Premiere: 5 July 2002, Aix-en-Provence, France
Conductor: Peter Eötvös
Director: Stanislas Nordey
Opera based on Jean Genet’s play
Libretto: Francoise Morvan, Peter Eötvös and André Markovitz
Peter Eötvös was searching for a text for an opera in which the action onstage would literally explode. His search led him to an ideal work: Jean Genet’s stage play Le Balcon, which had received its ﬁrst performance in London in 1957 and presented a blend of different levels of play-acting and reality. Here, everything is a game: not only the ‚real‘ revolution, but also the life depicted in the salons of the brothel; ultimately a masquerade and a suspension and negation of reality. The music also plays with different levels of reality. At one point, double bass, clarinet, horn, trumpet and the violinist playing the straw ﬁddle leave their customary places in the orchestra and join in the action onstage as human props. Eötvös considers the close connection between language and music as essential and therefore demands that performances of this opera are given in French with surtitles. Genet‘s linguistic subtleties are translated into shimmering, colourful music: we hear allusions to French chansons of the 1950s interwoven with Baroque representational music with serialistic and minimalistic elements producing a tonal impression skilfully evocative of the surreal parallel world of the Balcon.
What I found most important was that Genet’s wonderfully frivolous and poetic language remained comprehendible. This explains why I utilised numerous grotesque and comic elements of cabaret music. On occasions, my music steers very close to the world of French chansons with Fréhel, Jaques Brel, Yves Montand and Leo Ferré as my ‘models’.
Inside Le Grand Balcon Madame Irma´s bordello. Outside, the clamour of a revolt can be heard.
I. The Bishop slowly puts his civilian clothes back on, pays Madame Irma and takes his time leaving the bordello. He has just played out a scene of benediction and confession with one of the prostitutes (the Woman) and, having asked if he may stay a while longer in solitude, contemplates his own image.