Gualtiero Dazzi
On the Boulevard of the Dordogne

Interviews 04.03.2021

Boulevard de la Dordogne, a little music of exile at the crossroads of history and poetry.

The Italian composer Gualtiero Dazzi left Milan at the age of 22, at the end of the 1970s. After a stay in Paris, he multiplied his projects - residencies, creations - in Strasbourg, where he settled in 2001. In 2019, the history of his city during the Second World War upset him and inspired a work as lyrical as it is symphonic: Boulevard de la Dordogne. We take a look behind the scenes of the creation.

"This "operatorio" was created in Strasbourg on November 25 and 26, 2019, on the occasion of the commemorations of the 1939 evacuation and the November 25, 1943 roundup in Clermont Ferrand. On stage, the young musicians of the University Orchestra and their remarkable conductor: Corinna Niemeyer. An "operatorio" is like a grand opera, with a large number of musicians - 160 on stage - but without staging, in a concert version. The gestation was quick and, above all... very intense: I composed this two-hour work for large orchestra, large choir and solo singers between May and October 2019: six months. I worked ten to twelve hours a day, I was completely inhabited. Once the score was finished, I had a serious baby blues... then the pandemic hit us. My operatorio was supposed to be performed in Clermont-Ferrand last November, but due to the health situation, the performances were cancelled.

It's a historical play, but more generally, it's a work about exile, a subject that is more topical than ever. The idea came to me one morning as I was leaving my house in Strasbourg. Like every day, I was crossing the Boulevard de la Dordogne, near the bridge of the same name, which spans the Ill River. I often wondered where his name came from, until one day a very distinguished gentleman approached me and asked me if my phone could take pictures and if I would like to take a picture of the plaque hanging on the edge of the bridge. The text of this plaque explains that it was engraved and inaugurated on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the evacuation of part of the Strasbourg population to the city of Périgueux. It pays tribute to the hospitality of the Dordogne department, on the occasion of the arrival of these refugees. A little known episode of the Second World War.

Extract from the booklet of Michelle Finck, Shehe ...

Poetry. To say what is. To stand up

Rise up. Poetry: sketch

Screamed. Rise up. Flint.

Poetry. But will have to write almost

No image. No beauty. Almost without

Image. Just the rhythm. The nude

The rhythm. The bone of rhythm

The blank between the words is silence.

This meeting on the Dordogne bridge made me think a lot: I needed a musical project that would tell the story of this episode and, more generally, of exile. The libretto was entrusted to Elisabeth Kaess, who did a lot of research and compilation work: she used various texts by Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Virgil's Aeneid and poems by Michèle Finck on the journey of a Syrian student, Shehe. Elisabeth also used testimonies collected from people from different eras, with very diverse backgrounds: those who lived through the evacuation of September 1939 and were expelled from Alsace, Moselle and the Ardennes at the time of the Occupation, those who left Spain at the time of the "Retirada" in 1939 and, closer to us, the testimonies of refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing from the current conflicts, in Syria for example.

Such a booklet would not have been possible without the help of a Strasbourg-based association, La Cimade, which was created in 1939 to organise the movement of some 700,000 people evacuated from Strasbourg to Périgueux and which is now at the forefront of migrant reception and respect for foreigners' rights. Cimade organised the collection of migrants' testimonies. At the moment, I don't know when Boulevard de la Dordogne will be shown again: such a work is not really compatible with the sanitary measures on stage... In any case, it is a great reflection on the status of refugees, a political work. In times of crisis, it is more essential than ever to resist with the weapons that are ours, the weapons of poetry, to paraphrase the words of Pasolini. »

Interview by Suzanne Gervais


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