Written on skin (22, 23 of April)
Opera by George Benjamin was created for the Aix-en-Provence festival on the initiative of its director Bernard Foccroulle. The action refers to Provence of the 12th-century - the epoch of troubadours, fair ladies and manuscripts written on parchment.
The plot was based on a cruel legend of the Eaten Heart (Le Coeur Mange), told in razo, the explanatory story behind the songs of the troubadour Guillaume de Cabestaing. In the 13th century, this medieval "thriller" was very popular, it was repeated in the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, and in the middle of the XIXth in the philosophical discourse On Love (De l’amour) by Stendhal. Benjamin’s opera, in turn, is not a retelling - this is undoubtedly the work of the 21st century, which maintains a continuing dialogue with the centuries-old history; with times when there was no television, no international airports, no electricity.
Spectators are guided back to that distant era by the Angels, characters of an exquisite libretto by Martin Crimp, a playwright and a constant co-author of George Benjamin. These characters who are able to navigate through time and space, most likely they live in our own time. In Katie Mitchell’s production the celestial chancellery looks like an office or a laboratory where a certain scientific experiment is conducted. Angels direct the course of history and comment on events, as it would have happened in the ancient Greek theater. The set is made up of several rooms, where different events took place simultaneously: "historical" (for the main storyline) and those in which act the angels, settled in sterile "high-tech" rooms.
The main characters of the opera are submitted to the general slowness of action. They are a rich landowner, named Protector, his wife Agnès and the artist (a medieval troubadour was turned into the artist). The artist (he is called simply the Boy) has to create a book to celebrate Protector’s life and the achievements of his family. The main characters, communicating to each other, sing about themselves in the third person, as if abstracting from everything that happens on the stage:
“What d’you want, says the Boy,” sings the Boy;
“To see, says the woman,” sings Agnès;
Like the triangle of the protagonists, there are also three angels, with the difference that each of them has one more supplementary "historical" role. Angel 1 turns into the Boy; the others depict Agnès’ sister Maria and her husband John. Thus, there are only five characters (Mitchell added four extras to them) and the performance of a stunning expressiveness.
Written on skin is Benjamin's creative challenge to himself, his first full-scale opera, lasting about a hundred minutes, it was created with unprecedented thoroughness. The composer made from six to thirty variants for each of fifteen scenes, having spent twenty six months of continuous work in isolation from the outside world (!). The opera immediately won the hearts of the audience and at the opening night it was already called "the highlight of Aix ". The following year (2013) the high status was fixed by the International Opera Award (nomination World premiere).
Trauernacht (25, 26 of April)
Trauernacht is an original theatre project, celebrating the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, originally not intended for the stage. Creators of this production director Katie Mitchell and conductor Raphaël Pichon plunged into the world of spiritual cantatas, full of dramatic potential. The choice fell on the composer’s works of the Leipzig period (1723-1750), when, as a Cantor of the St. Thomas Church, each week he was obliged to compose Hauptmusik ("the principal music") for the Sunday services. It was arranged into three cantatas annual cycle – there were more than two hundred works.
Fourteen fragments were selected for the production. Among them there are both, familiar to everyone (for example, the Sinfonia from the Cantata BWV 146, which is the processing of the first part of the popular Concerto for the Piano with the Orchestra in d-moll, or the famous aria from the Cantata BWV 82 Ich habe genug), and rarely performed music pieces. The performance is structured as a cantata. Individual vocal numbers form an independent plot; surprisingly intimate connections are established between them.
Trauernacht is a modern spiritual drama about the life path and the inevitability of the end. On the stage, there are five performers who are associated with members of the same family. They embody different emotional reactions: torment and trembling, painful doubts, obedience, and, finally, solace.
"What I think is very special about Bach is that many people who are not Christian find that his music is soothing. In a certain way, my production of Trauernacht wonders why this music is still so important today," declared Katie Mitchell to the French newspaper Libération on the 19th of June, 2014.