Monika Rittershaus / OnP




Michael Jarrell

World creation

Palais Garnier

from 29 September to 17 October 2018

1h30 no interval


Palais Garnier - from 29 September to 17 October 2018


Titus, passionately in love with Berenice, sends her away from Rome “in spite of himself and in spite of her”, recounts Suetonius. Racine places this famous narrative at the heart of his peerless tragedy, Berenice, whose simplicity of plot constitutes a literary tour de force. Titus and Berenice love each other; under the watchful eye of Antiochus, the hopeless lover, they try yet refuse to understand each other. Taking up the “majestic sadness” of these alexandrines, among the greatest verses in the French language, Michael Jarrell amplifies the power of words, making them a vehicle for spaces and identities that, from Rome to Jerusalem, are unceasingly questioned.

Duration : 1h30 no interval

Language : French

Surtitle : French / English


world premiere

After Jean Racine

Creative team

Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris


  • A Twelve Point Guide to Alexandrines

    A Twelve Point Guide to Alexandrines

    Listen the podcast

  • Apart From Love

    Apart From Love

    Read the article

  • Podcast Bérénice

    Podcast Bérénice

    Listen the podcast

  • What Music for Berenice?

    What Music for Berenice?

    Read the article

  • One Final Ordeal

    One Final Ordeal

    Read the article

  • As organised as sheet music

    As organised as sheet music

    Read the article

A Twelve Point Guide to Alexandrines

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The story of the most celebrated verse form in French literature

06 min

A Twelve Point Guide to Alexandrines

By David Christoffel

On the occasion of the production of Berenice, David Christoffel reflects on the alexandrine, a verse form that has haunted French literature for centuries. An investigation carried out in the company of the composer, Michael Jarrell and Valérie Beaudoin, member of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle).


In the voice of Sarah Bernhardt declaiming the verses of Phèdre by Racine, we hear vibrato with the disturbing amplitude of an actress furiously possessed by her role. We also notice an extraordinary balance between strict metre and a fervent determination to bring fully to life the madness of a character who persists with an ardent but forbidden love.    


Certain journalists at the time even detected a spectacular case of autohypnosis, as the musicologist, Céline Frigau Manning, has recently stated. The force of the alexandrine comes not merely from the incantatory power of regular verse forms, it also resides in the richness of vocal timbres, for, above and beyond the number of syllables, metre is also a question of the choice of vowels.   


Sarah Bernhardt’s voice can also be heard as the emblem of an era in which the phonograph could only record the voice if the actor made an effort to project: a period in which emphasis was the prerequisite of declamation and which today has vestiges in slam.

In the voice of Julien Delmaire, we can hear the will to tear himself away from everyday speech, the desire for a continuous stream of expression or the quest for poetic dignity, perhaps even a new academism.


Before slam, with different although equally varied motives, a certain poet-mathematician went to lengths to reinstate the alexandrine. As an oulipien, Jacques Roubaud considered constraint as a force and “free verse” as an oxymoron. In La Vieillesse d’Alexandre (1978), he distinguishes three types of attack on verse: “undermining the principle of continuity (Rimbaud’s last texts, Corbière), undermining the principles of concordance of syntax with metre (“crossing over” and “rejection”); undermining identity within the segments constituting a line of verse (hemistiches)1.”


But while Rimbaud was sitting Beauty on his lap only to find it bitter and to curse it, metrical poets continued to debate whether the regularity of the alexandrine was a question of the number of syllables or of feet. Just as music gains by not allowing rhythm to be reduced to the mere question of note values, so poetry promises a wealth of possibilities on perceiving that metre cannot be reduced to rhythm.   


To be able to count up to twelve, one needs a sort of audible alarm: rhyme. Louis Becq de Fouquières gave it practically the status of a metronome: “Rhyme is the characteristic of the unit of measure; it is what concludes, by an acoustic effect, the duration of the phrase. The ear, which counts the impacts it perceives and groups its acoustic sensations, is thus alerted to the fact that it has heard all twelve sounds of the line of verse and that the melodic phrase is terminated2”.    


This idea was contested by Victor Delaporte who gives counter-examples of several alexandrines whose beauty is pleasing to the ear without resorting to the charm of repeated sounds: “À vaincre sans peril, on triomphe sans gloire” (To vanquish without peril is to triumph without glory) or “J’aime le son du cor, le soir, au fond des bois3” (I love the sound of the horn, in the evening, deep in the woods).


So what therefore would be the criterion of a beautiful alexandrine? Should it be able to give grace to everyday twelve-syllabled utterances, such as “Monsieur le Président Directeur Général” or “Attention à la marche en descendant du train”. (Please mind the step when descending from the train).


The more regular the metre, the more menacing the threat of destruction. The lovely music of verse risks slipping into cacophony: “Readers accommodate themselves to rhymes be they brilliant or simple; if the lines are good, they will admire the whole. But for pity’s sake, do not startle them with miserable rhymes right in the midst of well-chosen, sonorous rhymes. It creates the effect of a superb sonata by a great master, churned out on a barrel organ with a cylinder full of broken teeth: it clashes, it screeches, it irritates4”.


When, in 1988, Roubaud made a study of the punctuation in the first 1000 lines of Bérénice, he was aiming “to identify the rhythmic structure of the alexandrine and examine its internal organisation in a global and statistical manner”, explains Valérie Beaudouin for whom “a line of regular verse has value only because it is surrounded by lines that are less regular”.


Given that rhythm works also through the use of different vowel sounds, one must transcribe Racine into the phonetic alphabet (the line “Cet amour est ardent, il le faut confesser[1]” (This love is ardent, it must be confessed) becomes “(s ɛ)(t a)(m u r)(ɛ)(t a r)(d ã t)(i l)(l ə)(f o)(k ɔ̃)(f e)(s e)” in order to express numerically the richness of sound offered by the variety of vowels in the different syllables. Valérie Beaudouin’s5 theory went so far as to demonstrate, for example, that 12% of the lines have an [a] in first position, 16% in 5th position and only 8% at the end of the first hemistich. These calculations regarding Racine's work as a whole have allowed us to verify the fact that regular verse form is a tool for creating contrast, “in the same way that, within the structure of a line, the positions that are stressed are so because their neighbours are unstressed.”


Valérie Beaudouin’s aim was in fact “to identify the relationships between rhythmic structures and semantic structure”. This statistical study succeeded in demonstrating that in Racine’s plays, taken as a whole, versification is much more regular when treating the theme of death than the theme of love. In other words, love induces a loss of stability in prosody.    

1. Jacques Roubaud, La Vieillesse d’Alexandre, Paris, Ivréa, 2000 [1978], p. 38.
2. Louis Becq de Fouquières, Traité général de versification française, Paris, Charpentier, 1879, p. 29.
3. Cité par Victor Delaporte, De la rime française : ses origines, son histoire, sa nature, ses lois, ses caprices, Lille, Desclée, de Brouwer et Cie, 1898, p. 25.
4. Victor Delaporte, op. cit., p. 173.
5. Racine, Bérénice, vers 421.
6. Valérie Beaudouin, Mètre et rythmes du vers classique. Corneille et Racine, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2002.    

© Monika Rittershaus / OnP

Apart From Love

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Or Understanding Nothing

13 min

Apart From Love

By Nathalie Azoulai

Titus did not love Berenice. That is the title of the novel that Leonie gives to the hostess of a dinner party. An enigmatic title that certainly ignites passions and sparks off a heated debate between the guests. It is also the title of a novel by Nathalie Azoulai who, in a skilful mise en abime, brings to life those heroes of Racine’s tragedy. We all know Titus’s dilemma: whether to choose Berenice or the national interest. Duty and desire are at the heart of this new escapade. The author, following in the footsteps of the playwright, continues to sound the depths of love. Pure, interested or steeped in blood, love takes a thousand forms, even losing itself in the abysses of a dream.

On the fourth floor landing, out of breath, Leonie just has time to smooth her hair with one hand whilst with the other she consults the time – almost ten o’ clock. She smooths down her fringe, then her skirt, takes a deep breath and makes up her mind to ring the bell. The door opens, she smiles.

“Sorry, but I missed my train, I had to wait for the next one, you know I’m never late, I can’t bear it, I’m so embarrassed ... I’d have liked to have brought you some flowers but I just jumped into a taxi and this was all I could find.” She holds out a rectangular package. “I don’t know if it’s any good, I haven’t read it, but the title amused me...”.

“Come in then, everyone else is here, we were just waiting for you,” her hostess replies.

This is exactly what she was dreading, to be the last to arrive in the large living room with its walls of celadon green where the guests would already have taken their places next to their other halves on the u-shaped sofa before the glasses, the champagne, the olives, cherry tomatoes and almonds ... Suddenly, as she scans each face, a list of aperitif fare floats irresistibly through her mind, slices of salami, taramasalata, tapenade and anchovy paté, “here aperitifs are always extremely copious,” she thinks, “varied, endlessly replenished, sometimes interminable.” “Hi, Leonie, how are you?” If she could already see the scene while still on the station platform, the colours, the eyes raised to meet hers, the smiles, she could also hear the conversation, the same for the last fifteen years. “And Leon? Another business trip?” But she didn’t mind, they were old friends, friends from law school, long-standing couples, solid, perfectly compatible, each welded to the other, even down to the matching first names, of a symmetry approaching magic, or a joke. Paul and Paula, Louis and Louise, John and Jean, Charles and Charlotte, Leonie and her Leon, when he hadn’t been sent to the other side of the world. Not to mention their host and hostess who, in an excess of zeal, were called Claude and Claude and who were melted together in an unorthodox plural when you said you were going round for dinner with the Claudes for, boasting the largest living room in a flat equidistant from everyone else’s, inevitably, it was always they who played host. Apart from Leonie’s late arrival, her hair dishevelled and still a bit breathless, this was a classic drama in full swing: the hall of a 17th century palace, a marquetry stage, aesthetically perfect down to the smallest detail.

“Here I am like a fly in the ointment!” thought Leonie to herself, advancing towards the sofas, “a spanner in the works, a cloud on the horizon, a flaw in the fabric, a ...”. Her list syndrome seized her once again, stronger than she’d ever experienced it before, the result of her embarrassment, when suddenly, opening the package, the hostess exclaimed,

“Now, let’s see, what have we here?”

An imperial silence drew ten pairs of eyes, one after the other, to the object now revealed.

“Titus did not love Berenice” Claude stated, followed by, “How about that?” proffered as an echo by the other Claude.

“What nonsense!” said John unhesitatingly.

“Why?” asked Jean.

“It shows a complete lack of understanding of the dilemmas imposed by national interest,” said Paul.

“Or of love,” rejoined Paula.

“One can love and have to renounce that love,” said Louis.

“Except that in real life, one generally does what one really wants,” Louise objected.

“Dinner in five minutes,” the hostess got up, her departure sparking off an even more lively discussion.

“That’s not true, one also does what one can, and Titus can’t face the anger of an entire people,” said John.

“He wants glory more than love, that’s where his desires really lead him,” said Paula.

“But that’s without understanding anything of the public good!” threw in Charles. “You speak as if the Nation were nothing.

“Others would have looked after the public good in his place, emperors die and are replaced, history doesn’t lack examples,” Louise observed.

“It was all because of Paulinus, I never liked Paulinus, he was a bird of ill omen,” declared Charlotte.

“He represents the national interest, it’s a good thing he’s there,” replied Paul.

“I detest Paulinus,” Charlotte repeated, as if prey to some unpleasant, personal memory.

“What did he ever do to you?” Charles teased.

Stunned, Leonie sat down and reflected that never had the arguments hammered out round the low table been so divisive in terms of gender, the men defending Titus and the women Berenice, or more like a hail of chromosomes suddenly become articulate creatures. She noticed that to her initial thought process, which had sheltered behind the reassuring and vertical litany of her lists, had now been added a more horizontal, more anarchic and amorphous turbulence, threatening to turn itself into a mad, disagreeable vortex. If she had known, she would have chosen a detective novel, a cookery book, a handbook on well-being or self-esteem, inner peace or universal harmony ...

Then the hostess reappeared and, in measured tones, directed her guests towards the dining table. A wave of calm enveloped the table for a few minutes then, when everyone was seated and after a few meaningful glances, the debate was taken up again.

“Which of us here has ever had to choose between love and something else?” asked Louis.

“I did, when I divorced Lea to marry Jean,” said John.

“I did, when I gave up my job in Brazil because Louise didn’t want to go,” said Louis.

“I did, when I agreed to move here,” said Paul.

“I did, when I refused to stand for election,” said Charlotte.

“That doesn’t compare”, Paul interjected.

“A different case entirely,” Louis added.

“Why?” Paula broke in. “It’s exactly the same thing!”

“Titus inherits an empire,” Louis continued, “his father’s just died, he doesn’t have the choice, he’s got to take over, this is Rome after all! Plus the fact that he’s had a miss-spent youth, he’s got to make amends.”

“The classic story, at the death of his father, he becomes all grown up and responsible,” added John.

“The real question is, does it cost him?” Jean threw in.

“Obviously!” Paul replied.

“Of course but...” from Louis.

“I would remind you that he only lasted two years,” said Charles, “then he died of the plague.”

“A plague on all liars!” stormed Charlotte.

“It’s as if you were the one Titus left,” teased Paul.

“But during those two years, was he obsessed by the woman he’d lost?” asked Jean.

“We can never know” pursued Charlotte.

“I’m certain he regrets nothing, that he didn’t want to see her again and that he did exactly what he really wanted to do,” Louise remarked.

“It’s rarely a question of duty, more often a question of desire,” added their hostess who, until then, had refrained from taking part in the discussion, limiting herself to comments on the cooking of the salmon and its various possible accompanying dishes.

Her grave, thoughtful intervention gave Leonie the impression that the discussion had entered a new phase and began to think of her late arrival as an unpardonable fault with tragic consequences.

“Goodness,” she thought, “why ever didn’t I ask the taxi to stop so I could buy a bottle of wine?” She had thought of it but was not only afraid of making herself even later but also feared her hands might tremble so much she would drop the bottle on the stairs. This dinner was becoming thoroughly unbearable. She looked at what remained of the huge salmon on the platter and began to imagine each intervention like a long, sharp fishbone: piercing looks flashed across the table, the remarks were becoming increasingly acid, no one got up to smoke at the window, and all this amid a concert of the noise of cutlery clattering more and more loudly. In the middle of this new agitation, she noticed that only Charlotte remained inert and sad, as if caught up in an inner agitation more tempestuous than the phrases she dropped in here and there. Then, suddenly, Charles’s bass thundered out:

“That’s incredible, you’ve all been completely taken in!”

“Taken in, oh yes, and by what?” Paula enquired.

“By Berenice, by that so-called love of his life. You’re all the victims of women’s magazines! All of you, whatever your gender.”

“Fortunately, you’re here to enlighten us,” Louis sneered.

“Titus was her last chance,” Charles continued. “Berenice was the wrong side of forty when their liaison began, she was ten years older than him.”

“So?” ventured Paul.

“So, she’s also counting on Titus to give her back her status, history’s given her a rough time, she’s a widow, she’s defended her people but she’s losing ground and she has to more or less share the crown with her brother. Marrying Titus and Rome would mean greatness for her.”

“Are you insinuating that she loves him out of self-interest? That she’s even more avid for glory than Titus?” John bristled.

“Of course!”

“As if any love were disinterested” remarked Paula, smoothly.

“I find what you’re saying detestable,” Charlotte riposted.

“Why?” asked Charles in surprise. “Paula wouldn’t love Paul without his job at the tribunal, his prestige, his tennis medals. Louise wouldn’t love Louis without his American hero’s name, John wouldn’t love Jean without her prizes from the conservatoire...

“What about you, Charlotte, you wouldn’t love Charles if he didn’t ...”, Paul began.

“If what?” Charlotte cut in so violently that he didn’t finish his sentence.

“Love is never pure, it dresses itself up, prettifies itself,” Charles continued. “Call it self-interest if you will, for me, these are the qualities that mean that you love someone, this person rather than someone else, that you find them unique, otherwise what’s the point?”

Leonie began seriously to tire of their general considerations on love. She even preferred the vitriol of a quarrel to the pontificating honey of those who know and bestow their certitudes upon others. The one thing that consoled her was that Charles’s hypothesis had made the arguments undifferentiated in gender terms. Everyone rose up with the same virulence against his interpretation. Their hostess took away the salmon and their host stacked the dirty plates. She wanted to help but they signalled to her to stay where she was. The Claudes came back with the cheese, some bread and a pile of clean plates which they handed slowly round the table as if at a children’s tea party.

“Well, it so happens that I too must choose between love and something else,” the hostess put in suddenly, beginning to slice bread on a board.

All eyes turned towards her with an air of stupefaction, then fearfully surveyed her calm face and descended the length of her arm in the hope of finding a clue, some sign of trouble. Her hand, the knife, they were expecting her to tremble, cut herself, flood the table with her blood, that the bloodbath that had been simmering since the beginning of dinner, containing its outpourings, its effusions, in well-argued phrases, concise and biting, would now be released by her. But no, she continued cutting the bread in perfectly equal slices without the least tremor. Then when she reached the end of the loaf, she placed the slices one by one in a basket. Her arm then held out the basket over the centre of the table for a long moment, while her eyes avoided those of her husband. If only the lights had gone out just at that moment, that one would not have to witness such an affront, and in a rush of pity and terror, each looked at his or her other half. Except for Leonie who had no choice but to fix her eyes on Claude whose gaze wandered from one face to another. But, just as the arm holding the basket was finally lowered, so also did Claude lower his gaze. Not a word was uttered, not a cry, not the least invective and the hostess left the living room as if to fetch more bread. Except that this time, she did not reappear. They all heard the sound of the front door clicking shut and that was all.

On waking up, Leonie felt a little sad but consoled herself with the thought that she had slept for almost the entire journey and that her train was pulling into the station precisely on time. She was looking forward to the dinner that awaited her and remembered the present she had found in extremis at the station in Bordeaux. A book with a surprising title that could not fail to amuse the gallery.

Podcast Bérénice

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

07 min

Podcast Bérénice

By Nathalie Moller, 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, Nathalie Moller (opera) and Jean-Baptiste Urbain (dance), present the works and artists you are going to discover when you attend performances in our theatres.  
  • In partnership with France Musique

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© Elena Bauer / OnP

What Music for Berenice?

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Interview with the composer Michael Jarrell

06 min

What Music for Berenice?

By Marion Mirande, Simon Hatab

With Racine’s Berenice, Michael Jarrell has chosen to set a monument of French literatur efor the new world premier commissioned by the Paris Opera. How does one capture the majestic sorrow of those alexandrines today? What have Racine’s heroes still to tell us about the state of the world? These are just some of the questions we asked the composer.   

As a composer, what is your relationship with sung French?

Michael Jarrell: Complex. When I wrote my opera Cassandre, in 1994, I decided that the principal role would be spoken. Each time I approach the words of a libretto, I ask myself how to make them sing. For me, the golden rule in French is that the last syllable is the accentuated one. Now, this rule is not followed by everyone. I talked to a musicologist who disagreed with me. In reality, this matter of accentuation seems to be malleable, unlike German or English for example. French has something soft about it, like chewing gum.

Years ago, I remember hearing short operas with libretti by Georges Perec, written in everyday language. I found them unbearable. Spoken French has something very down-to-earth about it. The action is related without the narrator ever being part of it. One is there to listen, like in church. That is why I was attracted to a text in alexandrines: with this classical language I found the distance necessary to make it sing. Otherwise we have to settle for accompanying the words without shedding light on their meaning in any new way.

Racine’s verse has a strongly musical quality. During the composition, does this linguistic music create tension with your own?

M.J.: Alexandrines impose a certain rhythm. I had to break free from a form of repetition, from the corset with which Racine clads his words. I had to make his verse as contemporary as possible, to root it in a present time. With Racine, I still had that feeling of being outside the action, detached from the present moment. I had to get away from that language of “telling a story” in order to immerse myself more in the action. However, I did not want to damage the language of Racine. I believe I have respected it. Taking on this monument in the French language was a perilous exercise. One must judiciously set aside what, in Berenice, literary history has cast in stone so as to offer audiences a new approach to this text. Once I had accomplished this work on the alexandrines, I found that Racine’s text afforded considerable latitude for accommodating the music.   

Ivan Ludlow (Antiochus) et Michael Jarrell au cours d’une répétition de « Bérénice »
Ivan Ludlow (Antiochus) et Michael Jarrell au cours d’une répétition de « Bérénice » © Elena Bauer / OnP
After being forgotten until the end of the 19th century, Berenice is today one of Racine’s most widely performed tragedies. Do you remember any productions that particularly marked you?   

M.J.: I’ve seen two versions of Berenice. The first was a film adaptation by Jean-Claude Carrière with Carole Bouquet, Gérard Depardieu and Jacques Weber. This film had the merit of posing the question: how should the alexandrine be spoken today. There is a passage in the film that greatly interested me, when Carole Bouquet flies into a passion. It seems to me that that is how alexandrines are most audible. I also saw a filmed version of Klaus Michael Grüber’s production at the Comédie-Française about thirty years ago. He adopted a very marked position regarding the language. I must say that Grüber’s work contributed to my wanting to write this opera.

Did you know the singers who were going to sing the roles?

M.J.: I composed the role of Berenice with Barbara Hannigan in mind, having seen her in Written on Skin and in Pelleas et Melisande. When Berenice makes her entrance, she is quite calm, stoical. She thinks all will go according to her wishes. When she discovers that it is far from the case, the music becomes rather acrobatic and virtuoso. At the end, calm is restored, as if everything had turned to dust and ashes. As for Bo Skoyhus, I had already worked with him on Siegfried, nocturne, a setting of a text by Olivier Py. He has exceptional stage presence. The role of the orchestra can be to punctuate, to accompany these characters who are constantly struggling with emotions that threaten to submerge them. I would like the music to be sometimes like a wave, a tsunami that sweeps away everything in its path.

You also decided to make occasional use of electronic sound...

M.J.: Yes. The idea of using electronics came little by little. I wanted the people to murmur and to come back regularly, becoming increasingly present: it’s the “rumour has it...” the voice that rumbles outside the palace, exerting a palpable pressure on Titus.

Berenice presents characters both full of ideals and adepts of compromise. Do you consider that these protagonists, caught up in a conflict between duty and desire, can still touch us today?

M.J.: My relationship with the character of Berenice greatly evolved in the course of the writing process. At the beginning, I was touched by her purity. Then, the more I worked, the more I experienced a sort of disgust for her. I found her manipulative. It’s only natural: she was born at court, she’s a politician with a political mode of operation. And then, there’s that very powerful passage in Racine in which she understands that Titus really loves her, that he’s abandoning her not because he doesn’t love her anymore or out of a desire for power but because their love affair can never have a happy ending. At this moment, I think she changes her tone and it is thus that the tragedy culminates, with this impossible equation: she loves someone that she cannot have. In fine, it is Titus who touches me the most, although at the beginning I didn’t like him. In the end, on the death of his father, when he must don the apparel of the man of state, he finds himself under constant pressure, assailed on all sides: by Berenice, by the people, by Paulinus, by the Senate... Ultimately, perhaps, this is all a grand parable on the passage from youth to adulthood...    

© Monika Rittershaus / OnP

One Final Ordeal

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Worthy of the theatre

12 min

One Final Ordeal

By Claire Berest

During the Roman Empire, love was opposed to the logic of the state. The Nation convinced Titus to favour his people over the passion that united him with Berenice. Under the French 5th Republic, power and love continue to cohabit on rocky ground. Political games and game policies interweave leaving a trail of confusion. The writer Claire Berest plunges into the arena and carries her reader along the course of a dazzling rise to fame: that of a Titus intoxicated by power and of a warlike and amorous Berenice. Their destinies seem predetermined, but life at the top is often stranger than fiction…    

The first time Titus saw Berenice, he was disorientated by her disturbing beauty. Politicians mistrust passion, it is too fierce an enemy. One must choose passion for oneself in this calling, since the other person risks being too unpredictable, the other person challenges one to improvise, no dossier for over-heated blood nor prompt cards for the angular circumflexes of the soul.

The first time he saw her, he was a rising star, he was for the time being the man of the moment, wily, devious, a superior brain in ordinary clothes. Berenice carried herself like a queen, a body wide open to impossible choices and deaf to the routine of meagre constraints, a smile so fragile that it was given like a short-lived fruit of summer.

SHE had risen from nothing; she had made herself ALL. Journalist, politician, a too gracious grasshopper in the cloud that pursues the public man with the determination of a shadow to penetrate him, trip him up or, if not, to uphold him or destroy him if necessary. An opposing force.

For Titus, in love with the routine of the media, the presence of Berenice, all grace and charismatic intelligence, reduced the buzzing swarm of press cards tarred with commonplace seals to inner silence.

People never said of him that he was a handsome man. Neither did they say that he was remarkable, nor yet charismatic. Early in his career, he had suffered from an instinctive mistrust of the wan smile he wore before the nation, a smile more painted on than living, fixed like a useful accessory onto the lower part of his round face. He had belonged to the political landscape for too long, a subject already marked on a dull chequer board; he had acquired a place, his place, his own, damn it, without, it seemed, really overshadowing the agitators on the front benches. He counted in the equation: reference, opposition, argument, counter-argument. The business of words and speeches. He had hauled himself up to the rank of the possible heirs with chance horizons, seconds in command but with primordial influence all the same; he had eliminated the popular idealists, gently without ever allowing his serenely affixed, affable smile to slip. He had caressed power. As one caresses the knee, so soft, of a too stunning woman, going so far as to push one’s hand suddenly along its curve.

He had, then, a brilliant career. Then came a dry patch; he was still young. He had singed his ammunition, dampened his powder too quickly, made choices that were dubious, unfortunate, inappropriate. Outstripped in the corridors of power by stronger and better men, he had fallen off the chequer board. Naked, worn out, as if awoken from the long tunnel of his dream of democracy in which successive combats had soft-soaped the ideal only to betray it in headless intrigues. Titus was wrung out. Finished. He had been mayor. Member of parliament. He had been party leader.

But a party isn’t France.

And Titus became aware, with the feverishness of a man who had never allowed himself to fall ill, that if he had not been able to marry her, la Belle France, he had slept in her bed, and Berenice was well worth a country. So he turned more blue than white, discarding his well-written textbooks, because Berenice brought him out in a sweat, hot and salty, one single second for an eternity. How could he renounce that? How could he knowingly take the straight and narrow way when the other path tasted of stormy skies? He was still a man; even when the suit so coveted had moulded his backbone. A man, that’s all, not much, but the potential, so infinitessimal, of saying: “Your voice, your hair, your unbearable siren’s neck, your verve, in a moment, a moment so brief, have annihilated the efforts and the fruits of thirty years. Don’t stop. Neither talking. Nor living, Berenice. Live for my pleasure, for a moment, a moment so brief, so flimsy, Berenice, that it doesn’t exist.”

Titus leaves his wife, it’s OFFICIAL.

Titus indulges himself. He transgresses. He suits himself. Breaks the palette of dormant perfection, the kids, et cetera. And Titus begins his ascension again, by chance. His ideas? You’ve got to believe in something. Left-wing? Fill my head with dreams, darling. Help me go on dreaming during my nightly gymnastics.

Berenice is calm. Berenice is a warrior.

Berenice, frenzied embers of a life already violent, of unpardonable choices, Berenice already mother, already whore, as women are, almost all women, who let the Other's destiny pursue its course, “go with the flow, it’s a waltz, because the Other raises you up. Isn’t that right? He stirs you up, moulds you, it’s okay to fade into the background, because it’s not just in books that one surrenders, life has a narrative too, Titus. And so Berenice accompanies, arranges, adulterates, assassinates. Berenice exists. Titus is followed by a shadow, amusing and annoying. And why not. She is there, Berenice, the queen of Sheba. The glossy magazines need cover subjects, and when the queen is beautiful, that’s what people want.

The mayor-MP-party-secretary, consecrated by his ad hoc defrocking, makes his sortie, at last, leaving the oblique trenches just as, suddenly, - masterly artistry and sleight of hand, his obvious rival has an accident. No slight accident, more than that, a major pile-up on the ring-road. Charged with rape, beat that.

So Titus smoothly takes over, takes over in muted tones – nothing wild, fills the gap right to the edges, because he speaks true. Because he talks and the people need words, sometimes more than they need bread, sacre bleu. And projects. Project me. Project me unstoppably into the lead, make me dream the dreams of people without love. All the people want is to still be able to put their trousers on straight at the end of the month, so that their children won’t see the disgusting creases. Or not too much.

Berenice hadn’t foreseen this. Her love affair, transformed into an affair of State. History-with-a-capital-H inviting itself into her bedroom. Who can accept that without piercing their heart on the nails of the petty-minded? But Berenice is a queen, she has the greatness of souls that abrogate themselves. I shall make you proud of me, say the popular songs. In perfect harmony.

The mayor-MP-party-secretary throws himself into the game, the hunt, the aphrodisiac soup. They’re talking about president, baby, make love to me. Again, again.

And there he is, the ordinary chap with the classic, impeccably cut suits, leading the opinion polls, it’s getting by. Going down well, with a comfortable lead. The French don their coats to go to the polls. Not the scenario I had in mind, but who knows what life has in store, eh, Aphrodite?

Titus is elected.

Titus is president. President of the Republic of French men and French women.

Titus, that’s a great name for a president. Because image, my friend, is the name of the game. And history will judge and replay our choices. The people want symbols, the people are in the here and now, because you only die in the here and now. And the people are bleeding. So AVANTI POPOLO.

Berenice doesn’t know what to wear anymore. That’s what’s expected of a woman, isn’t it, to add a decorative touch to visceral experience? So you do your hair, powder your nose, groom yourself. Because for you, Titus, for our affair and the hazards of unforeseen demons, I can have immaculate hair when the time comes.

Titus is elected. The ballot boxes have belched him out. They want the left. Flirting with a socialism in the service of capital; before the moment of death, give us barricades, scorching and in trompe-l’oeil, like those sublime ceilings in churches that make a virtue out of counterfeiting the sky.

Guillotine and historic dialogue:

“This evening, Titus, you are no longer your own man. This evening, the nation requires you to forget yourself once and for all. Night is not included in your timetable, there are only emergencies. You are no longer a man, you’re the president. The embrace is over.”

“Berenice, these words are too grand. I’ll be president in an hour, on stage, and here, right now, before the cement of my disguise has set, I can’t ignore the man, and the man sees you, Berenice. And around us nothing is forever. Love, you are a stranger to my destiny. You’re not part of the original picture.”

“Titus, who defines origin? Which side decides on origins?

But it’s no longer a question of living,

are you up to playing your part?”

“Once again, I want to hold you before becoming president. Hold you in my arms, simply press you against my chest, there where I breathe; because I can’t breathe. Because nobody is ready to be president. We’re not ready. We don’t falter. We bear up. Berenice, you are too intelligent for this costume.”

“Go on, you wear it. My angel.

And don’t give away a heart that cannot be accepted.

Tenth election of the Fifth Republic. April. It’s warm. Expose yourself. Eighteen million voters. You’ve never been a minister, who cares? You’re going to run France. You are the master of anaphore, I, president.

It’s the village fete, oompah, oompah in the heartlands, paté on toast and dancing to youthful songs, tarted up a bit. Life seen through rose-tinted spectacles. What colour is life with you, Titus? I’m a woman, I’m ready for any colours, providing you make them sing. Good and loud.

Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
voilà le portrait sans retouches
de l’homme auquel j’appartiens
Eyes that make me lower mine
a laugh that fades on his mouth
that’s the portrait, warts and all
of the man to whom I belong.

You want it popular, have it. Men have been singing it for a thousand years, their smiles full of teeth. They have.

After the provinces, we must attain the capital with all speed. Direction Paris. Presidential cars at a thousand kilometres an hour on the motorway, in a blaring escort to honour the newly crowned monarch.

At Bastille, the crowd wants flesh and blood. The entire delegation is waiting, fingers on trouser seams. Flags ready to be pulled out of the linings of freshly cleaned jackets. The people roar. The guards line up. You’re on. The Nation is waiting for you, my sweet. The Nation hopes.

Choreography, car-horns, resuscitated tri-coloured stumps, jubilation and not by chance, we’re off. We’re crossing the Rubicon.

What about me Berenice?

I agree to make my body weightless, like a little semi-colon, because life outdoes fiction. Because for you, being a woman means muting my aura, leaving behind the little girl, and then the woman that I once was. It means forgetting the woman who arrives in the capital, who gets the phone numbers of conjurors, of seasoned journalists, who learns to be queen of the frozen wastes, inventing a kind of Marquise, when all Nature bewails the heat, when all Nature is looking for its monkey in winter. That’s the game, and the game is roulette, poker, bankruptcy and bingo. I am BERENICE!

Bastille, you’re on stage, the crowd sings, the crowd desires, the crowd sweats, the guards stand to attention, it’s all an act, my love, there’s no room for me, I don’t know where to invade the right understudies. I’m in a study in black, I’ve followed, I’ve submitted, I’ve prettified. Now, where do I put myself, the crowd has turned murderous, the crowd blocks the view, and love, love, do you remember it? I am dressed and groomed and waxed by your hold-up. I’m a silhouette. Where am I supposed to stand?

Berenice, crazy, free, violates the protocol. The law is harsh but isn’t it the law?

Well, I ride roughshod over it.

Berenice walks towards Titus and, from his lips, during the Marseillaise, over and above the Marseillaise even, - go on children of the fatherland the day of glory is come -, she asks for a kiss. What do they want, that horde of slaves, of traitors, of conniving kings?

Give us a kiss! Imprecation, prayer and oath for ghosts with no agenda.

Titus, nothing exists but you and me, your lips, your body, our time, kiss me, just one second, something that no longer exists, that languidness that accepts no reasons of State. That light perspiration above your top lip, I can feel it, you’re still a body even this evening when you become a star on credit that brings the world to its knees, kiss me.

And Titus kisses Berenice.
Next day, the people rise up. Fury and media commentary.
For a kiss.
Let’s dance the Carmagnola.
And you now, kiss me. And be quiet.
Long live the canon’s roar.    

As organised as sheet music

Read the article

An interview with the copy department

11 min

As organised as sheet music

By Marion Mirande

At the Opera, it is the conductor’s responsibility to coordinate between the performers and the orchestra. But what happens if the singers and musicians are working on different scores? In the background, behind this apparent harmony is the Copy Department whose work is as indiscernible as it is important for the Opera House. Department head Francis Raynal and copyist Fabrice Larrère, explain to us the fundamentals of a profession that is also one of the keys to a successful production.

Even though essential to the Opera, the role of your department remains all but unknown. What exactly does it do?

Francis Raynal : We’re in charge of all the musical material. We prepare the scores for all the people associated with the productions, be it the soloists, the artists of the Chorus, or the directors in charge of the production. 

Fabrice Larrere Our primary concern is to provide the Orchestra with clear, concise scores. Our musicians are outstanding readers, but those scores need to be easily interpreted. Every now and again, we receive material for the orchestra from publishing houses that prove difficult to read. So we try to clarify things by using, for example, for the strings, different colours to indicate what needs to be played arco or pizzicato1. We are constantly looking for solutions to improve their working environment.

FR:  Since the Opera was founded, its copyists have always been looked upon as among the best. And thanks to the total commitment of those here today—all of whom are highly accomplished musicians—that tradition of excellence can endure. Because, unlike more modest opera houses where the orchestral management, co-ordination services and copy department may be fused into a single entity, ours is entirely focused on its mission.

What technologies do you use to guarantee such professionalism?

F.R.: The profession has developed in tandem with technology. When I first joined the Opera fifteen years ago, we used to work in pencil. That’s hardly ever the case anymore. Back in the day when there were no photocopies, the only way to duplicate a score was to rewrite it. If there were nine violins, the copyists wrote nine scores. The advent of photocopying machines and then scanners, musical engraving software and image processing software that enable us to modify a score have revolutionised the profession. The risk of misprints inherent in hand reproduction diminished in a stroke. All the scores we work on are digitized; which allows us to keep track of our work. For that reason, we have an integrated production section in the department with a true reprographic function. 

There is one detail that few in the audience realise when they attend a performance: the score played by the Orchestra is actually rented by the Opera.

F.L.: Yes, the use of materials for the orchestra is subject to a certain number of rules. Once the conductor lets us know which version of the work he wants to conduct, the first step is to make sure that we have the right to play it on French territory. Then, we look to see if more than one exists. A traditional version doesn’t require the payment of royalties—on condition of course that it is in the public domain—unlike a revised version or a critical edition. A revised version is the result of work undertaken by a musicologist which can sometimes be used as a clever way for publishers to extend the copyright. But it can also prove to be significant and thus become a reference that cannot be ignored. Then, we look to see if we possess our own material—in which case, we are exempt from paying royalties. By “our material” I mean the adjustments made to frequently-played opera scores from the repertoire such as Tosca or La Traviata. Two of the largest library collections—located in Milan and London—rent their material to different opera houses, and it’s more than likely, when we get a score back X years after we first rented it, that it has been annotated and modified by other people. Primarily, for the convenience of the musicians, we needed to establish techniques to preserve their hard work and ours by digitizing all our annotations on the scores to allow us to create our own material.

F.R.: Obviously, when we have our own material, we propose it to the conductor first, however certain conductors may ask for a specific version or require that they use their own material which we then need to obtain. In other cases, we can either ask for a new copy from the publisher reflecting their wishes or we can adapt ours to match theirs.    

Fabrice Larrère, bibliothécaire-copiste à l’Opéra
Fabrice Larrère, bibliothécaire-copiste à l’Opéra © Elena Bauer / OnP

Once you have the material in your possession, how do you work on them?

F.R.: First, we work on the structure. That’s to say, the list of bars that have been cut and the inserts wanted by the conductor and the director. As soon as the structure has been defined, we can create the vocal and piano score. This is the score that we give to a singer when they have been offered a role and, if they accept that role, it becomes their workbook. For the soloists, it’s a long learning process. So the vocal and piano score is the first material we need to provide. We then prepare the scores for the artists of the Chorus. They can study for as long as a year before a production opens. Then comes the work on the conductor’s score. The definitive adjustments for the Orchestra have little impact before the first reading since their materials are prepared last. For the strings, it is crucial to mention whether the bow strokes, are up-bow or down-bow2. These directions are given by the conductor who can either impose his preferences or decide them with the solo violinist. Philippe Jordan, for example, often proposes bow strokes specifically related to work he has already undertaken with other orchestras.

What role do you play during rehearsals?

F.L.: We must be able to take account of all the changes the conductor requires. When Philippe Jordan is conducting, he asks that we be present during the entire working session until he has played the complete score. Depending on the length of the work, this can equate to three or four readings. By following a score identical to his, or one that includes the entire orchestra, I note down his directions. At the end of the session, I collect all the scores from the musicians so that I can add in any specific annotations made during the rehearsal. On some productions where there are a lot of cuts, our presence is indispensable. However, we are never immune to a musician overlooking or misinterpreting one of our annotations.

F.R.: The presence of a librarian in the Orchestra during rehearsals guarantees a degree of security. They know exactly where any changes are and what will need to be altered. Often, when the conductor rehearses with the Orchestra, his assistant works with the singers and is unable to note his corrections. In the event that there is a change of conductor, the copyist is then able to provide the replacement conductor with the necessary material containing all the modifications desired by his colleague.    

© Elena Bauer / OnP

You are also responsible for ensuring that all the materials are the same for everyone involved in a production.

F.R.: Structural consistency is essential. We have to ensure that the Chorus, the Orchestra, and the stage managers have the same modifications on their scores. During rehearsals, everyone needs to be able to pick up at the same place when the conductor indicates a number.

F.L.: The conductor’s score may have different cue numbers than those on the bars in the vocal and piano score. As a result, we need to standardise the materials, either by indicating both sets of cue numbers on all the documents, or—the simplest option—by making the changes on the maestro’s score alone. It’s a time-consuming job that is important to get right before the rehearsals.

What exactly is your role in a first production?

F.R.: The trickiest thing about a first production is that we never know when the composer is going to finish his work and the publisher be in a position to pass on the printed score. In the present case of Bérénice3, the timing is relatively relaxed, which is not always the case. The score was received five months before the orchestra’s first reading; which will enable the musicians to work on it during the summer recess. From our point of view, no work has been done on it. We have merely received it. It is ready for use.

F.L.: Then, it may turn out that it does not totally correspond to what the composer wanted and it will be tweaked during rehearsals. Or, he may realise that there are printing errors. In either case, it is not sent back to the publisher. We will work directly on it and make the necessary changes. Furthermore, the delivered scores are, at that point, free of all notation—as for the bow strokes. Those may be determined at the rostrum during a run through with the conductor. Here again, it will be our job to record the changes in the score.

What latitude do you have to rewrite a published score?

F.L.: For Boris Godunov, conductor Vladimir Jurowski, had insisted on a critical edition of the 1869 version which he had already conducted in concert. On his arrival at Bastille, after having identified countless errors in the material, and given that he had a highly personal conception of the work, he decided to rework the orchestration. It was not just a question of making subtle changes but of rewriting the score according to his wishes: for example, having the part of the fourth horn in a particular place played by the third trombone, reintroducing the tuba in the passages where it was absent… Here, our involvement greatly surpassed our primary role, and the changes kept coming until the actual performances began. Throughout the entire production, day in and day out, we were involved in a long editorial process that was largely influenced by what the conductor heard during rehearsals.

What other types of unexpected events do you have to respond to?

F.L.: Recently, during Il Trovatore, the aria Di quella pira was sung either in the original tone or in a tone transposed according to the wishes of the tenors who had been cast. That transposition4 does not appear in the original score. I had to write it in. To avoid having to make the musicians juggle with several scores, I noted the two versions on the same one, and on the frontispiece I marked down the dates with the names of the corresponding performers. Thus, when the musicians arrived at their music stands in the evening, they knew which sections to refer to. It is up to us to find practical solutions like this. It means finding out about any last-minute changes in the cast that may have an impact on the Orchestra. Anticipation is an essential quality when it comes to exercising this profession.

1.  Arco means that the notes are played with the bow, pizzicato mans that they are plucked with the fingers.   
2. This is to indicate the direction of the bow stroke. When the bow is drawn from the frog to the tip it is called a “down stroke”. When it is drawn from the tip to the frog it is called an “up stroke”.    
3. The interview was conducted in July.    
4. Transposition consists of raising or lowering the pitch of a note. 

  • Bérénice by Michael Jarrell - Trailer
  • Bérénice by Michael Jarrell (Barbara Hannigan & Bo Skovhus)
  • Bérénice by Michael Jarrell (Barbara Hannigan)
  • Bérénice by Michael Jarrell (Bo Skovhus)
  • Michael Jarrell about Bérénice
  • Lumière sur : Les coulisses de Bérénice
  • Bérénice

  • Bérénice (Saison 18/19) - Barbara Hannigan , Bo Skovhus, Alastair Miles , Rina Schenfeld

  • Bérénice (Saison 18/19) - Barbara Hannigan, Bo Skovhus, Ivan Ludlow

  • Bérénice (Saison 18/19)- Barbara Hannigan , Bo Skovhus

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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 10:30 a.m. to 6 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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