Foccroulle's new opera: Cassandra
To open the 2023–24 season, La Monnaie in Bruxelles presented a socially committed work on a theme that concerns us all. Cassandra, the first opera by Belgian composer Bernard Foccroulle, combines the mythological figure of Cassandra with the contemporary character Sandra, a young activist fighting to protect the environment. Conductor Kazushi Ono and director Marie-Eve Signeyrole brought this ambitious and contemporary project to life.
La Monnaie commissioned its former director, the composer Bernard Foccroulle, to write Cassandra, an opera about collective passivity in the face of a predicted disaster. The past and the present mirror each other, confronting the hope for change with the despair resulting from society’s laxness, despite the warnings voiced by the young.
Cassandra, as she appears in Homer’s Iliad and Aeschylus’s Oresteia, is the daughter of the Trojan king Priam and his wife Hecuba. Her beauty attracts the attention of the god Apollo who, to seduce her, gives her the gift of predicting the future. But when the young girl turns down his advances, he punishes her: she will continue to see the future, but no one will believe her predictions. So, when she announces the inevitable destruction of Troy by the Greek invaders, no one takes her warnings seriously and she must watch helplessly as her prediction unfolds.
Having composed several vocal works – including Am Rande der Nacht and Le journal d'Héléne Berr – Bernard Foccroulle went in search of a subject for his first opera. As librettist, he chose Matthew Jocelyn.
In the English-language libretto, contemporary characters communicate with voices from ancient mythology warning of the collapse of civilization. The looming climate catastrophe is central to the work of Sandra, the opera’s protagonist. A doctoral student in climatology, she studies the alarming melting of Earth’s ice caps. When she realizes that her scientific research is not convincing enough, she decides to share her knowledge in a surprising way: after reinventing herself as a stand-up comedian, she invites her audience to reflect on the climate crisis and on the need to change mentality. But should we be laughing about the end of the world the way ‘Sandra the climate fool’ does? Is she the Cassandra of today? Can young activists recognize themselves in her?
Besides a world premiere that introduces the urgent climate issue into the opera repertoire, Cassandra is also a special project for La Monnaie in the broadest sense of the word: it is an opportunity to deepen our Green Opera practices, to exchange views with the new generation of climate activists and to involve the general public more than ever through a range of activities.
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Photos: Katarina Bradic / © Karl Foster