La Cantatrice Chauve
This one act absurdist piece based on the Eugene Ionesco’s hilarious classic satirizes those who value conformism over independent thought. It follows two couples as they communicate, or rather fail to, and the ensuing chaos of random words and sounds into which the characters descend.
Developed within OperaGenesis at ROH2 and supported by the Genesis
In its new initiative to find original approaches to opera and music theatre for the 21st century and also new audiences for the lyric stage, Genesis Foundation and Bill Bankes Jones are working with French composer Jean Philippe Calvin to complete a one-act, absurdist piece based on the Eugene Ionesco play, La Cantatrice Chauve or The Bald Soprano commissioned by Genesis Foundation.
The originality of the Ionesco text requires an original musical approach, one with which I have been playing in my mind since I first ran across the play. In fact you can still see it in its original production in Paris today at La Huchette Theatre where it has run continuously since 1959 with another Ionesco play, La Leçon, as the second part of the evening. (London has its Agatha Christie play, The Moustetrap, which has now run for over half a century; and Paris has its parallel long run in a double bill of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano and The Chairs.
My main motivation is simply this: wouldn’t it be wonderful finally to see a modern opera that is genuinely comic? One that uses all the resources available of modern digital music making as well? It is rare for contemporary opera to be comic, let alone Theatre of the Absurd comic!
I found myself wondering: just as Gluck was once inspired to reform opera by Italian Opera Buffa, can we perhaps inspire something new in contemporary opera for a contemporary audience based on the vision of Ionesco? This has been the question that has informed all my work on this piece so far.
Creating something completely new, fresh and dynamic by using today’s most recent musical technology and vocal writing seems to me to be the way forward. I am fortunate in finding full support for my approach at ROH2 from everyone involved with the OperaGenesis programme. I have also received enormous support and help from our studios in Paris at CCMIX (Centre de Création Musicale Iannis Xenakis) where the electronic parts of the opera are being created with the generosity of the director, Gerard Pape, and my friend Stefan Tiedje, to both of whom I am very grateful.
The full means at our disposal are being used – live singers, traditional orchestral instruments, electronic music and treated voices.
We are creating one individual work of music theatre while, we hope, at the same time developing new and exciting approaches that will also attract new and younger audiences to opera houses. This is their world and it will be reflected on the stage and in the music.
A small scale production with a medium-sized chamber orchestra and live electronics, that’s all we need to make a real breakthrough in what contemporary opera is all about. I use electronics purely in relation to the orchestra and singers to add a new dimension to my work and to the drama, as well as some modern sonorities. As for the libretto, since this opera will be in French/English I did my own adaptation of this work.