A modest opera by Myriam Pruvot: from stage to podcast

The Factory 29.11.2022

Premiered at the GMEA Albi in early 2020, then performed at the Archipel Festival in Geneva and in Paris at La Pop in the fall of 2021, Un opéra modeste by Belgian composer and performer Myriam Pruvot has gripped the audience with its great poetry and unique musical language, between improvisation, celebration of oral tradition and chiseled writing. 

At the origin was the lullaby. The voice alone, an ancestral melody, unwritten, passed on from mother to mother, in the corner of the cradle, in the ears of children. At the origin ofUn opéra modeste, there is the fascination of the composer for this musical form, itself modest, with mysterious origins and underestimated power.

The power of song

I was deeply marked by reading the manifesto Lullabies and revolutions by the Italian philosopher Giulia Palladini," recalls Myriam Pruvot. She praises the power of these little songs, which infuse during the hours of sleep, and, because they have this capacity to convey and anchor ideas and feelings deep inside us, have a terribly political dimension! An avid reader, Myriam Pruvot is also inspired by reading Lullabies, based on Gabriel Garcia Lorca's famous 1928 lecture. In it, the Spanish poet considers the lullaby as a school of life, at the edge of dream and reality.
A modest opera was born from a residency at the GMEA in Albi. The form, from the start, was thought as hybrid. " It is a musical creation in two parts, explains Myriam Pruvot. A recorded radio play and a scenic form. From the lullabies, this unique chamber opera retains the scent of wonder, the cousinship with the world of tales and fables: on stage, the performers will sing the musical story of a world plunged into darkness, where only the voices and sounds remain.

A text in three languages

Sound artist, Myriam Pruvot started with the text. She wrote the song-poems that make up the five short acts of the play in three languages: Italian, French and English, with the translation assistance of two of the performers: Estelle Saignes Tilbury, who is French-American, and Ellen Giacone, of Italian origin. " I compose self-taught, with a computer, recording things, adjusting, in an empirical, instinctive and usually very solitary way. I think of musical sequences in terms of collages: I have a heterogeneous, unorthodox way of mixing materials." So the artist first thought and wrote his story, imagined spaces, before starting the work with the musicians. I immediately saw what the spatialization of sound could give," she explains. For example, I imagined certain sequences taking place in a salt quarry, with the sound projected, a little bit like on the walls of a cave from ancient times... ".

Towards the darkness

Throughout the opera, the voices speak, the voices sing, but they are not alone. The field recording of Myriam Pruvot, a protagonist in her own right, is added to the timbre of the performers. It is sometimes composed of rustling sounds that evoke a mysterious fauna, and sometimes of disturbing warning messages that sound like science fiction, where technology seems to be on the verge of saturation, all of which form a universe with multiple sonic and temporal dimensions. The performers meet, sitting in a circle around a microphone: it is a radio vigil in the half-light. Public and interpreters participate in the same experience of the senses: the disappearance of seeing.

Eyes wide shut

It so happens that the work was first presented in a stage version, but the commission was originally for radio," recalls Myriam Pruvot. Hence this reflection, throughout Un opéra modeste, on what we do not see. The radio is a fascinating medium and the place, for the voice of women in particular, of a real taking of power. It is a space for taking risks, but also a safe place, I believe, for voices that we are not used to hearing, that are not given the opportunity to express themselves. Without the visual, don't we finally see... more clearly? Radio discourse has this absolutely fascinating power of evocation and emancipation.

In the hypothesis that the light has disappeared
then the wave is the focus
around which the fiction, in song, encircles the real
it is from its vibration that spectra and functions are distributed
that the prey on the lookout is informed
and from which music and language will germinate
from the fire comes the story
from the wave extends the voice, pulsating of things and woods

An amazing cast

"It was the very first time that I collaborated with interpreters," confesses Myriam Pruvot. They are four at her side, including three women. "They all have atypical profiles!" Valérie Leclercq is a composer-writer-performer known under the pseudonym Half Alseep, but also... a doctor in medical history! Estelle Saignes Tilbury is a singer, visual artist and textile designer, Jean-Baptiste Veyret Logerias is a choir director, choreographer and dancer. Finally, Ellen Giacone is a lyric singer and jazz bassist. " I don't come from classical music, I don't have the codes, I don't even come from music..." Myriam Pruvot almost apologizes. By music, I mean conservatory or, let's say, academic background. Myriam Pruvot comes indeed from the Fine Arts and was trained in improvisation and sound creation, preferring the crossroads to the institution. But a show is also about the people you don't see: on tour, the entire team ofUn opéra modeste also includes Christophe Hauser, for the sound diffusion, and the lights and the set have been designed in collaboration with Gregory Edelein. Oriane Leclercq created the costumes.

Un Opera Modeste Festival Propagation GMEM 2022 from myriampruvot on Vimeo.

Temporal palimpsest

"I wanted to show the emergence of a sung narrative, which is born from a lullaby, from a humming, from new language arrangements. Throughout the acts, performers and electronics sing a song of consolation, which we do not know if it comes to us from ancient, present or future times. In terms of influences, Myriam Pruvot summons the New Yorker Meredith Monk, whose audacity in terms of vocal innovations and treatment of the voice she admires. Another figure who also influences Un opéra modeste is Guillaume de Machaut, master of medieval polyphony. "The relationship to time that irrigates all medieval poetics has fascinated me for years. When one hears the polyphonies of Guillaume de Machaut, one remains undecided for a few moments, time is as if suspended: is this music from very ancient times? Or a terribly modern page, composed today? I like this floating, this ambiguity.

Children's voices

Albi, Geneva, Paris, Brussels, Marseille... " The play is always performed in situ. The play is always performed in situ, insists Myriam Pruvot. We rethink the scenic space according to the place; there is an important place given to improvisation. Nothing is set in stone; what is written must remain alive, flexible. The very DNA ofUn opéra modeste lies in this art of metamorphosis.
The proof: the work has undergone a new transformation since Myriam Pruvot has just finalized a podcast version of her piece. "This podcast version of the opera comes after the stage version, but it was actually the starting point of the project! To fit her new form, this new medium, 100% virtual and radio, Myriam Pruvot has made several changes and not the least: the piece is now sung by ... children's voices! It was actually my first idea," she explains. I was thinking of children's voices, that's what the adjective 'modest' refers to. The children's voices now intertwine with those of adults in the podcast version. "The adjective modest refers both to the modest and to the "minor", as a mode and social status of children," Myriam Pruvot points out.

"The question of duration, temporality and narration is posed differently in a podcast version," explains the composer. So this opera, which looks like a lullaby, is coming back soon, but sung by children... for adults? A distant but real wink, for those who want to see it, to the ardent commitment of teenagers and pre-teens in the current climate crisis ... The podcast, which will be released next January on the site of the RTBF and then on podcast platforms, including that of the ACSR, Radiola, will also have another name: Onda & Storia, title which means the wave and the story in reference to a work of philosophy, The fire and the story of Giorgio Agamben.

Suzanne Gervais

Next in Myriam Pruvot's news
~ Podcasts
De pierres en étoiles - Production Théatre National Bruxelles
Onda & Storia
Production FACR & ACSR - project winner of the Phonurgia Nova Awards
~ Musical film
Antenae, commissioned by GMEA and Centre d'Art Le Lait, Al

Photo The girl at the microphone © thomas jean henry
Photo © Myriam Pruvot


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