
He plunges into that strange, dreamlike state that mixes different times and emotions.
Little by little he returns to the land of the living.
Several Academy singers interpret the same character. Why is that?
you look at photos going back ten, twenty, thirty years of a member of your
family, you discover someone who doesn’t at all resemble the person you know,
in clothes you don’t recognise, in a strange place, surrounded by people
unknown to you. It’s someone else, another life, often a life before you were
born. Each person conceals dozens of lives and stories throughout their time on
earth. And every change of wardrobe or hairstyle is just the outer
manifestation of this inner turbulence. Theatre explores this diversity of
identity in one and the same person through different bodies and different
Your project contains several spoken passages. How did you work on these with the singers?
wanted to experiment with acting with the singers but without security of the
singing voice which can act as a protective mask. I wanted to confront them
with another type of music, that of simple phrases, brief moments. We worked on
ways of committing to each word, of understanding it and feeling it resonate.
You have spent a year in residence at the Academy of the Paris Opera alongside young singers and craftsmen. Among your experiences, which have marked you the most?
Your reading: In the Valley of the Living