Luca Francesconi: Trompe-la-Mort in Paris Luca Francesconi: Trompe-la-Mort in Paris

Posted by Ricordi 28 February 2017

On March 13, the Opéra national de Paris presents  the world premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Trompe-la-Mort after Honoré de Balzac . The libretto (by the composer) is in French. The two-act opera will be conducted by Susanna Mällki, The director is Guy Cassiers. Trompe-la-Mort has performances through April 5. It’s a commission by  Paris Opera.

Here are some excerpts from an interview we did with the composer. 

This is your fourth opera. Can you tell us a little about Trompe-la-Mort? Who is he?
Trompe-la-Mort is one of the many names of a key character in Balzac’s collection of novels and stories, La Comédie Humaine. He is known as Vautrin in Père Goriot, and Carlos Herrera in Illusions perdues and Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes. His real name is Jacques Collin, nicknamed Trompe-la-Mort by prisoners in a penal colony, who appoint him as their banker and entrust their booty to him. He is wanted by the authorities and must remain in hiding. He is neither young, nor presentable, nor handsome. His dream is to maneuver from behind the scenes a handsome young man by the name of Lucien who will do his bidding.  

The plots in Balzac’s novels are extremely intricate. Can you give us a brief rundown of how you approached adapting them for your opera? 
Ideally and in terms settings, the opera unfolds on four different levels.
Level 1: social life, appearances, salons.
Level 2: what goes on behind the scenes, the hidden truths and the unconfessable intrigues that govern intimate relationships.
Level 3: the journey in the carriage, which returns throughout the course of the opera as a kind of parallel flashback, which short-circuits the timeframe. 
Level 4: the underground world, with its incandescent matter and the subterranean forces from which everything implacably springs, from below, out of darkness and mystery. In this case, we use the lower recesses of the theater.   

Who is Jacques Collin/Vautrin?
He’s pure energy. He’s someone who’s read Rousseau, but he’s also seen thousands of heads roll during the Reign of Terror, which made some people very rich. But what did it lead to? Empire. A dictatorship born out of a democracy…

Where does Vautrin get all his energy?
From life itself, the subterranean force beneath the very mystery of life, el duende that makes something pulsate with life while the rest remains inert. He has the skill and courage to recognize this energy, and accept all the madness and risk involved. He wants to live fully, and in this desert, he is the only one who says I am alive. Are there no rules? Or are the rules that I do see totally unjust and made only to protect the interests of the rich? Then I’ll invent my own rules. I show the world that my rules are no weaker than theirs. On the contrary! I’ll fight it out with them on their own turf. 

What does Collin represent for Balzac?
A disgusting example? Yes. But one oozing life from every pore. Especially when compared to all the vital tension in all the other ectoplasms, nobles and aristocrats, where we see an absolute void. He knows he is superior to them. Ambition, rebellion without a true cause. Just to live. To love – love being the defeat of solitude. Complicity, sharing. Impossible, of course. Lucien is the true prostitute of the story, but he is not gay, and will never love Jacques Collin. That’s what makes this a desperate, impossible love. The only true love, says Trompe-la-Mort, is the one that is utterly hopeless, absolute devotion.
But with a humane quality. And this humaneness is a sign that love is still possible. In this book, no one loves but Trompe-la-Mort. And that is what leads to his downfall, or at least to the failure of his mad plan. 

TROMPE-LA-MORT, Opera in two acts (in French)
Music and libretto (after Honoré de Balzac) by Luca Francesconi 
WP: Paris, Palais Garnier,  March 13, 2017
Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra national de Paris
Conductor, Susanna Mälkki – Director, Guy Cassiers
Instrumentation: 2cl.bcl. sax  2bn.dbn./ / perc. / glock. vibr. xyl. mar. / acc. cel. piano  harp  keyboard (rhodes / el organ / hammond organ) / strings  -  chorus
duration 105’

Find out more about Luca Francesconi

Photo:  Kurt Van der Elst 

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