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Encounters

The Stuff of Shakespeare

Interview with the director of Shakespeare, fragments nocturnes — By Simon Hatab

As part of her residence at the Paris Opera Academy, Maëlle Dequiedt offers a production that brings together a number of scenes from operas with libretti inspired by Shakespeare. The English playwright
bequeathed to the world theatrical characters that quickly became legendary. This fascination incited composers from the 17th to the 20 th centuries to bring these tormented figures to life on the operatic stage.
For this workshop Maëlle Dequiedt has chosen some of the most beautiful and original scenes in the opera  repertoire. 

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Maëlle Dequiedt: When Myriam Mazouzi and Christian Schirm invited me to join the Paris Opera Academy, the idea occurred to us of bringing together scenes from the Shakespearean repertoire: an assemblage of heteroclite fragments, bridging the gap between very different eras and styles, between the Baroque period and the 20th century, from Purcell to Ambroise Thomas, from Bellini and Rossini to Britten.  

How did you weave together a production from these fragments?

M.D.: It took me a long time to find a unifying thread. My instinct was for solitary characters, wanderers exiled from their play of origin – for example, Juliet deprived of her Romeo… They’re the sole representatives of their plays and they find themselves together. I liked that idea. Next, I started out from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Shakespeare combines three or four stories. Looking at the scenes I had at my disposition, it struck me that night was a recurrent theme - in “The Dream”, it’s night time: a night in which the lovers get lost in the forest; Lady Macbeth also at night … - and that she could be my unifying thread. I didn’t want to invent a scenario, a new story, I preferred to conserve the discontinuous structure of the fragments. And also I found it a bit pretentious to try and rewrite Shakespeare. That didn’t interest me. I preferred not to choose, but to tell all their stories at the same time, which of course is a utopian project.   
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So the background of the play that each character comes from remains present in a slightly ghostly way?

M.D.: Yes, ghost plays, a nocturnal voyage through the works of Shakespeare. How can Juliet, Lady Macbeth and Desdemona cohabit in one dramatic space? Is it possible? Of course, there is no verbal encounter – they only articulate the texts assigned to them by Shakespeare. It’s more of a bodily and musical encounter. Only the final ensemble unites them, in an extract from The Tempest by Purcell.

Is this a production that says something about the theatre?

M.D.: On stage, I didn’t want to disguise that fact that these are performers; that they are Hamlet or Lady Macbeth, and that one is always aware that these are young singers interpreting these roles and that we are not trying to hide it. Shakespeare talks extensively about theatre in his plays, whether it’s the actors in the “Dream” or when Hamlet invites a troupe of actors to re-enact the murder of his father. This theme is widely present and composers have been greatly inspired by it. The production also talks about theatrical memories: we dug out, from the Paris Opera wardrobes, costumes laden with memories of past productions…

You have just spent a year in residence at the Paris Opera Academy. Where does your taste for musical theatre come from?

M.D.: From my musical training. I began music before theatre, when I was little. I played the cello. I hesitated between a career in music and a theatrical career. In the end, I told myself that the theatre was the right place to bring it all together. In the theatre, one can incorporate music, literature and all the other arts. When I left the National Theatre School in Strasbourg, my final year evaluation production also had a musical dimension: it was Trust Karaoké Panoramique, based on a play by Falk Richter. The Karaoke theme was present in the text as a form of rather vapid, artificial entertainment. The idea of working on this form interested me. There was a grand piano on stage. There will also be one in “Fragments nocturnes”.   

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Is the grand piano your hallmark?

M.D.: It’s like for the singers: I didn’t want the musicians to be “accessories” but really part of the fiction. There is also an actress’s dressing room, which Lady Macbeth uses a lot, with a bathtub. We don't know if we are inside or outside…   

As a young director, do you remember a production that really left its mark on you during your training?

M.D.: While I was studying, I went to see a huge number of productions. In my first year, I went to see Christoph Marthaler’s Maeterlinck: a sort of reverie on the works of Maeterlinck, performed to the rhythm of sewing machines, which in the end sounded very musical. It was like something from outer space. I had never seen anything like it at the theatre. I remember having an argument on the way out with one of my friends who didn’t like it. That production was important for me. It made me understand the freedom that you can enjoy when you stage something and the status that music can have in theatre.

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