Odeh-Tamimi's L'Apocalypse Arabe at Aix-en-Provence

Odeh-Tamimi's L'Apocalypse Arabe at Aix-en-Provence

July 2021 saw the world premiere of Samir Odeh-Tamimi's second opera L'Apocalypse Arabe in Arles, as part of a commission from the Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence. The production united an international team led by conductor Ilan Volkov, the Ensemble Modern, and the director Pierre Audi, who has been the festival's artistic director since 2019.

Picture of L'Apocalypse Arabe by Samir Odeh-Tamimi
World premiere of L'Apocalypse Arabe

In L'Apocalypse Arabe, his second music theatre work, the Israeli-Palestinian composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi turns to a significant contemporary Lebanese work. Created in 1975 and based on events at the time, the collection The Arab Apocalypse by the painter and poet Etel Adnan offers a gripping depiction of the civil war in Lebanon. This work—a virulent denunciation of crimes that sprung from intolerance—is like no other, and profoundly touched and inspired Samir Odeh-Tamimi and the Franco-Lebanese stage director Pierre Audi. Together, they strove to give these songs, interspersed with mysterious drawings, the form of musical theatre, which could highlight both the actual events and their universality. The Arab Apocalypse was already prophetic when it was written and continues to provide visionary insight into the hardships that Lebanon faces today.

L'Apocalypse Arabe (2018-2020)

Libretto by Claudia Pérez Iñesta inspired by Etel Adnan's L’Apocalypse arabe
S.2Ms.2A - Act - Tape - - - perc -
WP: 4.7.2021, Arles
Commissioned by the Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence. A coproduction with Luma Foundation, Abu Dhabi Festival with the support of André and Rosalie Hoffmann - le cercle incises pour la création contemporaine. Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s commission is supported by Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.


4.7. (WP) & 5.7.2021
Festival d'Aix-en-ProvencePierre Audi (stage dir.), Ensemble ModernIlan Volkov (cond.)

About the work

L'Apocalypse arabe is a poetic work consisting of 59 poems. It emerged from a vision that Etel Adnan had in 1975 in San Rafael, California, about the horrors and complexities at the outbreak of Lebanese Civil War: this foreboding outlook on the war, which lasted until 1990, can be understood, at the same time, as the logical insights of a visionary poet. The events were so gruesome that Adan’s only recourse was to respond artistically, with Lebanon standing in as representative of the broader region.

Like Etel Adnan, the composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi feels the urge today to formulate an artistic response to unfolding events – in this case, in the form of a piece of music theatre. In doing so, he takes on Etel Adnan's stark poetic language and vision of apocalyptic conditions throughout the Arab world. In a language rich with imagery and symbolism yet clear in its description of many events, contexts and conditions of the war, a dialogue arises between concrete facts, such as the events in Tal Al-Zaatar (a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon where a massacre took place), and the panoramic, the cosmos. There is a multiplicity of time and space. The most revolutionary aspect of the work is the linking of the whole of human history and the entire universe to the fate of the Arab world: all of which becomes part of the Arab apocalypse.

Picture of L'Apocalypse Arabe by Samir Odeh-Tamimi
World premiere of L'Apocalypse Arabe

Samir Odeh-Tamimi met Etel Adnan in 2005 in Paris. Her book L'apocalypse arabe, which she gave him at that time, has since become an integral part of his life. Since their first meeting, the two artists have developed a close friendship. The composer regularly visits the poet and painter in Paris. Nearly all their conversations are centred on L'Apocalypse arabe.

When the director Pierre Audi asked Samir Odeh-Tamimi if he wanted to develop a piece of music theatre together, it quickly became clear to both that the piece should be about L'Apocalypse arabe – rather curiously, the work also plays a very special role in Pierre Audi’s personal and artistic life. 


"Here, under the direction of Ilan Volkov, the Ensemble Modern celebrates Samir Odeh-Tamini’s orchestral sound, which fluctuates fascinatingly between a murmuring tapestry and eruptive outbursts, between the foreign and the familiar. This sound enters into its own relationship with the archaic pathos of the choir of five women, as if sprung from a Greek tragedy, and the short, partly falsetto passages from the intensely formative Thomas Oliemans in the (main) role of a witness. The poem, set to music, is given space by Audi, who places the musicians in the middle of the audience, and juxtaposes the central sun on one side of the hall with a black square on the other. To these abstractions of the fundamental, taken from the depths of the past, are added real images of the destruction of Beirut which are projected onto the ceiling. In the absence of surtitles, the 80-minute evening relies on the impact of images, the charisma of music, and the sounds of Adnan’s words in a poem that warns of catastrophe."
—nmz, 5.7.2021

"All of this is simple, even simplistic to the point of obsession. But in its rigor, it in fact unfolds an archaic force. As speech turns again and again into singing, where at the climax the “witness” rises up into a great lament, song within music theatre appears not as a convention of genre, but as the only viable expression of the human in dire need."
—NZZ, 08.07.2021

„A work of art in the best sense, very political without becoming too concrete, and protagonists who mean business (…) – here we have all the right ingredients.“
—Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 08.07.2021

View score of L'Apocalypse Arabe

Photos: Festival d’Aix-en-Provence © Ruth Walz