Hostages by Sebastian Rivas: a woman in search of herself

Concerts 22.03.2024

From the play by Nina Bouraoui, OtagesSebastian Rivas' third stage work, directed by Richard Brunel, seduces us with the power of its discourse and the subtlety of its means.

Sebastian Rivas (co-director of Lyon's GRAME and of the Biennial Exploratory Music Festival B!ME) who wrote the libretto (three acts and fifteen scenes), tailoring a text that he did not have sung from start to finish. One might even be tempted to speak of melodrama (spoken voice over music), so frequent is the narration (always faithful to Nina Bouraoui's text). But the singing comes without warning, inscribed in another time and another logic of discourse (repetition, fragmentation and other stylization), this over-expressivity of the voice that the composer speaks of and that serves the dramaturgy. 

An anti-heroine who conforms to what those around her want of her, Sylvie Meyer is an unremarkable, modest, banal woman, as she likes to say: " My name is Sylvie Meyer. I'm fifty-three years old. I'm the mother of two children. I've been separated from my husband for a year. I work at Cagex, a rubber company. I'm in charge of the adjustments section. I have no criminal record. Sylvie's words appear on the first page of Nina Bouraoui 's play and novel, just as they do at the start of the first two acts in Rivas' libretto. But the tide turns in the third act, when she decides one morning to pick up a knife ("There was this new strength in me "), an essential, if symbolic, accessory in the story, for the condemnable but liberating act.

Dominants and dominated

Richard Brunel, who previously staged this play in 2019, essentially reprises his original set-up. On stage, the set (by Stephan Zimmerli) is minimal, cold and unadorned, consisting of two adjoining rooms whose Venetian blinds are alternately opened and closed: factory surveillance videos are projected on all four walls in Victor Andrieu's office, which adjoins the workers' quarters; a table and chairs are in the foreground, where husband and wife face each other on the morning of their separation (Act I), then the boss and the personnel manager when Andrieu asks her to set up "viviers" (Act II "I want you to find those who are damaging or not to Cagex"); One is reminded of Wozzeck (a model for Rivas) and his unhealthy relationship with the Doctor.

Under the direction of Argentinian conductor Rut Schereiner, the amplified instrumental ensemble is in the background, masked by the scenery; nevertheless, the nine female musicians, chosen on purpose, will be seen and heard, since they are also extras in Brunel's staging (Sylvie Meyer's worker "bees") as well as voices in the chorus, ghostly voices that come through the loudspeakers and heighten the tension. If the Man is in a position of strength in the confrontations with Sylvie, it is she who dominates, filmed in close-up by a live camera during her superb monologues, where all attention is focused on her face and we feel the discourse building and Sylvie's personality being discovered.

German-born soprano and magnificent tragedienne Nicola Beller Carbone retains that slight accent (reminiscent of Marthe Keller's in Michael Jarrell's Cassandre ) which adds a singular note to what is being said. Her voice is long and powerful, and she moves with astonishing ease from the intensity of her singing to the authority of her speaking. Three words are enough for her husband/British baritone Ivan Lublow, " Je m'en vais ", sung in equal notes and repeated over and over like a cantus firmus: the tone is noble and the singing easy. The voice rises above Sylvie's narrative as she lucidly analyzes how a wall has been erected between her and her partner. Andrieu's singing displays this propensity for repetition, often on a single word, " Sylvie, Sylvie, Sylvie "... His great "aria" in Act II reveals the baritone's stature, whose soaring vocal part (" J'ai beaucoup réfléchi ") recalls the vocal stylization of the first of Grisey's Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil

Staging ambivalence

Another dramaturgical stratum, Rivas's music is in continuous flux, fusing the two sources, instrumental and electronic. It gives resonance to the spoken voice and colors the space (sound design), but above all it is an agent of tension, heard in the detail of the writing (accordion, percussion and keyboards very much out in the open), thanks to a good balance between music and stage.
As for the third, shorter act, it obeys more the logic of dreams (did the sequestration really take place?), with the strongly reverberated music and ghostly voices maintaining this ambivalence. " It was night in my head, as if I'd mixed up the outside with the inside of myself ", says Sylvie Meyer in fine, leaving uncertainty lingering in ours. 

Michèle Tosi

The last two performances ofOtages by Sebastian Rivas can be seen on March 22 at 8pm and March 23 at 4pm at the Théâtre de la Croix Rousse in Lyon.

Théâtre de la Croix rousse, Lyon, 18-03-2024
Sebastian Rivas (b. 1975): Otages, opera in three acts, libretto by the composer based on the play by Nina Bouraoui (CM); staging Richard Brunel; sets, Stephan Zimmerli; costumes, Mathieu Trappler; lighting, Laurent Castaingt; video, Yann Philippe; dramaturgy, Catherine Ailloud-Nicolas. Sylvie Meyer, Nicola Beller Carbone, soprano; L'homme, Ivan Ludlow, baritone; Juliette Adam, bass clarinet; Lise Baudouin, piano; Irène Blanc-Rocher, flutes; Mélanie Brégant, accordion; Faustine Charles, cello; Camille Coello, viola and violin; Bera Romairone, saxophone; Beltane Ruiz Molina, double bass; Yi-Ping Yang, percussion; conductor Rut Schereiner; computer music director Alexeï Nadzharov.

Photos © Jean-Louis Fernandez


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