Encounters

Music always speaks louder than words

Interview with Christiane Lutz — By Solène Souriau

Currently in rehearsal at the Amphitheatre for a new production of Reigen, bringing together all the artists and craftsmen of the Academy, Christiane Lutz talks to us about Boesmans’ 1993 opera, inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s celebrated play.


Reigen is one of the biggest theatrical scandals of the 20th century. Censured in 1903, it was banned until 1920 and, two years later, Arthur Schnitzler asked his editor to forbid its performance. How familiar are you with the play?

Schnitzler’s play is very well known in Austria and continues to be studied today. It is a reflection of the end of the 19th century and its customs highlighting the relationships between men and women at this period. I would go so far as to say that vestiges of that remain today. The play has proved highly inspirational for composers: there are three adaptations of it including that by Boesmans. Schnitzler’s text is so perfectly strung together that it allows for the creation of extreme tension and Luc Bondy’s adaptation concentrates that tension in order to adapt it for opera. Arthur Schnitzler carried out an analysis of human behaviour and, like a scientist performing vivisection, plunges into the mankind’s deepest recesses to bring out its vices.

What differences have you noticed between the play and Luc Bondy’s libretto?

The difference is not so much between the play and the libretto as between the play and the score. In Schnitzler’s Reigen, the love act is never expressed explicitly. The text, which, always remains allusive, trails off in a series of dots. On the other hand, the musical transitions in Boesmans’ opera can be very suggestive. The rhythm, the use of repetition and the tempi evoke very clear and explicit images. Music always says more than words.

Danylo Matviienko, Jeanne Ireland et Sarah Shine en répétition avec Christiane Lutz,  Opéra de Paris, 2017
Danylo Matviienko, Jeanne Ireland et Sarah Shine en répétition avec Christiane Lutz, Opéra de Paris, 2017 © Eléna Bauer / OnP

How should we interpret the work today?

We have transposed the opera to today and have taken Place de la Bastille and the nightlife of the area as our point of departure. All the characters cross paths: the singer leaves the opera house, the photographer is waiting for her; the count comes out after the performance and walks over to a taxi. The circular shape of Place Bastille obviously evokes the cyclical character of Reigen in which the different layers of society are paraded before us, meeting, then losing sight of one another.


The score alternates between sung text and dialogue. How do you reconcile the two?

The incredible thing about Boesmans’ opera is that it is structured in ten scenes each featuring two characters but there are almost no real duets, that is, static moments in which two singers sing at the same time. Text is never subordinated to music or vice-versa. The sung passages are close to conversation in a fluid and very captivating dialogue. This makes the piece very demanding for the performers who have to be permanently on the alert and very attentive to their partners. The young singers of the Academy are used to singing together and that makes for better ensemble. They are very committed.

Christiane Lutz en répétition avec les chanteurs de l’Académie, Opéra de Paris, 2017
Christiane Lutz en répétition avec les chanteurs de l’Académie, Opéra de Paris, 2017 © Eléna Bauer / OnP

How does one unify these ten scenes?

This is one of the great difficulties of the play, which is constructed in ten tableaux, ten psychological portraits that flirt with Freudian analysis. The director must therefore succeed in developing each character in a very short space of time. Each couple is exposed on the stage, its problems and complexities displayed to the spectator, but then disappears to make way rapidly for a new duo. However, the theme of taboos runs through all ten scenes. Throughout each scene, it is important to maintain the overall image of the work and ask oneself: why has the curtain been raised?

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