Elisa Haberer / OnP

Opera

New

Only the Sound Remains

Kaija Saariaho

Palais Garnier

from 23 January to 07 February 2018

2h20 with 1 interval

Only the Sound Remains

Palais Garnier - from 23 January to 07 February 2018

Synopsis

The timbre of the lute or the voice, the movements of dance and those of the wind are so many intangible treasures, the loss of which can be unbearable.
Only the Sound Remains brings together two short operas, Always Strong and Feather Mantle, inspired by two plays from Japanese No theatre: Tsunemasa and Hagoromo. After a violent death in combat, the tormented Tsunemasa reappears at court: his spirit has been deprived of the happiness of playing the lute, an instrument from which his skill once drew enchanting sounds. In Feather Mantle, a fisherman appropriates a mantle which he finds hanging from a branch.
A young nymph asks him to give it back so that she can return to heaven. In exchange, she promises him the offering of a dance.

Duration : 2h20 with 1 interval

Language : English

Surtitle : French / English

Artists

Opera in two parts

After Deux pièces du théâtre nô japonais, Tsunemasa, Hagoromo

Creative team

Cast

Commission and coproduction with De Nationale Opera, Amsterdam, Canadian Opera Company, Toronto, Teatro Real, Madrid, Finnish National Opera, Helsinki
With the support of GRAME, Centre national de création musicale, Lyon

Media

  • Podcast Only the Sound Remains

    Podcast Only the Sound Remains

    Listen the podcast

  • The silence before the sound

    The silence before the sound

    Read the article

  • Out of darkness into light

    Out of darkness into light

    Watch the video

  • Portrait of Kaija Saariaho

    Portrait of Kaija Saariaho

    Watch the video

  • The colours of our dreams

    The colours of our dreams

    Read the article

Podcast Only the Sound Remains

Listen the podcast

"Dance! Sing! 7 minutes at the Paris Opera" - by France Musique

07 min

Podcast Only the Sound Remains

By Judith Chaine, France Musique

"Dance! Sing! 7 minutes at the Paris Opera" offers original incursions into the season thanks to broadcasts produced by France Musique and the Paris Opera. For each opera or ballet production, Judith Chaine (opera) and Stéphane Grant (dance), present the works and artists you are going to discover when you attend performances in our theatres.  

© Fred Toulet / OnP

The silence before the sound

Read the article

An interview with Kaija Saariaho

07 min

The silence before the sound

By Simon Hatab

With Only the Sound Remains now playing at the Palais Garnier, the composer Kaija Saariaho talks about the creative process behind her new opera.


How did you come up with the idea of composing an opera based on two Noh plays adapted by Ezra Pound?

Kaija Saariaho: It was a long process. It often takes me several years to find all the right elements before reaching the point where I start to compose an opera. In 2011, I was in residence at Carnegie Hall in the United States. I was working on a project – Sombre, which was supposed to be staged in 2012 – and I was looking for a text to use as material. I finally decided to use some short extracts from The Cantos, the long unfinished poem by Ezra Pound. I liked his language. I said to myself that I’d like to continue to work with that author. I think that was the moment the name Ezra Pound entered into the project. Subsequently, I had a long discussion with Peter [Sellars]. I was looking for something original, something I’d never done before. When I embark on a major new project for which the writing may take years, it’s important for me to exclude everything I have done before. Peter remembered studying the plays Ezra Pound adapted from Noh theatre, a genre that interested me and which he knew well. And we decided on Tsunemasa and Hagoromo. Pound’s economy of style, which left considerable room for the music, seemed ideal to me.

Why exactly did you choose this diptych?

Tsunemasa and Hagoromo have some interesting connections. The broad lines of the story remain the same. To a certain degree, all the plays in Noh theatre recount the same narrative: the human meeting the supernatural. However, the fact remains that the two plays offer some striking contrasts. The first is sombre and harrowing, it ends in gloom and fire, whereas the second reaches towards the light, towards the Angel disappearing into the clouds.

Did you compose the two parts of Only the Sound Remains in the same movement?

No. When I’d finished composing Tsunemasa, I didn’t start work on Hagoromo immediately. First, I needed to clear my mind by composing my harp concerto. So a whole year went by before I went back to Only the Sound Remains. Composing the second piece proved to be much faster than the first because the music is more luminous and lighter than in the first part.

You said that to compose, you need to challenge yourself. What was the challenge in the case of Only the Sound Remains?

I gave myself the challenge of writing an intimate work for a large theatre with limited instrumentation that included flutes to prolong the human breathing and the song of the birds, a kantele – a traditional Finnish instrument for which I had been eager to write for a long time – which plays the role of the magic instrument in the first play, percussion, and a string quartet– a particularly rich music ensemble that allows us to cover a wide range. My aim was to write refined and well-defined music that could breathe in the acoustics of a large theatre.

Davóne Tines et Philippe Jaroussky, Only the Sound Remains (Always Strong)
Davóne Tines et Philippe Jaroussky, Only the Sound Remains (Always Strong) © Ruth Walz – De Nationale Opera - Alankomaiden ooppera

How does the music relate to the use of electronic sounds?

I used electronics to prolong the feeling of intimacy with the audience throughout the whole theatre. In Emilie, my previous opera, I had already used electronics to transform the voice of the soprano and to create voices for children, her father, and her lovers… Here, I wanted to continue that work but I wanted to do so by moving beyond the realms of realism: to transform the voice and make it more abstract, more supernatural. In the first play, the real-time processing of the countertenor voice creates deep, veiled textures, that travel through the theatre like a shadow; in the second, it gave rise to high-pitched bells.

“I have the feeling that when I try to verbalise it the music escapes me, that I’m losing some of the material I need in order to write the piece…”

Was Philippe Jaroussky present at the beginning of the creative process?

Yes. I’ve known and admired his voice for many years. His role was decisive in the composition process: I’d initially thought of a baritone and a countertenor for the first play and a baritone and a soprano for the second. However, when I spoke to him about the idea when we saw each other in New York during one of his concerts he suggested taking on the two roles – the role of the spirit and the role of the angel. That idea helped to unite the two plays in an interesting way. As we began to consider how the two roles could be characterised by different tessitura, he also suggested keeping the highest notes for the second part, when his voice would have warmed up. So, I used a deeper range and a dramatic composition for Tsunemasa, whereas for Hagoromo the writing is more high-pitched and ornamented.

The second singer, the incredible young bass-baritone Davóne Tines, has also been with the project since the outset, and his part was written for him.

You are used to working with Peter Sellars. How did that collaboration pan out on this project?

I like to say that if you want to spend time with Peter, you have to make plans with him [laughs]. During the composition process, we were often in contact with each other. I kept him informed about how the score was advancing and he kept me abreast of his research concerning the other artists for the sets, lights and costumes. The bulk of Peter’s work happens during rehearsals anyway. I took the plays as they were, and worked without a dramatist. When I edited out a few passages, it was a necessity imposed by the music. During the composition process, I really don’t share my work. I’m currently writing a grand opera. But I can’t talk about it. I have the feeling that when I try to verbalise it, the music escapes me, that I’m losing some of the material I need to have in order to write the piece… But to get back to Only the Sound Remains, I remember that Peter had the idea for the dancer. He wondered how to stage the final disappearance of the angel when the text evokes her dances. He had a hard time imagining I could compose dance music!... For me, the solution was clear, the musical material for the angel develops towards an ever-more rhythmic, increasingly rapid composition, because it concerns the dance of a magical creature who disappears into the clouds around Mount Fuji.

You live constantly with your music. Do you ever spend time when you’re not composing?

Not really. I’m so happy in my music. It’s my purpose in life. For a long time, having a family forced me every day to step out of that world and come back to reality. These days, I stay in contact with reality by helping young people. When I spend my days composing, I try to set aside a moment for me to do something concrete: talk with a young composer via Skype or take half an hour to read a score on which I was asked to comment on… After spending the day in your own private universe, you have to step out of it and look at the world.

Peter Sellars et Kaija Saariaho lors de la création d’Adriana Mater à l’Opéra de Paris, 2006
Peter Sellars et Kaija Saariaho lors de la création d’Adriana Mater à l’Opéra de Paris, 2006 © Eric Mahoudeau / OnP

© Elisa Haberer / OnP

Out of darkness into light

Watch the video

Interview with Philippe Jaroussky

7:10 min

Out of darkness into light

By Marion Mirande

In Kaija Saariaho's Only the Sound Remains, counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky lends his voice to a tormented spirit and an angel. Two evanescent figures come to life in the spectral textures of this chamber music score staged by Peter Sellars with his customary sensitivity.

Portrait of Kaija Saariaho

Watch the video

Interview with the composer of Only The Sound Remains

3:21 min

Portrait of Kaija Saariaho

By Simon Hatab

The composer of Only The Sound Remains, now running at the Palais Garnier in a production by Peter Sellars, talks about her new creation and how she composes. 

© Elena Bauer / OnP

The colours of our dreams

Read the article

Interview with the painter-decorator of Only the Sound Remains

06 min

The colours of our dreams

By Anna Schauder

On the stage of the Palais Garnier, Peter Sellars’ staging of Kaija Saariaho’s opera Only the Sound Remains hosts as its set two large-scale paintings by the artist Julie Mehretu. The paintings, which are slightly enlarged reprints of her works from 2014/15 entitled Tsunemasa (next to Kaija) and Invisible Sun (algorithm 7, spell form) exemplify what she has described as the “liminal third space” of “emergent possibility”. Peter Sellars invited Mehretu to be part of the project in response to an ongoing conversation and relationship with her work. Julie Mehretu reflects on her first participation to the making of an opera set.    


Why did you accept to work on a project for opera?

Julie Mehretu : For a very long time I’ve been interested in the relationship between painting and sound, and also in the inherent time-based experience with painting. During Only the Sound Remains, you sit for almost an hour looking at each painting. The paintings evolve over the scope of the opera, definitely due to the lighting design and staging of course, but you also appreciate the paintings differently, see them differently, depending on your emotional engagement with the sound, the narrative and the characters, which are in constant evolution. Sound, music, have always informed my painting, it is a part of my process, and to see how that relationship could be continued outside the studio, on the stage, was something I was very intrigued by.


How did the transition from the actual paintings to their reproduction for the set work?

Peter Sellars connected me with a stage designer, since I hadn’t had any experience with that language and together we thought through how many layers there could be, in order to keep the “whole” translucent. At first we thought there could be many layers on the stage that could seem like a painting stretched open, but it turned out to be much more compelling to have the complete painting be on a single layer and rather convert the stage into the ontological, metaphoric layers. The primary narrative, which takes place on earth, is center stage in front of the painting, the painting itself is the liminal space, through which the spirits move between earth and the heavens, and then the heavens, the universe, the space of the ghosts, is behind the painting. How can you make paintings of that scale come to life, through light? How could you make them work with the story to represent the various layers of life and death and the spirits moving between them? We needed to create that dynamic on stage, and we did that with choosing to print the paintings onto very translucent material, that could be read as a solid painting, but then could evaporate into air depending on the lighting. The light could move inside the paintings, through them, behind them. We (and the characters) enter the paintings, through light and shadow. The paintings become landscape, dream, death, imagination, ghosts, heaven, emotion, and nightmare. They also become the liminal space, through which the spirits move.


To what extent was Nôh Theater an inspiration for Tsunemasa and Invisible Sun?

The paintings are part of a larger body of work I was working on. Invisible Sun (algorithm 7, spell form) is actually the eighth painting of an eponymous series. When Peter brought me the libretto with the two Nôhs, I read them, continued working, read them again, but I did not try to paint those Nôhs specifically. Tsunemasa (2014) and Invisible Sun (2015) are related to them abstractly, in that I educated myself on Nôhs, studied them, their cosmic ideas of the world and their ancient, very condensed and specific form. Tsunemasa also relates to the tradition of having a tree in the background of the Japanese Nôh stage. This painting has the metaphorical aspect of being both a landscape and this other mystical space, a ceremonial space even, of the actual narrative. In the end, both paintings are very much about creating from within the great space, from within this other place of the ontological tree. Fundamentally, those paintings refer to the most ancient forms of creating a painting, of mark-making, by using Sumi ink and acrylic -- to invent and imagine something else from those marks.

In the staging of Only the Sound Remains, how do your paintings interact with music, dance and technology?

It is interesting, because those different artistic languages come together to make this complete work of art, the opera in full. To see this happen during the technical rehearsals was extremely inspiring. From Kaija’s magnificent score and listening to her work take form, the musicians playing it, and then the sound technicians bending it through the space. The layers of imagination, abstraction, ontological space, mark-making, to Peter’s staging of the opera, the singers, the lighting, the dance. My work relates to those complex stratas of existence and resonates with the language of dance, with music, the libretto and the manipulation of the singer’s voices electronically. They are different forms of imagination, but there is an inherent, intuitive, relationship.


How challenging was this experience for you?

This project was a complete challenge in that I had never had any experience with the stage. The first ideas I had for the project were unnecessarily complex. It was a big learning curve to reduce those ideas to the three spaces of the painting across the two sets. But also to understand what happens with the translucent fabric and what can be done in terms of color with the light. The experience was very instructive for me also on how to continue to paint. Color and ontological space took a new direction and form in my work after this experience.

  • Lumière sur : les coulisses de Only the Sound Remains
  • Only the Sound Remains - Trailer
  • Only the Sound Remains - Kaija Saariaho

    — By In partnership with France Musique

Access and services

Palais Garnier

Place de l'Opéra

75009 Paris

Public transport

Underground Opéra (lignes 3, 7 et 8), Chaussée d’Antin (lignes 7 et 9), Madeleine (lignes 8 et 14), Auber (RER A)

Bus 20, 21, 27, 29, 32, 45, 52, 66, 68, 95, N15, N16

Calculate my route
Car park

Q-Park Edouard VII16 16, rue Bruno Coquatrix 75009 Paris

Book your parking spot

At the Palais Garnier, buy €10 tickets for seats in the 6th category (very limited visibility, two tickets maximum per person) on the day of the performance at the Box offices.

In both our venues, discounted tickets are sold at the box offices from 30 minutes before the show:

  • €35 tickets for under-28s, unemployed people (with documentary proof less than 3 months old) and senior citizens over 65 with non-taxable income (proof of tax exemption for the current year required)
  • €70 tickets for senior citizens over 65

Get samples of the operas and ballets at the Paris Opera gift shops: programmes, books, recordings, and also stationery, jewellery, shirts, homeware and honey from Paris Opera.

Palais Garnier
  • Every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and until performances end
  • Get in from Place de l’Opéra or from within the theatre’s public areas
  • For more information: +33 1 53 43 03 97

Palais Garnier

Place de l'Opéra

75009 Paris

Public transport

Underground Opéra (lignes 3, 7 et 8), Chaussée d’Antin (lignes 7 et 9), Madeleine (lignes 8 et 14), Auber (RER A)

Bus 20, 21, 27, 29, 32, 45, 52, 66, 68, 95, N15, N16

Calculate my route
Car park

Q-Park Edouard VII16 16, rue Bruno Coquatrix 75009 Paris

Book your parking spot

At the Palais Garnier, buy €10 tickets for seats in the 6th category (very limited visibility, two tickets maximum per person) on the day of the performance at the Box offices.

In both our venues, discounted tickets are sold at the box offices from 30 minutes before the show:

  • €35 tickets for under-28s, unemployed people (with documentary proof less than 3 months old) and senior citizens over 65 with non-taxable income (proof of tax exemption for the current year required)
  • €70 tickets for senior citizens over 65

Get samples of the operas and ballets at the Paris Opera gift shops: programmes, books, recordings, and also stationery, jewellery, shirts, homeware and honey from Paris Opera.

Palais Garnier
  • Every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and until performances end
  • Get in from Place de l’Opéra or from within the theatre’s public areas
  • For more information: +33 1 53 43 03 97

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