07/03/2011 - Lille, Opéra - Fabrice Di Falco (Grégor, cT), Magali Léger (la Soeur de Grégor, S), André Heyboer (le Père, Bar), Anne Mason (la Mère, cA), Simon Bailey (l'Employeur, B) Julie Pasturaud (la Bonne, Mz), Stanislas Nordey (Mise en scène), Emmanuel Clolus (décors), Raoul Fernandez (costumes), Stéphanie Daniel (lumières), Christophe Manien (chef de chant), Benoit Meudic (Ircam), Ensemble Ictus, Georges-Elie Octors (dir.)
Opéra de Lille et Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Lyricism in the music by Michaël Levinas
Or the spectre on stage
"The instant of awakening is the most perilous of all: it is then that we cross the border. What becomes of us during the night? What happened while Gregor was sleeping that had him emerge changed into a monster?
Waking up, is always the entrance into an enchanted world."
Yannick Haenel1 (1)
The enchanted world of Michaël Levinas belongs to this perilous moment out of which drama can be born, here resides the visible part of the enchantment, the characters which sing, live and die. We are at the opera.
How does today's composer manage to adapt the challenge of the stage into music? What musical means does he call upon? What harmonic and lyrical world does he construct? For, to ring entirely true on stage, the creator's operatic style must surface from far away, from the depths, not simply occurring due to circumstances, but from what he is musically, and has been for a long time, from what he diligently strives for in his oeuvre.
In 2011, with his third opera La Métamorphose, Michaël Levinas once again demonstrated his mastery of the operatic medium: opera as theatre, opera as a setting for inspired singing, opera as an institution where works of art have their place.
When the opera audience discovers the character Gregor, as conceived by Michaël Levinas, they have already heard a prologue. Entitled Je, tu, il and composed on a sumptuous text by Valère Novarina, this prologue is, as in the narrative, set in the night, no doubt in a dream, before Gregor awakens. The audience witnesses a spirited, lively and baroque allegory of utterances (the personal pronouns "je", "tu" and "il" briefly becoming characters). The composer (the person who decides the succession of temporal events in the operatic narrative - Michaël Levinas has substantially adapted Kafka's short story) entrusts this prologue to three sopranos. Thus the narrative of La Métamorphose begins by something other than itself, a different setting that is not the narrative, that is not even a narrative, but that prepares the listener for Gregor's Passion which comes next - the infra-narrative foreshadows the dying Kafkaesque infra-hominoid that La Métamorphose reveals - with the total resonance of this dramatic bias in the political history of humanity. This gesture is as much theatrical as musical. It is highly characteristic of the composer's sensitivity for that which, in music, infers lyricism, lyricism being understood as bringing into play "all of the power, contingent on rhythm and melody, that language fosters". (2) In a nutshell, the theatrical dimension of opera is not repudiated by Michaël Levinas - on the contrary: it is glorified.
All the power that language fosters is an aid to the composer for his operatic project. If singing is born of language for Michaël Levinas, the instrumental parts must also be considered as arising from language. To the instrumental parts are added the electronic parts that, in La Métamorphose as much as in Les Nègres, an opera from 2003 after the play of the same name by Jean Genêt, imparts sound with this unreal quality, a magic necessary to all lyricism. They also, were intended, written and composed as a prolongation of the specificities of language. In La Métamorphose, the polyphony comes mainly from the multiplied voice of Gregor and that multiplication is as much instrumental as electronic. Gregor's - so very moving - singing is chorale, his voice an intermediary neither his own alone, nor an identifiable plurality. The voice of Gregor infers an inaudible singularity - a monstrosity far beyond the hybrid - for his family circle who drive him to death (through decency? through his relatives' abandonment?). In Les Nègres, there was "a throbbing discourse weaving connections between the phenomena of language and percussion" (3) and recently in the same vein, Le Poème battu, in 2008, there were the madrigalist successes "O" du haut, and Trois chansons pour la Loterie Pierrot et Jean Lagresis on a text by Valère Novarina - finally, for La Métamorphose, there was the acme (temporary - such is the nature of creation) of computer analysis and sound synthesis of the spoken and sung voice. (4)
How are the words themselves transformed into singing, into drama, into an opera in short? Here lies Michaël Levinas' entire poetic wager. The Greek word poïen is the response to the question of doing. Starting with G-Gol (1996) (5) - the title, G-Gol already an interplay between the decomposition / re-composition of the author's name, basis for the libretto, the composer transforms the word into the dramatic bias of his musical dramaturgy. From there, he enters into the actual sound of the word and applies a spectral approach (6) to the field of linguistics. Thus emerges his lyrical material. Dissecting the pitch information, the syllables, the phonemes and morphemes, Michaël Levinas - with help from increasingly powerful computing tools - derives whirls, arabesques, and lines that denote a composition destined for the stage. Opera is truly a place for creativity. The vanguard of what constitutes musical creation - at the same time the work of a composer who is searching for existence and tools that evolve as he uses them - is not only viable, but eminently moving on stage: the realm constituted by the musician does indeed induce the particular vibration of effects that everyone expects from opera, regardless of the epoch.
The composer (7) declared in 1982 "(...) I would say, that it is paradoxically toward opera, that every instrumental work is drawn". In effect, the oeuvre of Michaël Levinas proposes to decipher the phases of that conception and the research it necessitates. Rooted in language, devoted to theatre, the lyre of Michaël Levinas unites creative rigor with the occasionally toxic seduction of artfully dramatised emotion. For the time being, the composer has made the syllable into his enigma. From the enigma is born drama and, on stage, from dramatic art is born an enigma through which the composer imposes his time on us, not the time of a drama, but the resonant interior time - for our greatest pleasure.
(1) Interview Yannick Haenel, pourquoi aimez-vous La Métamorphose ? published in Kafka, La Métamorphose (page II), translation and presentation by Bernard Lortholary, Garnier Flammarion, Paris, 2010, 103 pages.
(2) Pierre Grimal, Le Lyrisme à Rome, Introduction (p.15), Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1978, 304 pages.
(3) Note by Michaël Levinas for the opera Les Nègres, May 2002.
(4) The electronic sections of Les Nègres and of La Métamorphose were produced at Ircam.
(5) The composer in this case speaks of "brutish treatment" of the French language (Autour de Go-Gol : forme, récit, textualité dans l'opéra contemporain, discussion with Evelyne Andreani, in: cf note 7).
(6) Spectral music is music based on the analysis of the sound spectrum: the organization of the musical parameters ensues from this analysis and, in fine, the entire composition. Today, analysed sounds can reach enormous levels of complexity: for example, in the case of Michaël Levinas, the perception of detail of enunciation sung as much as spoken.
(7) Michaël Levinas, Qu'est-ce que l'instrumental?, text read at Darmstadt in July, 1982, from Le Compositeur trouvère, Ecrits et entretiens (1982-2002), texts assembled and annotated by Pierre-Albert Castanet and Danielle Cohen-Levinas (p.33), L'Harmattan, Paris, 2002, 428 pages.
1 CD aeon (AECD 1220)
Michaël Levinas, La Métamorphose
Fabrice di Falco, Magali Léger, André Heyboer, Anne Mason, Simon Bailey,
Julie Pasturaud, Laurent Laberdesque and Arnaud Guillou
Ensemble Ictus, Georges-Elie Octors (conductor)
Michaël Levinas studied piano, piano accompaniment, orchestra conducting and composing at CNSM de Paris. He met Yvonne Loriod who got him immediately in Olivier Messiaen's famous class of composing, developed also his piano repertoire.
At the end of his studies, trained by these two great personalities, [...]