Eurydice in the Underworld

Concerts 15.04.2022

From Claudio Monteverdi to Pierre Henry, the lyre of Orpheus and the powers of music have never ceased to inspire composers. With the chamber opera Eurydice, given in its French premiere at the Athénée, Dmitri Kourliandski and Antoine Gindt take their turn in examining the myth, giving the story new extensions.

The libretto is based on a long poem by the Russian writer Nastya Rodionova. It is the monologue of a woman in search of her loved one, which the main character of the opera takes on. Eurydice, it should be remembered, is the wife sent back to the underworld after Orpheus insulted the gods when, on the way back to life, he turned around to see her. In this 'experience of darkness' - the darkness of the underworld and a movement of introspection - she meditates on her condition and her solitude, in the memory of the one she has lost: 'memory is more terrible than fate', we read in the writer's beautiful text.

It was important for the director Antoine Gindt and his faithful team, Daniel Levy (lighting), Élise Capdenat (set design) and Fanny Brouste (costumes), to inscribe the long time of this introspection through the singing of the soprano Jeanne Crousaud. There is no drama or evolution in the narrative but a space that needs time to exist. There are few elements on the stage - a bench, an armchair, the perspective of a toilet and a few heaped up dead leaves - and this permanent darkness, were it not for the harsh light of two neon lights that overhang the stage. The span of water and smoke on the floor brings a dreamlike dimension to a setting where the aquatic element is often suggested. Gindt adds the mute presence of Orpheus, always in the shadow of Eurydice. The director thought of Dominique Mercy, who danced Orpheus for his entire career in Pina Bausch 's troupe, as an Orpheus who had grown old, in contrast to the eternal youth of his lost wife, he explains. He is lying on the bench when she begins to sing, before falling to the ground; a wandering traveller, he opens a bag and explores its contents or follows in the footsteps of his Eurydice, whom he tries in vain to win back. Dominique Mercy does not dance her role but reincarnates the myth through her presence.

The libretto on which Dmitri Kourliandski worked is articulated in seven 'arias', like so many numbers sung by the soprano from different sound perspectives. This is not the composer's first experience with the stage. The score forEurydice dates from 2019, completed just before the confinement and premiered on the Italian stage in 2021. It makes use of fixed sound music, diffused and spatialised in the hall (through an ad hoc sound installation), as well as a piano (electronic keyboard) played on stage. The show begins in the dark with a superb purely electroacoustic sequence, inviting the listener to this singular and immersive listening experience. We are immediately confronted with the noisy universe of a composer who, since the 2000s, has been developing the concept of "objective music": a sound art that denies any dramaturgy by virtue of a voluntary "de-subjectification" of the work: no drama that could contradict the inner action experienced by the listener. His writing, in which any notion of fixed pitches is absent, adopts a system of relative notation, leaving a margin of freedom and choice to the performer. For the soprano, the composer fixes a melodic pattern, a tempo and certain modes of enunciation. Kourliandski evokes Monteverdian ornamentation in the vocal stylisations adopted by the soprano for each "aria": stretching of the first syllable of the word, trembling at the beginning or end of the phrase, ricochet on the spoken, sung or chanted words, etc. The singing becomes plaintive, whimsical, incantatory, through so many demanding and virtuoso figures that Jeanne Crousaud's voice, admittedly amplified, fully assumes. One notes the definite evolution - amplitude and timbre - since she took on the role in Michaël Levinas' Le Petit Prince in 2014.

In Antoine Gindt's production, the pianist(Bianca Chillemi), who only arrives during the performance, turns her back to the audience, in a space where all communication seems to have broken down. She plays scattered notes on the keyboard whose resonance and distortion reach us through the loudspeakers. Like the piano, Jeanne Crousaud's voice has been pre-recorded by the composer and subjected to the logarithms of the software that reinjects through the loudspeakers the modulated and demultiplied sound heard as a superimposition of the voice sung live. This sound environment, both diffuse and impalpable, is maintained throughout the performance (nearly an hour), giving voice to the character's inner voices in a disturbing back and forth between inside and outside.

The random process used by our composer allows for a significant renewal of the sound rendition on each evening. An excellent reason to go and see again and again this dreamlike and captivating show performed at theAthénée until 15 April.

Michèle Tosi

Théâtre Athénée Louis-Jouvet, Paris, 13-04-2022
Dmitri Kourliandski (b. 1976): Eurydice, an experience of the dark: opera for soprano, piano and electronics, based on a poem by Nastya Rodionova; directed by Antoine Gindt; collaboration on the direction, Elodie Brémaud; scenography by Élise Capdenat; lighting by Daniel Levy; costumes by Fanny Brouste. Eurydice, Jeanne Crousaud; Orpheus, Dominique Mercy; piano, Bianca Chillemi.

Photos © Xavier Lambours


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