fully staged opera


by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne

Tragédie lyrique in three acts on a libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann, premiered on 26 October 1786 at Fontainebleau Palace.
Arrangement for four singers and ten instrumentalists by Benoît Dratwicki.

8 June 2017 – 8:30 p.m.
Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Tickets 10 to 30 € Book
10 June 2017 – 8:30 p.m.
Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Tickets 10 to 30 € Book
11 June 2017 – 5 p.m.
Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Tickets 10 to 30 € Book

Production Bru Zane France
Co-production Théâtre de Caen / Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles / Opéra de Reims
In collaboration with C.I.C.T. – Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
First performed on Thursday, 27 April 2017 at the Théâtre de Caen
Encore performance Tuesday October 10, 2017 at the Opéra de Reims

The opera will be recorded by France Musique

The libretto of Phèdre belongs to a fashion in the reign of Louis XVI for reviving the styles of the Grand Siècle: many aesthetes were of the opinion that the decadence of the arts that had begin with the death of Rameau called for a pious volte-face to the classical sources of Louis XIV’s reign. The librettist François-Benoît Hoffman (1760-1828), still very much in the flower of his youth and who would go on to write the libretto for Cherubini’s glorious Médée in 1797, radically adapted Racine’s original, preserving only a few of its more striking features. The music composed for this tightly wrought drama benefited from Gluck’s innovations of the 1770s. Lemoyne paid particular attention to finding just the right note for his recitatives: short orchestral phrases, unexpected modulations, even musical rests intensify the drama and emotional charge of the libretto. Lemoyne employed various devices which make his style instantly recognisable. Orchestral unisons, for instance, lend an air of unsettling mystery to each of Phaedra’s entrances. The score also makes good use of the so-called ‘frenetic’ style (in which Berlioz detected the indisputable source of early Romanticism) developed by the school of Gluck; this gave Mlle Saint-Huberty, for whom the role was written, a chance to display her dramatic talent and strong singing voice to the full.

Julien Chauvin music director and violin
Marc Paquien stage director
Victoria Duhamel assistant stage director
Emmanuel Clolus set design
Claire Risterucci wardrobe
Dominique Bruguière lighting
Nathy Polak makeup and hair
Pierre Gaillardot technical director
Vincent Combette floor manager
Flore Merlin chief accompanist

Phèdre Judith Van Wanroij
Œnone Diana Axentii
Hippolyte Enguerrand de Hys
Thésée Thomas Dolié

Letter of the Stage Director

by Marc Paquien

Phèdre is not a concerto for a woman; it is a symphony for an orchestra of actors.’
Jean-Louis Barrault, 1946

We all know the myth of Phaedra, its founding texts by Euripides, Seneca, and then Racine… And suddenly a new story revealed itself to me, through the music of Lemoyne, another Phaedra, who also experiences the ravages of desire and the pain of a possible incest. There is something very moving about discovering this work today and re-creating it at the same time. Like his predecessors, Lemoyne puts his character in the state that comes before death, where you know your own end is inevitable, and where the words that accompany you foretell what you do not want to hear. But I now perceive this adventure as the creation of a totally new work, a powerful and condensed work, in all its purity and originality, as another burning way of recounting the myth that lives so strongly in us, and experiencing once more the story of the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae…

Our production concept is situated in precisely that gap between a work of the eighteenth century and its (re)creation today, for in fact we had not heard much of this Phèdre before the first rehearsals: a few arias with the singers, intuitions that came to us and gradually constructed the universe into which we will project ourselves. Then something quite singular occurred to me: a work that has never been seen, never been heard. All these elements made me lean more in the direction of the creation of a contemporary work, of which I have already have experience with music by Xavier Dayer and Philippe Fénelon, an approach that implies that we as artists must be totally open to the work to come. So what should we focus on? The myth or the score? I believe that the music is the decisive element here, and it was in this perspective that my collaborators and I conceived the project. The subject of the opera will be the music of Lemoyne, in all its force and modernity, and the musicians will be present on stage, not relegated to a corner of the performing area, but featured as an integral part of the acting space and the dramaturgical movement. The scenography, devised along with Emmanuel Clolus, represents the temple of Venus in which the action of the tragedy is set, and which thus becomes a ‘temple of music’.

On this large sloping expanse, which resembles a tombstone, each instrumentalist inhabits his or her own ‘pit’, and the singers move around above it. Hence the musicians of the orchestra become the priests of the temple, the chorus, as it were, who surround and accompany the protagonists.

Lemoyne’s work is also unusual for its brevity and its violence, seen through the quartet that assembles the principal protagonists, omitting poor Aricie: thus each scene is a face-to-face confrontation, dense and heartrending, an ineluctable road to death. Phèdre, Œnone, Hippolyte and Thésée, in their gold and crimson costumes, arrive already consumed, ready to become dust, to vanish into the tombs scattered across the stage… This contrast between the grey of the floor and the gold of the tombs and costumes enables the creation of an imaginary space, between life and death, under the skilled lighting designs of Dominique Bruguière.

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